The beat has stopped, yet the show must go on. The global consequences of lockdown are plastered wall to wall across every news outlet. The personal consequences, however, are far more discreet. Ever since the plug was pulled we have been swaying awkwardly, mouths agape, waiting for the party to resume. Yet rather than just a skip on the record, it now sounds like we’re in this for the long haul. Unless we make a compelling effort to adapt and keep our footing, our new rhythm will feel awfully like the blues.
Glass half full: most of us now have a lot more time on our hands. Commuting is now a walk to the kitchen, meetings finally all take place in your office, ordering in is the new eating out, and your coffee machine doesn’t need you to spell out your name (it couldn’t care less). Yet putting this extra time to good use seems more difficult than ever. Far from simply squandering an excess our most treasured resource, the framework for exploiting our time constructively has been dismantled.
A solid routine is built from a collection of good habits. Many A-listers among them remain, in themselves, feasible during lockdown: waking up early (some would argue freakishly so), making your bed, exercising, setting attainable goals, eating a real breakfast (or skipping it entirely), cutting back on social media, limiting your exposure to news, avoiding screens before going to bed, and doing so at a regular time… The problem is, habits rely on cues, or specific situations that trigger the action. These cues have ceased to be.
Perhaps you’ve set an alarm, perhaps not, little does it matter, you’ve no train to catch. Nature’s wake-up call of sunlight went unanswered, the curtains saw to that. The relatively peaceful downtime of the commute is gone: shutting off from the world to a podcast, music, the paper, or other simple pleasures that bring more joy to your life than you care to admit. No background hubbub or change of scenery for stimulation. The only thing out the window is your concentration. You’d been avoiding taking your work home with you your entire life, and now it has moved in. No more peer pressure to perform; the cat passed judgement on you long ago. Conference calls can only bully your top half into looking decent. The word of the day is procrastination: you can always catch up later. Sleep whenever Netflix allows. Only an incarcerated tiger fanatic is bombastic enough to distract you from your own captivity.
This is terrible, horrible, no good, very bad news indeed. We need routines to get things done. Whether we like them or not, deadlines, in whatever form, enforce discipline. Like a metronome they provide the tempo keeping us on our toes. Our capacity for occupational achievement, our productivity, increases as a function of the number of tasks at hand (up to the point of being overwhelmed at least): we rise to the occasion. However, unfortunately, we also tend to fall when there is a lack thereof. Disconnected and with a reduced workload, a sense of accomplishment is ever harder to come by.
The noticeable lack of productivity and focus only increases the strain on our mental health. Compounded by each new day of isolation, never has our state of mind faced such great a threat. Slipping out of sync with your circadian rhythm and perpetuating an offset body clock is disastrous. The need for exercise cannot be emphasised enough, for mental and physical health alike. Using social media and news streams as a distraction will only make you sad and anxious.
Now that life has been stripped back to fulfilling only our most basic needs, work lives have been cast in a new light. More than just a means to financial ends, a job is also our best stand–in mechanism for a sense of purpose and meaning. Even more than that, perhaps the daily grind we’ve long loved to hate deserves more credit, as it may just be the glue holding everything together.
Although the phrase is comically overused, this truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity. A unique chance to re-evaluate and find a better way in moving forward. Use this quiet time to find a tune that you actually enjoy. Experiment with new habits and find your groove. If you’re not happy with your job, seize the moment to engineer a career pivot: they’re worth more to us than money. But whatever you do, establish a routine, maintain a rhythm and stay in the swing of things. There will be no bass drop back to reality, we’re on track for an ever so gradual crescendo into new kind of normalcy.