“Quarantine”, “Social Distancing”, “Sheltering in Place” and states of emergency are rapidly becoming part of daily experience. I’m currently in Spain is one of the countries which is a little “ahead of the curve” in terms of virus spread and emergency measures restricting movement.
The state of emergency in Spain started last weekend and restricts all movement out of your place of residence except to do a small number of specific things. These things include: buying groceries, going to a pharmacy, getting medical help, going to work if your workplace is not closed (which many are). All bars, restaurants and other gathering places are closed, as is almost everything else apart from food shops, tobacconists, banks, the post office and (bizarrely) hairdressers and dry cleaners.
Most importantly what’s not allowed in Spain is simply going for a walk, a run or a bike ride. Parks and beaches are also closed. This means life primarily at home unless you have a good reason to be outside. Protocols in other countries often do allow people out for fresh air if they stay away from others, but even then it’s generally not recommended. If you are allowed out, then you might want to take your blessings and consider doing this while you can (the risk is probably lower than going to a bank for example), but even without this restriction quarantine conditions are a tough new reality.
While 7-10 days isn’t much of a head start a few patterns are emerging for me at least. Your experience may end up being different but here are a few tips that might be useful:
If you’re lucky you will still be working and hence need to be productive while at home. This can be very tricky with the entire family in the house. Even without this distraction, it is hard to stay motivated with important global events happening, uncertainty about the future and a radical change in working style.
Even though I’m used to working from all over the place (pretty much anywhere other than an office!), not being in an office at least occasionally and meeting colleagues has been a shock to the system.
The three most effective tools that have worked so far are:
- Rethink my workday: if the workday was 9-5 (or 8-7..), maybe that simply no longer works. It might be more effective to have 3 blocks of 2.5-3 hours rather than a single stretch with lunch in the middle. Or it may be more effective to add an evening or morning segment. Home rhythms are different from office rhythms and with no commute, may even be easier. The main point is to find a workable setup but try to make it somewhat regular.
- Turn off news and social media during your new workday: the official news and informal anecdotes that come with virus news are a serious productivity killer. It is hard to ignore them, but often an end of day summary is probably just as useful as seeing things immediately. This is hard, but shutting off the stream is important to allow yourself to focus on other things. Consider redirecting Facebook and the major news sites to a blank page on your primary work machine.
- Try some “one thing” thinking and carve out at least a few hours a day to work on what’s most important to you: Gary Keller’s book “The One Thing” is a little repetitive and trite in places, but its central message is worth the book’s weight in gold. The key idea is that work is wasted if it’s not working towards achieving your highest priority. In operationalizing this, the author suggests making sure at least 4 hours (half your day) is dedicated to working on what is most important to you. It might not be obvious what this is (subject of another post I guess and the book certainly helps!), but mostly these are things which help you achieve meaningful things in the long term. In other words, they are things that rise above the noise of the day to day. In these strange times this might be: content you know would be useful for your team/business/customers, new functionality for products, a book capturing your knowledge in a new way, etc. The reason this (and the allocation of a chunk of time) becomes so important in this changed world is that making progress on large items each day is likely more valuable (and certainly feels more valuable) than being stuck pinging back and forth between small items. It might not work for everyone, but consider finding yourself a meaningful project which you try to make progress on every day. I found this really valuable.
The ability to be productive clearly depends on the type of work you do. For the lucky few there is little difference in working from home to working in an office, but for some, their jobs become nigh on impossible. Given that the situation might last some time, it’s likely worth investing quite some time in considering which tools might help make work from home more effective for you.
Fitness & diet
This is a really tough topic. Being confined to a small space is even more claustrophobic if you are used to running or walking every day. I was training for two marathons before the quarantine kicked in. Both races are now canceled, but the impulse to move about is still there.
If you think you’d feel similarly trapped my recommendations would be:
- Assume this could last a while: see the point below on how long these emergency situations may last, but the key point here is that it’s likely certain restrictions may last not just a couple of weeks but a couple of months or (who knows) even longer. This radically changes plans in the fitness area.
