This is a crisis, baby.
As I define in Time Management for Writers, a crisis is usually:
COVID19 and the related lockdown is an absolute crisis, and I’m getting a little weary of seeing the memes that use productivity-shaming.
“Yo! If y’all not using lockdown to learn a second language, play a new instrument, write the great novel and start a side hustle, you never lacked time, you lacked discipline! AKA – you lazy!”
Let’s rewrite the narrative, please?
A crisis is not the time to increase your expectations around your own productivity and achievement. A crisis is not the time to start waking up earlier, to start a strict diet, to demand more of yourself than you were before this pandemic started.
What should you be doing during crisis?
The first thing is looking after your basic needs – and there’s a good chance that means sleeping more than normal. It might include a little comfort eating, or relaxed standards around the meals you’re preparing and eating.
If you’re at home with a child who, like mine, seems to be magnetically attracted to the fridge, maybe you pretend you don’t see them reaching in for a chocolate milkshake at 6.30am one day.
You need to be kind to yourself (and others). And that might not be easy, since you’re spending more time with the people you live with than you probably ever have before. You’re going to realise that those people you love are annoying AF! And they’ll think the same about you. Now probably isn’t the time to overthink that.
It will help if you can start a conversation about emotions and start being open about what your needs are on a day to day basis. Can you have a quick and easy check in with the people you love, maybe around the dinner table each evening – which three emotions describe today? On a scale of 1 to 10, how happy/anxious/sad/frustrated are you today?
You might need to find a healthy balance between ignoring the news completely and watching it 24/7. Are you a person who needs to know what’s going on to help you feel in touch? Or can you hide out in a bubble with no news getting in? I started this process watching too much news, which was strange as I’m not a news follower generally. I’m definitely a bubble person. But this situation was so big, and I felt a huge responsibility as a business owner to keeping my team safe, which I could only do if I knew what was happening. But the news made me anxious. As soon as the decision was made that my office would close (meaning my team were safe at home with their loved ones), I switched off the news and haven’t gone back. That approach works for me, but you might find knowledge helps you feel in control. If that’s the case, limit yourself to 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the evening. Be aware of how close to bedtime you consume the news as it may affect your sleep.
Following some kind of routine might be helpful, especially if you were a planner before this. You might not like the idea of unstructured time. You can create a rhythm for your life during lockdown. Right now, I’m working mornings, parenting in the afternoons, eating dinner as a family, walking the dog in the evening – it’s simple, flexible, but it gives me some structure and that helps me get through the day.
Recognise that your emotions are changing day by day, maybe several times a day. When your emotions change, try to notice them, acknowledge them, and sit with them. Try not to panic about them or fight them – they will pass. I’m noticing that there are whole weeks where I feel incredibly relaxed and accepting, and then there’ll be a day where I feel overwhelmed, sad, or anxious. I’m trying to remain kind to myself and accept that all of these emotions are natural.
(Reach out to a professional if you have any concerns about the impact of this situation on your mental health.)
Try not to compare your situation with anyone else’s. This situation will affect you in a different way to other people. Some people will lose lives, others will lose loved ones. Some will lose businesses, others will lose jobs. Some people will be alone and lonely, others will be isolating with family and missing time alone. Some people will have more time, others less time. Trying to compete over who has it worst is pointless, and playing down your own particular suffering in this period does nobody any good either.
Those feelings of “I shouldn’t moan, I’m only worried about my job while other people have died because of this” aren’t helpful. You can be worried about your own situation without minimising anyone else’s suffering.
Reduce your expectations of the work you’ll do during this time. Your concentration levels might be reduced. You might find that creative work especially is hard to do. Or you might find that creative work is the thing that lights you up and takes your mind off the real world. Expect the unexpected, and whatever your capacity is to work right now, remain kind to yourself. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the level of understanding that I’m receiving from everyone – clients, suppliers, colleagues.
If there’s one upside about this situation, it’s that the crisis is global. We have a global language that we can use when we’re explaining why we’re going to miss a deadline or were slow to respond to an email or have to cancel a meeting. We can focus on the humanity around us, beginning every call and email with a genuine how are you and ending with a sincere stay safe.
And, one final tip that’s helping me get through this time. I’ve decided that the situation will be exactly as it is right now for the next six months. I base that on nothing, but having an end date (even one that is completely fictitious) helps my planner head consider this as a temporary chunk of time and think how best to deal with it.
Take it day by day and remember – a crisis isn’t the time to expect to do it all.