Hello there, I hope you’re ok! Here in the UK, it has been a very long and surreal week – bracing each day for the next announcement of coronavirus measures, trying to look after loved ones, keep distance, and adjust to this new normal. Today is our first day of officially enhanced restrictions (i.e. lockdown). But like many households, we’ve been following these measures for a week or so already.
So, how do we get on with our work from here?
I have some experience here… I spent large chunks of my childhood and teenage years separate from my peers, studying on my own, and only going out for short bursts of exercise. I have M.E / Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, which often puts restrictive measures on my life – prioritising health, staying indoors, limiting exercise and minimal interaction with others. As an adult, I also have spent a lot of time working from home. I spent a few years working entirely remotely for an arts charity, and recently left to focus on freelance work. I have been operating off the traditional career grid for a while, and now that grid is breaking down anyway.
I’ve made a lot of mistakes home working, such as not prioritising my mental health. So I thought it would be useful to share the key techniques for working creatively and positively, that are guiding me just now. Obviously, this is a developing scenario and this is just some ideas to bounce off!
1) No matter what, you are fully in charge of your own day
Right now, we’re all feeling powerless. If you’re like me, you’ve spent ages thinking of all the things you can’t now do – the holidays, family visits, that parallel life that should be happening. Plus, this lockdown comes on top of the other factors dictating the course of our day – whether that’s our boss, our children, etc.
However, it’s worth saying at this point that every thing you do – from the moment you open your eyes in the morning – is your own action. Even with the things you have to do (like stay indoors, do your job, feed your children, etc), you are in control of the way you do it. Do not let the things you can’t control become an excuse – find agency in every little action, and be proactive about the decisions you can make!
For example, let’s use the fact you have to stay indoors (unless you are a key worker or shopping for essentials, etc). You have total control over what your day indoors looks like. In fact, if you’re doing your office job at home you may even have more control than you did before – where you choose to set up a home office, what you wear (especially from the waist down), what the lighting/music/ambience is like. You are responsible for making the day you have to lead the best it can be for you. Don’t sell yourself short.
2) Think like a plant – prioritise light, air and nutrients
Specific things that have made my days better this past week: getting the curtains open early to let lots of light into my home, opening windows, going out very early (and to quiet spots) for a walk, doing a gentle home exercise routine (when I’m ‘good tired’, I also have less energy to worry) and doing lots of the things I enjoy. All of which can be summarised as light, air and nutrients.
My nutrients come from feel-good exercise and eating well, but also the things that make me happy. These have to be a priority now, rather than an afterthought or a reward for doing all the things you ‘need’ to do first. The world has gone topsy-turvy, so reassess your priorities and give a bit more value to your passions. Paint, read, write, draw, play games, do crosswords, whatever – make sure they are an early part of your day, as they will feed your energy to get through the rest of it.
Try doing something you enjoy each day – whether that’s getting up to fit it in ahead of work or reclaiming 30 mins of alone time. Make a note of the effect. Mark every other day on the calendar if time demands are high.
When there’s so much strain on our mental health, we need to value our happiness. Whatever you enjoy doing – as long as it’s legal – is not a waste of time. Who knows what will come when you put time into your passions?
3) You do not need to create a masterpiece
Spend time on your passions but don’t pressure them. Now is not the time to write a seminal novel. Do what you love because you love it, that is enough.
4) What you do need, though, is a day and week plan
My partner and I wrote out a daily schedule to structure this otherwise unstructured time. He titled it ‘Coronavirus Schedule’ along the top, but I rebranded it to ‘Creative Retreat Schedule’ to feel more positive about this new routine. We planned out our individual working days, from wake up time (7.30, with half an hour for tea in bed), to exercise, work and leisure time. We also did a weekly plan to come up with things that were specific for each day – like Wednesday baking and Friday film night. You do not need to be on the same schedule as those you live with – do what’s best for you where possible.
So far, having a written schedule has been really helpful. Some timings have been adjusted (2pm didn’t work as an exercise time, for example) and occasionally it goes out the window, but it’s an invaluable reference point.
I’ve also been experimenting with doing something new each week – this week it’s getting up an hour earlier, last week I started doing barre fitness (I’d been too intimidated by the ballet terms to try a class, but I gave it a go at home and I love the full body workout, stretch and discipline). I’m not expecting to keep up all the new ideas from each week but it adds variety!
5) Be accountable to someone
On our daily schedule, my partner and I have a check-in time (10am) to tell the other what we will be doing that day – this is especially useful as freelancers, in terms of building towards self-generated work goals. As soon as you vocalise it, you’re more likely to do it and be held accountable.
This can also be applied to staying on track with hobbies, socialising, fitness, etc in this isolated time. Tell someone what your plan for the day or week is – send them a picture of your schedule. Get a loved one to give you a kick towards your goals when you need to and do the same for them.
6) Find a beautiful (for you) space to work
Your work space, even if it’s a corner of the dining table, should be a nice place to go. Carve your space. Rearrange anything you need to – bring a lamp closer, use your favourite stationary, sit near a window if you can. Not focusing? Move! Jump about for a bit, then set up your space in another part of the room. Treat it like a phone signal and try around the room until it’s just right. You do not just have to dump yourself down.
7) Listen while you work
When working from home was making me feel increasingly friendless and isolated, I started listening to podcasts. I’d listen to them as I worked, pausing or zoning out when I really had to focus. It saved me, to be honest. That companionship really helped with my depression.
Although I’m happier in my work life now, I’m still listening as I work. The chat is soothing and I’m learning new things (I’m really into fertility and women’s health podcasts at the moment, niche I know!).
So basically, if you’re not into podcasts already – now is the moment to explore!
8) Imagine good things as well
We can all spend hours imagining the bad things that are happening and that might happen. I know that constantly reminding yourself to redirect thoughts is exhausting. However, the imagination is an incredible resource that should be capitalised just now. It is a waste to let it drown in all the uncertainty.
Personally, it feels much more productive to plan upcoming blogs for half an hour, or paint a canvas, than sit in a chair and be stressed and sad. I don’t want to miss out on the positive things I could be doing with this time – making plans and creating things. It is an unprecedented moment, and we must find opportunity where we can. So that is the silver lining I’m holding on to just now.
I’d love to know how you are managing your days and getting creative during this time! Plus, look out for more blogs coming up…