The COVID-19 era of social distancing has been a learning experience, to put it mildly. In this odd season of all of our lives, it is a good idea to sit down and reflect on how self-isolation and social distancing have affected us. I have been thinking about how the pandemic has affected my own life these past few months and came up with some lessons that I have come across during my time at home. Some lessons came easily to me, and others…not so much. Here are some of the lessons that I am learning through social distancing.
- Setting up a doable routine: On my very first day of working from home, I set up a workday plan. I personally thrive on routine, but that is not the case for everyone. The good news is that a routine should be tailored around how you work best, and can be as rigid or as loose as you need. I found that setting a routine around my natural rhythms went really well. I set up my heavy work for first thing in the morning, which motivated me to continue with my lighter/more fun work in the afternoon. I also make myself take the same break and lunch times every day whenever possible. Setting up a manageable routine takes knowledge of yourself, flexibility, and persistence.
- Setting boundaries: Boundaries show up in multiple aspects of my life, but the main two that I have been dealing within the age of social distancing are work boundaries and social boundaries. For work, I decided early that I would need to have hard limits on what working from home would look like. This means that I only work during set hours in a specific space in my house, and I do not log in otherwise. I also do not take working lunches or working breaks, and I step away from my workspace during those times. Socially, I have to negotiate when I am willing to leave my house, with whom, and what steps I need to take to make everyone feel safe, and I have to be willing to say no when those conditions are not met. These skills will empower me to guard work and social boundaries in the future.
- Being self-motivated: It’s a lot easier to accomplish goals when you have external pressure or validation, but what happens when those external forces are reduced, or go away entirely? In my situation, it was a matter of telling myself that working from home would be different, but ultimately, it mattered to maintain a high standard of work (while being realistic about my limitations). Self-motivation, like any skill, is something that can be worked on and improved. If you struggle to work or study without external help, how can you simulate external help? Some suggestions include having an accountability partner, setting small goals to help reach a larger goal, and rewarding yourself for completing tasks. It may seem odd to work so hard just to maintain productivity, but the motivational tools that work for you are worth doing.
- Staying connected: I am a hardcore introvert and have difficulty maintaining communication in my relationships even when I can leave the house. In order to stay connected with friends and family, I had to work against my hermit instincts and start reaching out. Currently, I have a regular Zoom board game night with my friends, I’ve been talking to my family more than ever, and I even tried my hand at hosting a Zoom karaoke night. I still find it hard to reach out sometimes, but I’m getting better at it!
- Don’t feed the fear: I am an excellent worrier, and that hasn’t gotten better during a global pandemic (who would have guessed, right?). While the worrying has not gone away entirely, I have had to stop myself from panic-scrolling through social media at all hours of the day and night, and I have also ramped up my meditation and exercise practices to help create a less stressful environment.
- Cutting myself some slack: During quarantine, I have NOT learned a new language, picked up an instrument, written the next Great American Novel, or even done much outside of my ordinary routine, other than the leaving the house part. And you know what? THAT’S OK. Believe it or not, a period of great personal and global stress is not an amazing motivator for productivity. If you are currently struggling in work or school, please give yourself some grace and ask for help when you need it. We are in extraordinary and difficult times, and we need to adjust our standards to match our current reality.
What are some lessons that you’ve learned from this time of social distancing, and how will you carry them over into your post-pandemic life?