Creating A Productive and Balanced Life During This F’n Pandemic
Hello from our Bend Compound! Wherever you’re reading this – an apartment in Spain or NYC, a van in the woods, a house with bored kids tearing your walls down – I hope you’re thriving as much as possible given a worldwide pandemic.
A meme that struck home for me: “Introverts, put your book down and check on your extrovert friends. They’re not ok.” Some of my buddies must picture me, extreme extrovert that I am, straitjacketed and rocking in a corner.
Surprising both Chelsea and myself, I adapted quickly and am quite content. No straitjacket needed! (She’s still watching me daily for cracks to show though.)
A Quick Identity Pivot
Home-bound and content are NOT words that describe me. However, when I realized this pandemic was sticking around for the unforeseen future, it required a shift in my identity and priorities.
It took some effort to reorient. Thanks to a generous friend’s gift of a flight pass on United this year, I’d spun travel and adventure plans spanning the globe. Social time consumed large chunks of time and energy. Mountain biking season approached.
POOF. Just like that, all put on hold for who knows how long.
To ensure I possessed the stamina to weather this without cracking, I needed to make the most of this forced isolation. Banging my head against the wall and wishing for things to normalize wasn’t going to change much!
This quote from a Sarah Blondin meditation struck home:
“When faced with great change, we must trust what comes budding forth. We must quickly release our grasp on the old and familiar in order to plant our new garden. Resisting change is futile. The longer we fight our current and therefore only reality, the longer we remain in limbo, trapped somewhere between the past and the future, far from the present.
I spun out a bit in March, then decided to focus on alive time vs dead time, seeking the positives in this upheaval. That mindset is working well for me to stay happy, productive and balanced during this pandemic. (Details at the end of this post about my approach.)
Let’s Just Say It: This Is Crazy
To say there’s stress in the air because of COVID-19 is an understatement. Helping our families be safe, canceling plans, sorting through business headaches, figuring out the precautions we need to take. It’s heavy.
At first, I found myself spiraling deep into NewsLand, gripping my computer as the stock market careened groundward trailing smoke and flaming 401(k)s. We’re not out of the woods yet (by any means), but the sense of chaos has lessened.
I find it darkly fascinating how fast the shift to a new normal happened. Initially I was overwhelmed with the enormity of state and country lockdowns. Now I wonder how reopening will go. Without a vaccine, when will I feel comfortable in a shiny metal tube hurtling through the sky with other people or sitting in a restaurant? 2022…maybe?
I’m swiveling my head like an owl to take in varied opinions about reopening. I understand (and support) that some people have zero options beyond reopening their small business to feed their family. Facing economic ruin, I’d do the same. Personal values (e.g. individual vs. collective outlook) play into it in a big way, so of course it’s nuanced, touchy ground.
There’s a line though. I find it difficult to identify with people holding signs saying I JUST WANT TO RACE (a motorcycle) or who must get their hair cut at a salon. Sacrificing personal leisure and vanity is the least we can do right now, so I’m surprised at the lack of stamina. Perhaps the philosopher Blaise Pascal was right when he said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”
I fear that reopening too quickly without listening to public health experts creates potential for COVID-19 to stick around. Will it become like school shootings, barely making the news unless there’s a huge NYC-style outbreak, collateral damage from “more important” needs like the economy?
The Stockdale Paradox comes to mind: You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.
As a small business owner, I’m lucky as helllll to be doing ok. I feel for those in the travel and restaurant industries – ouch. However, this crisis wields far-reaching potential effects, so who knows how this plays out. I started my business deep in the 2008 trough and rode the wave up, but every tsunami crashes at some point. Every smart investor I follow is writing UNCERTAIN TIMES over and over.
And yet Chelsea and I are the lucky, privileged ones. I’m immensely grateful to keep working remotely and merely curtail socializing, travel and big outdoor adventures. Whoop de doo, small, smalllll price to pay. To all those on the front lines – be it hospitals, grocery stores, food supply chain, sanitation – a bow of respect and solidarity. Thank you.
Finding the Silver Lining
On a more positive note, without any social engagements or travel, there’s a LOT of freed up time. Using the aforementioned concept of alive time, I decided to take advantage of this.
For me, that means building new skills and following my curiosity. For example, what can I add to my toolkit for future goals (such as an outdoor planning and navigation course I am currently taking) or just make me a more complete human (learning how to garden)?
