In the classic poem Ash Wednesday, TS Eliot writes, “Therefore I rejoice, having to construct something upon which to rejoice.” I pull out this poem at this time every year, but this spring it struck me as especially profound. As we all huddle, hunker and shelter, there’s a lot of unanticipated free time to fill. It can be easy to waste a lot of it in mindless activities, especially since anxiety and depression are affecting so many of us. By creating a new, quarantine-era structure for your days—constructing something upon which to rejoice—you are bound to come out of the ordeal with your sanity intact and some goals achieved.
Based on my Instagram feed, I am impressed and inspired by how well so many of people are using their time at home. Many have shared that they are meditating, have had meetings or dance classes or gatherings with friends via Zoom, are crafting, hiking, writing, playing music. My mother is determined to get through War and Peace by reading ten pages of it every morning. Obviously, she is expecting the shelter-in-place to last well into 2021.
One of my go-to productivity experts, Tim Ferriss, author of books such as The Four-Hour Work Week and Tools of Titans, talks about routine a lot. For him and most of the uber-accomplished guests on his podcast, having a daily routine that rarely varies is something they insist is crucial to their success. A routine that tells you what time to get up in the morning, what to eat and when to have breakfast, to make the bed, to check or not check e-mail, what and when to eat lunch, etc., prevent decision fatigue. It allows the brain to use all that energy it saved from not making all those quotidian decisions and use it for creative endeavors and more important decision making.
Most of us have been jolted out of our usual routine. Either we are now working and schooling from home or not working and schooling at all. What we used to do in person we now might be doing online. Going to a public place now requires more thought, preparation and even supplies. You have to pack a warm coat to go to the grocery store so that you won’t freeze in the line out front. Protective masks are practically de rigour. My bank has a sign, “no sunglasses or hats.” I saw a guy wearing both of those things plus a bandana over the lower part of his face. During a pandemic everyone looks like a cross between a bank robber and the invisible man, down to the gloves.
Mornings may not be as rushed. Maybe your new routine could be to create the morning schedule of your dreams. Mine would be the usual ablutions, coffee and bed making followed by meditation, a workout, and a really healthy breakfast. Then I would sit and write for an hour. What does your ideal morning look like and could you make a routine of it for however long the shelter in place ordnance lasts?
Kids thrive on routine. I’m hearing about a lot of teens who are eating a lot of junk food and sleeping in until the mid-afternoon. If children are required to keep to even the skeleton of a schedule, there will be more opportunity for activities and achievements that could keep a lot of pandemic-related boredom, fear and depression at bay. Keep it simple: basic grooming, room tidying, healthy meals at set times, set times for homework and somewhat elastic limits on screen time, since that is their main social outlet for the foreseeable future.
Evening routines are wonderful for signaling to our minds and bodies that it is time to shift gears and prepare for sleep. Best-selling author Arianna Huffington has a lot to say about the importance of a good evening routine in her book Thrive. Things like not snacking after dinner, brushing your teeth, putting on pajamas, dabbing lavender oil on your temples, setting the alarm for the morning, making a cup of herb tea and always going to bed at the same time are all tried and true elements of a nightly routine that leads to improved sleep and a more alert next morning.
Since every day is like a weekend day for most of us and for the foreseeable future, there’s no reason to alter your routine on Saturday and Sunday, which will make it stronger. The more days in a row you can stick to your routine, the more effortless it will become. A feeling of relaxed control will start to come over you, giving you the focus, energy and confidence to make the best use of your time under quarantine.