My lockdown plan

After almost a year of working from home, periodically while keeping two small children entertained and home schooled, I was at the end of my tether in December. Starting a big project and recruiting a group of new people, managing my group in Manchester, continuing to teach, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting – keeping all the balls in the air, bending over backwards to get everything done, firefighting since March. The constant, constant pressure of everything, and not having time for anything. It had all been too much. And then, just before the Christmas holiday that I needed more than ever, we went into a full lockdown again. I was so run down, I could not go on like this. I needed a plan.

I started drawing my lockdown-life during the first lockdown

I needed a plan to make sure I would not burn myself out, to reduce the constant feeling of anxiety (triggered by constantly checking email and Twitter), and to restore the confidence that I had lost over the past months. Yes, I had lost confidence. Stuck at my computer in sweat pants, wiping bums while on Zoom calls, I felt like I did when I was on maternity leave: reduced to a mum, and nothing but a mum. And of course, the people on the other side of my screen were all still professional, and able to think coherently, and in control of their work, and their lives. Or so I thought.

So I went completely off line during the Christmas holiday. Not just off email, but also off Twitter. I did a lot – a LOT – of running, and we went outside with the kids a lot. And while taking a break, and being outside, and not working at all, slowly, I regained some calm, and slowly, I realised that I needed an overhaul of my working-from-home approach. I needed to not be online all the time, to not be distracted by emails or Twitter while with my children, or while trying to focus on a work task. And I needed to block time for research, for thinking and reading and writing – for the work that makes me happy – instead of flitting from Zoom meeting to Zoom meeting, from Twitter to email. I needed to prioritise. I needed to set boundaries, have a clear schedule, and make a home office that is comfortable and makes me feel happy.

My attic home office

So here’s what I did:

  • We tidied the attic home office and I ordered a nice retro sofa and a floor lamp to make it a comfortable space with a 70s feel (they won’t arrive until March, but chances are we are still in a lockdown then)
  • I made a list of all my tasks in excel, with deadlines and priorities, and an indication of their status. I keep this task list up to date and it helps me prioritise and feel in control of my workload
  • I put (most of) my editorial roles on hold for the time being
  • I am skipping all non-essential Zoom meetings (linked to my task list above!)
  • I bought a battery pack and a wireless headset so I can have some of my Zoom meetings while walking (this is a winner!)
  • I am blocking time to go running (I run about 60-70k a week, which is crucial for my mental health, but I sometimes skip my runs when I feel too busy or stressed, which is counterproductive)
  • I am blocking time in my calendar for tasks that need my full attention, and I am guarding that time
  • I am getting dressed in the morning!
  • I am closing my email while working on a task so I’m not distracted by plings and pop-ups
  • I disabled badges on my phone email app
  • When I go back on Twitter (yes, I’ve not been on Twitter for four weeks now and it has been so good for my state of mind), I will limit it to 3 or 4 set times a day (I am thinking about deleting the app from my phone but I’m not quite there yet!)
  • [EDIT 15/1/2021] I did it!! I removed Twitter from my phone. This doesn’t mean that I will be off Twitter – it just means that it’s slightly more effort for me to be on there, which hopefully limits my time spent doom scrolling
  • No Twitter or email after 20:30 in the evening
  • [EDIT 15/1/2021] And this one is not strictly work-related, but when we are having dinner at the end of the day, as a family, we share what we enjoyed during that day, and what went well/ something that we are proud of. Initially this made me cringe a bit, but my children really enjoy this!

I also purchased a journal that helped me identify these Golden Habits, and that helps me stick to them (in Dutch).

A walking Zoom call in the sunshine

Is it working? Well, we’re almost two weeks into the post-Christmas lockdown, and I am still feeling remarkably calm and positive, which in turn strengthens my confidence in this approach and in myself. And, for those cases where I’m losing my calm, I purchased the Calm-app for my phone.

In the end, if I don’t take care of my mental health, no one will. And if I burn out, it’s not just me who has a problem, but also my family, my employer, and my colleagues.


2 thoughts on “My lockdown plan

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s