We’re cueing off an astronaut who lived in isolation in space for a year: have a schedule. You know, beyond “Work. Freak out at the news. Eat. Sleep.” Ours isn’t a strict timetable though. More like guidelines.
To help accomplish that, Chelsea had the excellent idea for a list of healthy habits and fun/productive things to accomplish each day. We each have a list where we check off items, then wipe our slates clean in the morning.
I recommend doing this, both for the routine it creates and for instilling productivity in otherwise shapeless weeks (months!) that blend into one another. I don’t always get to everything. However, it’s motivating and a nice steering wheel to grab when I start spinning out reading bad news or dreaming about my business cratering into a smoking pit.
It’s not a static list – I occasionally add or subtract things – but core items stick around. My goal was to hit the physical, mental, creative and “gotta do it” tasks. Here are some of the things on my list that I find valuable.
My Daily Healthy Habits Checklist
- One Thing – choose ONE task to accomplish each day. This could be as simple as “place online food order” or “build one planter bed.” Whatever you want it to be!
- Checking in with family and friends – Daily conversations with my family and friends. My goal is always to talk about anything BUT corona.
- Helping with Chelsea’s list – given how much she handles, it’s the least I can do.
- Meditation – I’m using the Insight Timer app. Ten minutes a day, sometimes guided, sometimes not.
- Writing – I’m loving daily prompts for journaling, most recently from Wild Writing. I find it generates far more introspection than “here’s what I did today.”
- Chess – after years away from it, I’ve rekindled my love affair with chess. Such an absorbing intellectual challenge.
- Guitar – daily practice using the excellent, affordable site activemelody.com.
- Reading – I’m feeling a strong pull toward the natural world and got absorbed in the books Braiding Sweetgrass and The Hidden Life of Trees. That and some far-reaching sci-fi!
- Masterclass.com – Loving this! Classes taught by people at the top of their field. Here’s a few I’ve dug: chess (Garry Kasparov), negotiation (Chris Voss, FBI negotiator), cooking (Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse), writing (Niel Gaiman, Malcolm Gladwell). Oh, and Masterclass is offering a gift a membership for a friend right now. Such a great value.
- Cook something– for two months, we haven’t eaten anything we didn’t cook ourselves! These seitan jackfruit ribs are deeeeelicious.
- Ping pong – YES. I bought a ping pong machine that shoots balls at me. Best $140 I’ll spend all year, I bet. One friend who shall remain nameless got one so I wouldn’t crush him after all this COVID crap ends. (You’re going down, Scott.)
- GarageFit: I miss hanging with my crew, but I’m keeping the workouts going. If a bit more irregularly…
- Physical therapy: This seems like a good time to fix those niggling aches and pains, right? I tore a ligament in my ankle taking a rock climbing fall in March, so this is a daily thing for me. I still can’t run, but it’s coming around.
- Outdoor exercise: Bike rides or just a quick walk with Chelsea. Instead of mountain biking from crowded trailheads, I’m exploring new rides on my gravel bike with forays on fire roads and pavement to check out new loops and terrain.
- Stretching and foam rolling – I often pair this with watching Masterclass or do it during a work call.
- House projects – like many people (even you mobile van lifers!), we are digging into home projects that travel and socializing took precedence over in the past. I may even emerge from this as a competent gardener (gasp).
C’mon, Do I Really Need This?
I bet a few of you are shaking your heads and thinking, “Yegads, how Type A can one person get?” I’d be surprised if not. I fought it initially!
Then I came around to the satisfaction and momentum building that comes from check check checking my way through a day. I left lame crap like “check email” off it because, well, I’m going to do that.
This is for the things I might skip that serve to move my life forward and stimulate my desire to get out of bed for another day in COVIDLand. (Way less fun than Disneyland: “One person at a time on the Gravitron!”)
I urge you to give the daily healthy habits checklist a shot. The result of this list is that every day, I never run out of things to do. I’m never bored. I wish there were more hours every.single.day.
There is always more to learn and additional skills to pick up. (A few more on my list: Sewing, local plant and animal identification, master gardener training.) Instead of wallowing in the news or whiling away the time waiting for “real life,” this is proving to be a productive, fun and creative period.
What positive things have you added to your life or how are you staying sane during this insane time?