- Build a home mini-gym: even if you don’t have much space, it’s worth staking out a zone in your residence for fitness. This helps pool fitness equipment and helps everybody living there recognize that it might be needed. Our initial shot at this was to lay down exercise mats, put up a long-neglected pull-up bar and dumbbells. However, we’ve now ordered a static spinning bike and I know several people that have ordered treadmills. Overkill? If the lockdown lasts 2 weeks, probably, but if it is 4, 6, 12, … we’ll be pretty happy with the investment. Amazon in Spain is already running short of pretty much all home gym equipment so it’s worth deciding early if you feel you need this.
- Commit to a routine: not being allowed to walk outside is a little extreme but whatever your lockdown situation is, it’s worth identifying a part of your day for exercise. Committing to a physical workout early helps you feel you’re doing something. It may also be a good time to learn something new. I’ve been using using Freelytics for a while and this generates new bodyweight exercises each couple of days – a real help right now! (Other similar systems include 8Fit, Fitocracy, and others) I’m also taking baby steps in beginners Yoga (aided by youtube).
On the diet side, this is very tricky. At first, I feared being shut up inside for weeks would mean a poor diet. So far though it’s meant a lot of control over food and hasn’t been the diet apocalypse I feared. We’ll see how that goes… This is definitely an intentional choice though, new habits build quickly. So as the quarantine days tick by, consider establishing habits you’d want to continue rather than too many “exceptions” which you might regret 3 weeks in!
This will probably last longer than you think
This is probably the most important point of this post. As I already mentioned in the fitness section, the need to refrain from going out in public and meeting in groups is likely to be with us for quite some time. Spain’s initial announced lockdown period was 15 days, but it was almost immediately clear it would last longer. Today, rumors are “over Easter at least”. In Italy, the lockdown protocols have just been extended past March 25th as well.
This isn’t deception on the part of the authorities, it’s just the reality of not knowing how effective measures are really going to be. Some commentators are starting to suggest that there may even be many waves of the virus.
The main takeaway though is that it is worth assuming restrictions will be in place for many weeks, possibly many months in some form. Long enough for this to be a new normal for a time.
This is important to internalize early since you would often make different decisions if you assumed something would last two weeks rather than two months. Don’t Panic, but do think long term.
Thinking you’ll get through because “it’s only two weeks” is probably not a good tactic in this case. It’s better to assume it’s for the long haul and then be pleasantly surprised if things get better more quickly than expected.
This is the toughest subject of all. Some of us are in stable jobs and have employers that will stand by their employees through the crisis, but many will face either temporary or permanent loss of their jobs. The virus itself might affect some, but far more will be affected by the behavioral changes the virus will bring in reduced travel, reduction in social gatherings and so on. About the only thoughts I can give here are:
- If you are in a stable job which will be “safe” through this tough period: lookout for those that aren’t as best you can. Save up some funds to spend when restrictions are reduced, look for friends and relatives that could really need help, try to encourage your employer to support contractors, customers, and others through this difficult time.
- If you are facing a loss of income: first and foremost it’s likely important to think through how long challenges might last in your industry. Some of the changes could take years to undo, in some cases, they may never return to the previous normal. It may, unfortunately, be a time to seek new skills and ask for some help from friends, family and whatever society can provide to branch out in some new directions.
It seems likely that many governments will execute some hefty stimulus programs to try to combat the economic effects of the novel coronavirus. This might provide some short term relief, but it seems likely to be patchy at best. The important thing is that it probably won’t address the mid and long term effects that could result such as changes in the amount of travel, events and so on.
Trying to step back early to consider what might happen in your industry is likely a wise move even if some short patches might look promising.
I’m hard pushed to say whether this post is optimistic or pessimistic! Hopefully, some of the tips do help make lockdown more pleasant. Also though it’s hard to ignore the fact that the virus impact is likely to be quite long-lived and have deep effects. Getting in the mindset that this will take a while to work through is probably the most important takeaway.
One positive will certainly be that once this is done, I’ll appreciate the ability to go for a walk without restrictions that much more! Maybe that will be true of some other pleasures we previously took for granted. We’ll also all need to get ready to help the folks who just got dealt a tough hand by these events. The more we can do that, the better!