5 Ways to Find COVID Balance While at Home

By Jimmy Turner, MD
The Physician Philosopher

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I work about 4 to 6 weeks of night call each year.  I work nights for two reasons.  First, it is a shift that allows me to practice real anesthesia.  Whatever comes in the door, my team has to handle it.  This can include ruptured aneurysms, craniotomies, pediatric anesthesia, and level 1 traumas.  The second reason I work nights is that I am granted a week of post-call time that follows my week of night call.

This most recent week of night call was scheduled so that I would be off for what was supposed to be spring break for my two oldest kids.  We had a trip planned to go to the mountains.  While this trip was obviously canceled due to COVID-19, I still got the week off.  I’ll also have many more weeks off in the near future because elective cases have been canceled, too.

Over the last year, I’ve written a lot about Partial FIRE (i.e. working less after you have enough financial freedom to do so).  As I gained more time off, I learned a lot of lessons about work-life balance with all that extra time.

In this post, I wanted to discuss some things that I’ve learned that may prove helpful now that many others are getting additional time off either in quarantine or with elective cases and patient visits being kept to a minimum.


1. Retire To Something, Not From Something

The idea of having more time off seems appealing when you are in the middle of the chaos that is working in medicine. That is until you’ve had about two weeks off.  Then, you start to get the itch to get back to work as boredom ensues.

One reason we get bored is that most of us are highly productive.  We are not meant to go from full-throttle at work to doing nothing.  Even in retirement people are meant to be productive, which is why we must retire “to something” and not “from something”.

This is the reason that you cannot play golf every day in retirement or go to the beach. You will inevitably get bored.

What I’ve found is that having a schedule for the day has proven really helpful and allowed me to enjoy my time off.  For example, I might schedule some Money Meets Medicine podcast interviews, writing blog posts, or a project around the house that needs to get done.

Even during this COVID-19 madness, I’ve adopted a schedule.  Here is what it looks like right now while homeschooling three kids:

0640 – 0730: Kids Wake Up & Breakfast
0730 – 0800: Kids brush teeth and get dressed
0800 – 1000: School Work
1000 – 1100: Break
1100 – 1200: Finish School work
1200 – 1300: Lunch
1300 – 1500: Rest Time + Trampoline
1500 – 1630: Board Games with the Kids
1630 – 1730: Dinner
1730 – 1830: Walking the Golf Course and Putting 16 and 17
1900: Bed Time for Kids

2. Board Games are Still Cool

I’ve always loved board games, and because we cannot go anywhere right now I have had a chance to pass this love along to my kids, too.  My mom bought us a bunch of them while I was in quarantine, and since I’ve been out, I’ve gotten the chance to play a lot of them with my kids.

Even if you don’t have kids, these games are fun, and I’ll include my favorite adult board games at the bottom.

Here are our top 3 favorite board games right now and a quick description of each:

Ticket to Ride

The Ticket to Ride board game is all about creating train routes from one city to another. As you do, you get points.  You also get points if you have the longest connected train on the map.  Your goal is to get the most points by the end of the game.

A typical play-time takes about an hour or hour and a half. So, it is a great break away from things, but also encourages strategy and a bit of American geography as kids learn where big cities are in our country.  It is also a ton of fun! I’d recommend this for kids older than 5 or 6.

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel is more appropriate for younger kids (e.g. 3 to 8 years old), but is still a lot of fun.  In this game, you are trying to collect five acorns of different colors and place them in your slice of wood.  Once you collect them all, you win.

In order to collect them, you have to spin a wheel to get a color, a “pick any 1”, lose your turn, or the Sneaky Snacky Squirrel where you get to steal an acorn from anyone you choose.  The neat thing is that it also involves using a handheld squirrel (i.e. plastic forceps shaped like a squirrel) that teaches dexterity and fine motor skills for the young kids.

Bonus: The Turner household rules include that if you drop the acorn on the way to your wood, you lose it!

