Normally our lives progress according to all kinds of barely considered programming. Days have their routines, our work has its habits and our evenings and weekends are filled with patterns that we follow. This current crisis has interrupted our programming.
Instead of the steady stream of multi-channel entertainment that is usually scheduled for us, we are looking a test pattern. We have been challenged to make up an entirely new program for our lives. We need to do this under tight constraints: We need to wash our hands; We need to stay home; we need to maintain physical separation when we do venture out for only essential activities like shopping and exercise. In many cases, we need to do it urgently and without preparation.
Our first instinct is to recreate the programs that provide the comfort of the commonplace.
We start working in videoconference meetings that reflect the meetings of our work days and now stretch well beyond consuming meals, commutes and evenings as well. We create dinner parties and drinks in videoconferencing tools to experience the conviviality of our usual weeks. We exercise to online videos. We make our own espresso and our own bread to fill in for our deprivation. Teachers struggle to teach children online in schedules, class formats and worksheets designed for face to face.
We turn to instant messaging, chat and social media for social chatter and conversation. We order online the food and drink that we once ate out. People have been amazingly creative in recreating lost holidays and other experiences in the seclusion of their homes.
Recreating routine will only take us so far. We are denying the interruption. Denying that harsh reality leads to burnout, disappointment and frustration. Denial is one part of the stages of grief. Acceptance comes later.
A Chance to Choose Anew
Usual programming has been interrupted. It may well be off the air for some time. We can’t just go on as unusual. We need to choose our new routines.
Some have found solace in new or old pursuits revisited. I know I have rediscovered and re-engaged with poetry. It is an old passion of mine and it has been a great consolation to seek meaning for these strange days in poetry. Others have found new pleasure exercise routines, or baking, or craft or the simple art of reading deeply.
The television set hungDerek Mahon, The Terminal Bar
in it’s wire-net cage
protected from the flung
bottle of casual rage,
is fetish and icon
providing all that we want
of magic and redemption,
routine and sentiment.
We also have the chance to choose anew how we live our lives and do our work. We can change the programming and find new routines. We get to ask “what can I do now?’ and our routines don’t need to provide the answer. We can be guided by what seems brightest in the dark moments. These new priorities will help us set the new routines and new priorities.
A simple step is to begin with Steven Covey’s Urgent and Important grid. We spend a lot of our routine time in the Urgent but Unimportant or worse the Non-urgent and Unimportant quadrants. Now is the time to plan. Now is the time to spend more of our time in the Important quadrants.
We also need to give ourselves the time to devote to things that are important but are rarely considered in the rush of our routines:
– Self-care: ‘Put on your own oxygen mask first’ is important advice in any crisis. We don’t have to transform. We just need to survive and forgive ourselves our foibles.
– Care for others: This is not a time for the selfish. We need time for those for whom we care most.
– Support for our communities: We will come through this together, not alone. Even our isolation is an act of community care.
Even our brief interruptions to date have revealed that there is value, productivity and personal rewards in working, interacting and living in new ways. Remote work has enabled some to explore greater productivity and flexibility from new, different and more agile ways of working. For some there is a new balance in households of work shared in families and for others a deeper connection with their families while working. The office has lost some of its magic of routine. The wider losses are many, but there are consolations that are guide to new ways of working and living when the isolation ends.
Some of our current priorities and changes are still unclear to us. They might be only a yearning , a discomfort or a hint now. These changes to our programming will become clearer for us later as we have more time and less distractions. We can experiment, but we can also choose to defer these until we learn more. What we are not required to do is maintain the program as it was.
The programming has been disrupted. Pouring our efforts into recreating that programming misses the opportunity to find new value in what comes next. Now is the time to invest in a different future. This time is a time to choose new patterns of life and of work to start now or later.