These are strange times. You know that because 1) you are living in them, and 2) every single bloody article, email and text from your mother opens with a line telling you so.
And I’ve just done the very same. Check. But now let’s move on from the doom and gloom of it all, and focus instead on a few easy ways that you can stay (relatively) sane and motivated during these Strange Times®.
I’m just going to be giving you three pieces of very actionable advice that you can apply to your daily life during lock-down, and each item will be split into how you can apply it to your work-from-home life, and/or your rest and relaxation time. Let’s dive in.
If you’re working from home, setting a routine is key. This could be as simple as deciding that you work Monday-Friday, and not at all on the weekends, or you could decide on clear working hours.
I have personally mapped out my daily work routine using the Pomodoro technique, wherein you work for 25 minutes then take a 5 minute break, repeating this process 4 times to make a 2 hour block. On each week day, I complete one Pomodoro cycle in the morning, and one in the afternoon,using this online timer.
Don’t be afraid to use trial and error to find what suits you and your work rhythms, but setting up a routine will help you switch mentally between work and play even when there’s no change in your environment to signal this to you.
Even if you’re not currently working, routine is a good idea to give your days some structure. This, again, could be really simple, like setting yourself the challenge to do a home-workout each morning (more on that later!) or of limiting screen time during certain times of the day (I try to turn my phone off by 10pm each day).
The idea isn’t to feel boxed in and restricted by your routine, but to give your days a sense of structure and normalcy.
One key way to stick to those routines you’ve set is to keep a to-do list. Setting yourself clear goals for the day will give you a more focused sense of what you need to be spending your time on, and will give you a sense of accomplishment when you complete your tasks.
I personally highlight each task as I complete it, so that by the end of the day I can see, in terms of clear blocks of colour, what I have managed to achieve. I find this works a lot better than ticking or crossing off items, as this can simply make your list look messy.
If you don’t like to keep a paper to-do list at all, though, you could have a look for a free app to keep a list on your phone – there are loads of good ones out there.
It might sound strange to keep a to-do list of fun, simple tasks, but I think that’s super important too. I do keep them separate from my daily work tasks in a different diary-style notebook, but keeping a to-do list of fun activities really sends me the message that spending time on self-care tasks is important and worthy of my time, too.
This will also help you organise your time if you’re not working or you’re taking a day off. Reminding yourself which TV shows you’d like to watch, or the fact that you fancied doing some colouring in, will stop your time from feeling endless and empty, and remind you that there’s still plenty to occupy your mind with.
Extending from the idea of keeping a to-do list of fun activities, make sure you actually KNOW what you find fun so that your breaks and time off can be filled with activities you really enjoy.
It sounds like a silly thing to have to do, but with so much time available to us, it’s really easy to become overwhelmed and forget about all those things you wanted to do if you just had the time. So make yourself a list of activities – knitting, colouring, creating a to-scale model replica of the houses of parliament out of matchsticks, whatever your thing is- to fill up your free time doing, so that you can use your time off doing things you really want to do.
Again, make sure you have an easy-to-find list of the activities you want to do with your time off. But if you’re not working/ don’t have much to do during this time, try to include activities which are stimulating for your mind.
Lock-down shouldn’t be turned into a productivity contest, but it’s still important to keep your mind active. For example, you could try reading and learning about a new topic, taking an online course, completing some puzzles, or learning a new language.
These things don’t have to be expensive, either. You can learn a new language completely free using the app Duolingo, which I find incredibly user-friendly, and there are loads of YouTube tutorials for any number of new skills you can try at home.
Now. Considering that most of my advice relates to setting yourself daily tasks, here’s a quickfire round of a few of the things I’ve been popping onto my to-do list most days:
- Speaking to friends and family.
I try to call or video chat someone I love every day, usually in the evenings. Often, I schedule that time in with them so that it feels like I’m still making social plans.
I’ve been trying to exercise before I ‘go to work’ each morning. There are countless free workouts on YouTube, and my favourites at the moment are the cardio dance workouts on PopSugar.
- Spending time outside.
I know that we’re not all lucky enough to have a safe, private garden to spend time in, but for those of us who are, it’s really important to get out and get a good dose of vitamin D.
- Watching TV.
Just like I keep a list of activities I enjoy, I keep a list of feel-good TV shows that will give me a little boost of happiness. My list includes Parks & Recreation, The Good Place, The Office, Friends, New Girl, and Shrill.
Obviously, I cook every day for my family. But since I was working as a chef before lock-down, I make a conscious effort to really engage with making this a capital-a Activity, and throwing myself into fully enjoying the prep work.
And that’s my list. I truly hope that you are all keeping safe and well, and that this quick list can even slightly help you as you work through this (you guessed it!) strange time.