Does this sound familiar? You had a schedule, a way of moving through your day from one thing to another seamlessly. Maybe it went something like this — your day started with time at home catching up on news, then came some time with the family before everyone dispersed to work/school etc, maybe a podcast on the way to work, you get some time with work colleagues to socialize, have a busy day, you get back home for a welcome change and spend some time with the family, maybe some Netflix, more work emails, catch-up on social media and then call it a night.
And then Covid-19 happened.
Before it, your day had a flow, changes of pace and scenery, you saw many faces in a day, talked to different people about different things.
All of that now seems a distant memory.
To make things worse, you’ve stopped exercising now that you’re working from home. The only place to go is your kitchen (to grab more snacks). You might eat or drink more to comfort yourself, which negatively affects your physical health. And that might lead to feelings of anxiety or anger, which challenges your emotional health. It can become a vicious cycle.
Covid-19 broke your ‘system’. It certainly broke mine.
It’s taken me some time to figure all this out. It started as a feeling of disorientation during the first few days of the lock-down. The days seemed a blur. And then came the realization that the ‘new normal’ means that the ‘old’ system is gone, I needed a new one.
The internet confirmed that a lot of the world was freaking out, so it wasn’t just me. Lots of video calls with lots of people left no doubt (and no I did not use Zoom, I use a similar but supposedly more secure application called BlueJeans).
Thus started a wave of experimentation and I’m glad to report I’m feeling much better after the changes I’ve made. I should add that I’ve had a lot of practice over the years of working from home and at Daily9 we work remotely a lot, so some of this was not very new. Here’s 5 ideas based on the things that made the most difference to me.
1. Split your home into zones.
Mentally that is.
This is how that works for me. There’s a work room — only meant for work. There’s a play room, 100% play only (this is where our TV and Xbox is, and we do our online workouts here). Food gets eaten in the dining room only and that’s where any reading happens. This helps a lot. In a few days I started thinking of each space differently and this really helps ‘switch gears’ in my head from work to play and back. This also means (a) no eating in the work room (tea/coffee is ok) and (b) the play room reminds me to get some activity.
Think of your house and all the rooms in it, and split it into zones to identify what each room represents. You’ll realize that you’re also making the most of the little space you have
I also pretend that my laptop is a desktop.
No really, I do. This is not a metaphor or anything deep. I just pretend that my laptop cannot be moved.
This means I cannot work ‘anywhere’.
Work only takes place in the room where the laptop is situated.
This means that I have to go to the computer if I want to do work. And once I leave that room, it’s anything but work. If I have a work call, I go back to that room and take it. I could very well wander all over the house, but I don’t. I lock myself in the room, get the call done. Then leave my phone there and get out of the room for a break. Again, this helps switch ‘on’ and ‘off’ mentally.
If you use a laptop, stop moving it around.
2. Have some non-negotiable to-do’s, every day.
What is a ‘good’ day in these strange times? How can you tell?
I’ve defined a ‘good’ day as a day I get 3 things done. These are things that are important to me (and my sanity) so I think of them as non-negotiable. They must get done.
Most days it’s something like this:
(1) A strength & stretching routine (takes 1hr and done in the play room only). I’ve been using GymnasticBodies for my workouts for about 4 years now. It’s an online pre-recorded video and I just need to follow-along.
(2) Spend 1hr in the terrace each evening playing with my sons (they’re 11 & 7 yrs old). We’re usually throwing a frisbee, kicking a football around, trying to teach ourselves volleyball or playing some cricket.
(3) Read a few chapters from my japanese manga collection.
Yes I’m 42 yrs old and I still read comics.
I write down the 3 things for the day on a piece of paper each morning. As I finish each, I take great joy in scratching them out. That feeling of getting something done is fantastic. If you prefer doing this electronically, I find Google Keep handy for writing to-do lists, and you can access it across devices. But I strongly recommend paper, scratching something off is so much more enjoyable than deleting something on a machine.
Obviously I do a lot more than just these 3 things, but these 3 things are essential to that day being a good day for me.
What are the 3 things you feel you must do daily? Write them down.
3. Sleep and wake-up at the same time, every single day.
If ever there was a time for a routine, it is now. And nothing helps more than going to bed and waking up at the same time.
For me, the first few days of the lock down were all over the place. I woke up anywhere between 7 and 10 am and everything was a blur. Nothing I did seemed to be getting done at the ‘right’ time. It felt like jet lag except no flying was involved. That had to stop. The new ‘system’ is that I go to bed at 11 pm, sleep soon after and I’m up at 7:15 am. Every day, even weekends. I need the predictability and I’m holding on to it. Sure I could binge watch from the zillion choices available, or get yet another update on Covid news. I don’t, it costs me too much and throws everything else off. It’s not worth it.
Pick a time that works for you and hit the bed at that time, every day. We can’t quite tell when the weekend is anyway.
4. Don’t ‘google’ anything, decide where you get your news from.
There’s way too much news at the moment. And all it seems to do is keep anxiety levels up.
I use the BBC News app for all my news, Covid or otherwise. For Indian news, its Economic Times (for business) and The Hindu. That’s it. The list could very easily be a long one and include facebook, instagram, twitter, the new york times, the guardian and whatever else happens to be trending at the time. These can all be good sources but I can’t deal with that much news and I’m perfectly fine not knowing everything. OK, so maybe I do sneak in the odd peak to see what craziness the stock market is up to that day, but that’s it.
Pick your sources and stick with it. Don’t check for updates just before bed time, it will not help.
5. Schedule your meals.
I eat 3 times a day, no exceptions.
It’s incredibly hard to maintain health & fitness goals in the current situation. Staying at home means that the kitchen is a few steps away and at this time all our kitchens will be stocked for worst case scenarios , ie lots of options. As co-founder of a health coaching start-up, I’ve thought about this a lot and tried (and failed) a lot too.
What works well for me is the simple decision to eat 3 times a day.
I have lunch, a snack and dinner. Only black coffee in between. That’s it. This way, it’s really hard to overeat or make poor choices.
This is a critical part of getting into a routine. I find that for most people, the poor food choices creep in not at lunch or dinner, but at other times, and especially after 6pm. I take all of that out of the equation with one simple decision regarding how many times I will eat. In case you’re wondering, my snack is usually a fruit and a handful of plain peanuts. I’m not going to give you any magic formula or carbs/protein/fat etc. All of that matters, but unless you have a knowledgeable coach to help you, it’s very easy to go around in circles trying all sorts of things and getting nowhere. So keep it simple. There’s enough stress around you, so do not make food a stressful thing too.
I’m not done.
I’ll keep trying out different things to improve on this. I have absolutely no doubt that I’ll fail, a lot. I also know that I usually learn something from the experience that will help the next time. I’ll make changes and test again. Because, why not!
I hope this helped. This scary, unprecedented time will come to an end. We will get through this. All we can do is focus on the things we can control, and get to work.