We’ve been in a pandemic world for over six months now. While restaurants are reopening and improvising various social distancing activities grant us some reprieve, no one thinks we’re going back to “normal” any time soon. COVID-19 inflection rates are spiking in some places, remaining constant in others, and now kids are going back to school.
It’s clear the United States needs a vaccine in order to overcome the “2nd wave” of this crisis. That’s still months away, so in the meantime, we’re left in this bizarre, half-open purgatory of contradictions. Medical experts say one thing, the President tweets about doctors who believe in dream demons, and no one has any idea where we go from here.
That’s to say nothing of issues surrounding police brutality, the worst economic downturn in history, and a looming election that feels cataclysmic in importance. All have become daily fixtures in our lives.
Now, go be productive.
The Daily Grind
Sorry to be a downer, but there’s a point, I promise. These issues beg the question: in these trying times, how do you stay focused and motivated in the grind of day-to-day life? How do you find fulfillment? I think many of us confronted these feelings once before at the beginning of the pandemic, but these days I hear more people talking about the return of malaise. It’s circling back around.
When I say “find fulfillment,” I don’t mean spiritually. I mean the feeling that, when you’re winding down at the end of the day, you did something that day. It’s something I strive for, and the monotony of the pandemic makes it elusive. But I have developed a few tricks to help ward off ennui and stay on track. Hopefully my tips can help you, too.
Tip 1: Keep a To-Do List
When the pandemic cancelled everyone’s plans and made people work from home, it took away much of the structure we use to mark the passage of time (Huffington Post). How many times have you looked up to realize you’re almost done with another month and you can’t remember anything that happened in the last three weeks? For me, it’s a near constant battle.
With the breakdown of routines and time feeling less concrete, it can be hard to feel like you’ve done anything recently. You know you completed that project for work, but was it last week or last month? Does it matter?
Usually, I keep the BuJu to-do list for work-related tasks. But in quarantine? Watching a movie that I’ve been meaning to see? Check it off. Finishing a tv show? Check it off. Prep for a virtual D&D session? That’s a check, too. Yes, structure is important for work, but injecting structure into your life elsewhere helps you stay sane. It might sound like a hassle, but trust me, when you can look back at all you’ve done in a week, it’s a great feeling.
Tip 2: Find a Way to “Commute”
I love my desk at home. I spend hours there on my laptop; writing, reading articles, watching Youtube videos. It’s my happy place, and one thing I don’t want to do is turn my happy place into my office. When that started to happen, “work time” felt like “me time”, and vice versa. My brain went haywire. I ended up wanting to watch TV at noon, and the creative writing I usually love to do at the end of the day felt like a chore. When it was all over, I felt guilty about not focusing on work, and drained from forcing myself to write. Worst of all, I felt like I accomplished nothing.
That’s why when I work from home now, I make a point to separate my work desk from my regular desk, even within the confines of my apartment. In the morning, I wheel my chair out into my apartment’s tiny sunroom and settle in for work. At 6 o’clock (or, let’s be honest, 7:30), I wheel it back inside, eat dinner, and sit down to enjoy the evening like I would if I’d come home from work. Bonus: I get to work outside!
Not everyone has a sunroom and a laptop, of course. If you find yourself unable to work in a different room, I still encourage you to find some way you can upset the status quo. Open a window in the evening, mark the end of the work day with yoga, or a run. If you’re glued to a screen all day for business and pleasure, like me, try to break it up by reading a book for an hour.
Tip 3: It’s OK to Do Nothing
My first two tips aim to help you find ways to either be or feel productive in the pandemic. This one is probably the hardest for me though, because I’m used to deriving meaning from activity. For example, I’m an avid skier. Catching the last chair to the top of the mountain at the end of the day is a point of pride for me, even when my leg muscles are screaming. The beer in the lodge always tastes better when I feel like I earned it.