Mouse Trap

Mouse Trap is a classic game that we all grew up playing as a kid.  You build the mouse trap as the game goes on.  It teaches ingenuity and fine motor skills all while being a fun game about catching a mouse.

If you somehow missed out on this classic during your childhood, don’t deprive your household of the same experience!

Favorite Adult Board Games

If you don’t have any kids in the household, then I’d recommend the following games to you:

Settlers of Catan: This is a strategy game where you try and get to 10 points through building roads, an army, and an otherwise awesome civilization of houses and cities.  If you can’t tell, I like strategy games.  This is best with 3 to 4 players.

7 Wonders Duel: This is a two-player game that is currently my wife and my favorite game to play at night once the kids go to sleep.  There aren’t too many really fun two-player games out there, but this one is great after you learn how to play.


3. Get Outside and Enjoy Nature

While we are not allowed to congregate in groups and should practice good social distancing right now, that doesn’t mean you cannot get outside.

Our favorite things to do currently include walking the golf course since our property abuts an 18-hole course. The trees on the back of our house sit up against the 16th-hole, which is a par 3.  After dinner each night, my 3 kids and I grab our putters and have a putting contest on the 16th and 17th hole.

My two older kids ride their bikes or scooters while our youngest and I walk together holding hands.  I leave the cell phone at home and focus on enjoying my kids and being outside.  This has become the highlight of my day each day during this time while we are forced to stay at home.


4. Learn to Cook From Home

I didn’t learn how to really cook until I got married.  Now, I enjoy it a lot.  I usually make an Old Fashioned with Bulleit Rye Bourbon and then have a beer while cooking dinner.

Recently, we have become big fans of Hello Fresh as a means to outsource the need to go to the grocery store for meals.  We started doing this before the stay-at-home order was in place in order to save time.  Now, it makes even more sense as it allows us to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store.

The meals are great, and I enjoy the experience of cooking.  If you have kids, they may also enjoy helping you cook your meals.  In fact, our oldest has turned into quite the little chef.


5. Stay Productive

As mentioned earlier, humans are meant to be productive.  I’ve never been happier to have a side business than during this current environment.  Not only does it provide an additional source of income, but it also provides something to do from home.

With plenty of time to spare while my 3 kids are doing school work, I can focus on creating content like the new Medical Degree to Financially Free course, which launches on June 9th, 2020.

We have also found other ways to stay productive, like doing yard work, coloring chalk on the sidewalks, or training our newly adopted German Shephard named Piper.

Having tasks to do during this downtime is essential to stave off the boredom that comes from being at home.  Don’t forget to stay productive!


Take Home

Staying at home doesn’t mean you have to stay bored.  Create a schedule and then fill it up with things you love to do.

Whether that is a board game, taking a walk, or staying productive – do what makes you happy.  That way you can find the work-life balance you are looking for during this time we are all forced to stay at home!


What have you done to fill your time while staying at home?  Any tips or tricks that I missed?  Have you played the games or done anything similar to what I mentioned above?  Leave a comment below.



  1. Stephen

    Great post! It really shows how to garner value out of a challenging time. Keeping a schedule has been critical, and we too have incorporated cooking and maximizing time out doors to keep the little ones occupied. We’ve also been utilizing online/zoom classes for dance, My Gym, and music to keep them entertained.

    Having kids who are not school aged yet provides an additional challenge as there is not much that they can be left to do independently. As such, there’s often not a whole lot of dedicated time to engage on individual work or projects. I get a bit antsy about this, and I think it speaks to your point about how we are made to be productive!

    Still, trying to embrace the family time that I am being blessed with, and squeezing in work things while I can. Stay safe!

  2. Brent @ The Scope of Practice

    Yep, board games are coming out of the closet! We have Sneaky Snacky Squirrel as well. I think I’ve actually played full games of Mousetrap for the first time in my life! I think the hardest part is social distancing from the neighbor kids. It’s hard for young children to understand why they can’t play with their friends.


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