Happiness and freedom begin with a clear understanding of one principle: Some things are within our control, and some things are not. It is only after you have faced up to this fundamental rule and learned to distinguish between what you can and can’t control that inner tranquility and outer effectiveness become possible.
The transition to a life under coronavirus quarantine can be challenging and disorienting. If you are feeling that, you’re not alone. We’re processing two huge issues simultaneously – the external threat of infection and the radical change in how we work / live. I’m working through this adjustment just like everybody else, and frankly, it’s a bit un-nerving. Most of the negative emotions about this situation are generated from events outside of our control. However, remember that all we can do is work to improve what is in our sphere of influence. I’m trying to focus my energy on those things. I thought I’d share my current thinking / practices on how to survive and thrive in lockdown.
Health & Safety
It’s too early to say, but it seems likely that there will be a large percentage of Americans will contract the virus. I’ve been following the guidance of government officials to reduce my chances of contracting. It seems to me that eliminating the risk altogether is an impossible task, and I’m as likely to contract it as anyone. Still, I’m trying to reduce my exposure and increase my odds.
Flu shot – This week I got a flu shot (should have done that months ago). It was a bit eerie… there was definitely a panic in the air brought on by the scarcity of flu shots. I went to 4 pharmacies before finding one that had a few flu shots left because they were secretly hoarding them.
Stay home – Save lives.
Wash up – According to a recent study by the New England Journal of Medicine, the virus could live up to 3 days on hard surfaces, though viability greatly decreases over that time. Beyond washing my hands like crazy and attempting (mostly unsuccessfully) not to touch my face, I’m taking the following actions.
Glove up – When going out of the building my main goal is to reduce contact to any surfaces that may be infected. Before I leave the building I put in my earbuds, queue up my music and get situated. Then I put on these reusable rubber gardening gloves. I try not to reach into my pockets or touch my face, phone, wallet… and of course other people.
Swap out – Upon returning back to the apartment I remove gloves, shoes and the set of clothing that I was wearing outside. I fold them up and put them in a box by the door so they are ready for my next foray into the world and, importantly are kept separate from the rest of my clothing. I wash gloves and hands and then change into a set of clothes and slippers that never go outside the apartment. Then I give my phone, wallet, headphones a wipe down with an alcohol solution. Lastly, I wash my hands again.
Temp check – Every night, I’m checking and logging my temperature.
Sleep – Since I’m going out less, that means I should be able to get more sleep. Studies show that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus. Nobody knows why we need it, but it’s important. When sleep persistently falls below six hours per 24, we are impaired and at an increased risk of health problems. In one study published in the journal Sleep (which is an actual journal published by Oxford Press. I looked it up.), allowed people only six hours of sleep each night. After a few days, they watched the subjects’ performance on cognitive tests plummet. The crucial finding was that throughout their time in the study, the sixers thought they were functioning perfectly well…. But they actually sucked. As with drunkenness, one of the first things we lose in sleep deprivation is self-awareness. So, the moral of the story is: Sleep people!
Work out – Consistent exercise both increases immunity and is a mood booster. I’m committing to at least 3 30-minute workouts per week.
Ok, so now that you are safe inside your (hopefully) virus-free home, and we have to get some work done. How do we optimize for work and life at home?
First of all, it looks like we may be in this for the long haul. This is an unprecedented pandemic with an uncertain duration – up to a few months, perhaps more. So, if this is the new normal, we need to institute sustainable practices which allow us to stay sane and possibly even thrive in this new context. What works for me is to build the consistent rhythms below.
Step into the day proactively – The most natural thing to do when you wake up is to grab the phone and see what’s happening in the world. This is particularly the case in a moment of rapid change and high anxiety. We can find ourselves scrolling the news before our eyes have even adjusted. Before we get out of bed, we’ve opened the door outside influence, which will impact our thoughts and emotions. Instead, wake up give a quick glance at your messages to make sure everybody is ok, then put down the phone.
Pour your coffee / tea.
Center – Then center yourself with exercise or spiritual practice. I typically have my solo spiritual practice. But this week I have enjoyed connecting online with others through something my church is calling The Eights – a twice daily Zoom call at 8 AM and 8 PM designed to help us stay connected, share our struggles (and joys) and pray together. (It’s open to everyone by the way.)
Clean up – Shower. Get out of your pj’s. Getting dressed for work actually increases productivity among other positive benefits.
Set intentions – Take 1 minute to set your intentions for the day. Most people can’t do more than three or four meaningful projects in a day. Figure out what those are, then prioritize them. I like tackling the most challenging work at first. I like to use Trello as a tool to set and prioritize actions of the day. Do all of this before scrolling the news or beginning your work. When I keep this order, then it allows me to step into the day proactively rather than reacting to other people’s priorities or the general anxiety of the day. It allows me to start from a place of purpose, which can be a strong counterbalance to the feeling of fear and lack of control.
Time block – If there’s one thing that can be said about the modern workplace, it’s this: If you don’t control your schedule, it will control you. This holds true when you are at the office and may be even more true in the age of ubiquitous Zoom calls. So, it’s more important than ever to time block. Find your flow time and make sure that’s blocked off for deep work. For me I work much more productively in the morning than the afternoon, so I block off my mornings for work and keep my afternoons for calls when I need less focus. I use Calendly to share my availability and make scheduling a cinch. Calendly also integrates with Zoom and Google Hangouts as well.
Stay focused – Do you find your self toggling between email, Twitter and the news and not being able to actually get anything done? I feel ya. This is a distracting time. I like using the Pomodoro Technique – setting the timer for 25 minutes of focused bursts of work, with a 5 minute break in between. After 4 cycles take a longer break.
9 to 5 – The parody of Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 made by Lindsey Crider describes the wfh work hours as: “Working 9 to 5 or whenever to whenever.” This is all too often the case. There is a real danger that you just kinda work until it’s time to sleep. It’s easy for the hours to slip away. Try instituting a hard start and hard stop to your work day when you are setting your intentions for the day. Though the hours may vary on a given day, know what time your work day ends and stick to it. My experience is that work is never “done” it’s just done for the day.
Closing bell – When you hit the end of the work day, mark it with a ritual – think of the closing bell on the stock exchange. This ritual has 2 parts – (1) shutting down your work, and (2) starting your personal time. (1) Start by putting your laptop to bed. Create a spot where it goes every night when work is done and don’t touch it until the next morning. (2) Now the fun begins. Create a nightly ritual that clearly marks the start of your personal time. For some of you it will be a 20 minute walk. For others it will be mixing the perfect old fashioned. Whatever your ritual, make it significant (don’t just move to the other side of the couch) and make it enjoyable.
Build Your Own Practices
The goal of this article is to give you a concrete view on what I’m doing to stay safe and sane during the lockdown. Some of this will work for you, some won’t. Implement what makes sense for you. My greater hope isn’t that you would adopt all of these practices, but that you would take time to (1) intentionally think through what’s important to you and (2) build your own intentional set of practices at the outset of lockdown so that when this is all over, you come out feeling stronger, healthier and more productive.
Here are a few more in-depth tactical resources I like for working at home:
Look out for each other. Let’s do what we can to keep ourselves and our families safe from the virus.
May the odds be ever in your favor.
Photo by Dimitri Karastelev