Getting through each day of 2020 might seem similar on the surface, but whether it’s the pandemic, the economy, or police brutality, living with these issues isn’t catching the last chair. There might be some catharsis waiting at the end of it all, but it’s far away, and far more complicated than a celebratory beer.
To one extent or another, most of us are living in a constant state of stress, whether we’re conscious of it or not.
What I mean is, some days you just don’t feel like doing anything, and that’s ok. There’s a time to fight that feeling, to push past exhaustion. But there’s a time, too, to acknowledge your body and mind are sending you signals to relax. If you can manage it, that’s an achievement unto itself. If you manage to have fun with friends, that’s an accomplishment. If you take a nap on a Sunday afternoon and wake up feeling refreshed, that’s an accomplishment.
The bottom line is: do what you can, but don’t set your expectations too high. Don’t feel guilty when you “just can’t.” Everyone is having those days right now.
Tip 4: Be Kind
As easy as it is for me to have a rough day in 2020, it’s equally easy for everyone else. We all need to remember that. Empathy is important at all times, and especially vital now.
At the same time, these circumstances make it all too easy to have a short fuse. When frustration is part of your daily life, you have a natural inclination to vent. And while venting is a good and healthy thing to do, we have to make sure we do it in a way that doesn’t hurt ourselves or others.
So when I say, “Be Kind,” I don’t just mean to others, but to yourself as well. Work is harder right now and things take longer, so be patient. I’m not saying be sloppy, or let standards slip, but be cognizant of context. All we can do is our best.
Ok, so I know I said these were my tips, but it turns out my coworkers had some great advice, too. I’m obviously biased, but I think our team has done a fantastic job of staying motivated in the face of adversity this year. Rather than pass their strategies off as my own, I’m listing a few of my favorites here so you can enjoy the wisdom of the masses.
Mary Winter, Lead Producer
Mary says the big thing for her is “routine, routine, routine.” Hardly a surprise coming from one of ECG’s bullet journal masters. “Create an accountability group,” she says. “I have a few friends who discuss our goals and next steps and struggles. It’s outside of work but it’s really helpful.”
She also advises reaching out to seldom-seen friends and family over the phone or facetime, getting creative with outings (“…meet up in a giant ass parking lot, or go to a drive-in!”) and celebrating every holiday, no matter how minor.
Jordan Nowlin, Director of Video Marketing
Jordan says, “The number one thing for me is exercise, especially in the AM.”
As a fellow exercise fanatic, I’m inclined to agree, though I know some of you might be cringing to see this. But, to put it in Jordan’s words: “The same way that you feel compelled to eat healthier after working out I think compels you to work harder and get shit done, too. The waterfall of serotonin helps, too.”
If morning exercise isn’t your thing, you can also try setting a timer during the day to get up and stretch for 15 minutes. Do this three or four times and see if you don’t feel refreshed when you sit back down.
Seth Johnson, Animator
You might be sensing a theme here, but Seth advocates for exercise, too. He takes “daily runs and walks to decompress after the work day…. It’s important to blow off some steam.”
He, like me, also assigns himself personal projects with deadlines to keep himself accountable. It works!
Jason Marraccini, Founding Partner
“I think you’ll find that blowing out his candle makes yours burn much brighter.”
For what it’s worth, I’ve tried it. It helps.
Alessandro Graci, Intern
Alesso may be an intern, but he’s still a valuable member of the team and his message resonated with me. He looks at lockdown as a pressure that’s forced him to be more creative and think outside the box. At the best of times, it’s made everyone endeavor to “reach people in ways they have never tried before.”
“My advice would be to not let the quarantine stop you from achieving goals,” Alesso says. “Work on finding creative solutions around it.”
From the practical to the philosophical, I hope you can take something from this article. Let me know in the comments if you liked the blog, and if any of these tidbits resonated with you! Not everything works for everyone, of course, but even if you’re only drawn to a single sentiment, take it and leave the rest.
I’ll be happy with that.