Life in the Time of Coronavirus

It’s unnerving, having your usual way of life (working from home, being generally distant and anti-social) officially sanctioned by the government as a method of global pandemic-protection. 

(Fellow introverts the world over are rejoicing at the opportunity to stay at home with no excuses.  But now I’m being told to stay inside, I suddenly don’t want to.  The rebel in me wants to organise a rash of illicit social gatherings, and I’m trying to resist an annoying urge to go and set up my laptop in a coffee shop).

It’s also unnerving when you’re on a phone call with a client, you take a sip of water, it goes down the wrong hole, and you cough. 

First there’s an awkward pause, followed by a concerned sounding, “Oh God… are you OK?”

For the record, I’m absolutely fine. 

Physically, at least. 

Mentally… well, I’m a bit wobbly, to be honest.  You know something’s not right when you switch on BBC Breakfast of a morning, only to find yourself welling up at the – suddenly overwhelmingly reassuring – sight of Dan Walker and Louise Minchin on the sofa.  

Meanwhile, the media – social and otherwise – aren’t helping. 

Pictures of ravaged supermarkets, and grim tales of “wartime conditions” (seriously?), go hand-in-hand with weirdly optimistic advice and empty-headed opinions, to create a snarling, spitting monster nobody can ignore.

But while we can’t ignore it, we can have a go at reasoning with it. 

For me, this means staying calm and clear-headed.  Living and working on my own, I’m – thankfully – pretty low-risk.  

My priorities, therefore, begin with staying well, continuing to use other people’s businesses and services wherever I can, and not being a drain on resources higher-risk people need more than me (online shopping, doctor’s appointments, etc.)  

(They also involve not moaning on social media about not being able to get any loo roll.  Because the moment you start doing that, you create panicky hunter-gatherer thoughts like, “OK, I’ve already got 1,236 rolls, but I’ll go out and grab a few more, just in case!”)

Home-working wisdom

As a seasoned home-worker, I’ve got a couple of tips for those who are just beginning to dip their toes into this way of life.  

The first – and I would argue, the most important – is to not take things too personally.

I’ve found that there’s something visceral about introducing work into your home, so it helps to do it gently, and on your terms.  

A snotty client email, when read in the impersonal, contextual surroundings of work, can be easily dealt with, then forgotten.  But reading the same email at home can feel as though that client is attacking you, in your safe space. 

To avoid this horrible feeling, I recommend only reading work emails while you’re sitting at your designated workspace.  Don’t be tempted to check through them on the sofa, or worse, in bed.

The second is not to heed advice about “getting ready in the morning as if you were going out to work!” if you don’t want to. 

Working from home means you get to do things your way, and if that means wearing your PJs with pride, fine.  Why waste brain space feeling guilty about not primping yourself for the office, when you’re not actually working in one? 

Business as usual?

I can’t be the only person who’s sick and tired of the ‘c’ word in every last piece of communication, and of the weirdly formal messages from company CEOs telling us that “the health and wellbeing of our staff is our highest priority” (this should be a given, surely?)

Blatant advertising may feel insensitive at a time like this, but within reason, I think we have to resist that feeling (I recorded a video to promote my new book this week, and I don’t feel guilty about doing it). 

There’s something reassuring about businesses carrying on as ‘normally’ as they can, and I still want to know about products and services that might be useful to me – now, and when all this chaos is finally over.

The same goes for starting a new project, or thinking about changing your life or career.  Now could, in fact, be the best time to start reflecting on exactly where you want to be, and crafting a plan to get you there.

As for how to cope generally with our impending doom, I read some fantastic advice from Cal Newport about choosing a high-quality local and national news source, checking in with them once every morning, then absorbing yourself in purposeful, positive actions for the rest of the day. 

So far, this simple approach has been working for me.  I hope you find one that works for you, as we sit and wait out this incredible storm together.

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