Time Away

As of now I am on annual leave for a week (ten days if you count the weekends and bank holidays). I have decided that I am also going to stop using a computer during this time so there won’t be any blog posts from me until 14th April.

I think it’s important, from time to time, to step away from our usual routines and examine other aspects of life. In addition to that, I don’t want to give myself the opportunity to read the news or waste time doing other things online.

My plans are to write (in my notebooks), do some gardening and spend time with my family. We will probably watch a few films among other things. I will also go running a few times and help out my elderly neighbours by collecting prescriptions and going shopping.

We had been planning to go to Scotland for the week, but obviously that’s no longer an option. Even so, there are plenty of things to do that don’t involve staring at a computer screen.

All We Have is Now

Leave March in March. The last month has felt like a decade, February and January weren’t great either. But this is a new quarter. So let’s not dwell on what came before.

The situation we find ourselves in is beyond our control. We can’t change it. We can only make the best of the minutes, hours and days ahead of us. Try to find something to hold onto that brings you joy. Remember that neither good nor bad things last forever. All we have is now.

This changes everything

One day we will have this virus under control. Maybe that’s six months from now or maybe it will take longer. And when that happens we will be in a recession. Businesses are already folding and more will follow. The stock market appears to be in free fall. People will lose their jobs, their businesses, their houses. These things are already happening and they will probably get worse.

The gouvernment will try to put things back together. They will try to go back to the way things were last year. The economy will be prioritised above pretty much everything else. Back in Business will be the slogan. We will be asked to make more sacrifices to try and rebuild the world as it used to be. But should we?

It’s not just the economy that is being changed by this. People are being changed as well. In the west we no longer live in a protective bubble, sure that nothing can truly harm us. The safety net is gone. People who have never needed social aid are having to ask for it. People aren’t sure when this is going to end. We are losing our “innocence” and that is going to be the biggest change.

Going back to the way things were is impossible. The society of 2019 isn’t sitting there waiting for us to get through this, it is gone forever. We can’t go back to it, even if it was something worth going back to. We have changed and that means we aren’t going to settle for things being the way they used to be.

I don’t know what that’s going to mean. I don’t know what the world of 2021 is going to look like but I know it won’t be the same as the world of 2019. It can’t be. How can we possibly go back to cutting NHS funding when we’ve all seen how much we rely on it and the people who work in it? How can we go back to questioning a living-wage for people who work in supermarkets and as couriers when we’ve seen that we need them to keep us alive?

Things are already changing, the only question is what we want them to change into.

Weekends

I have been working from home every day for the last few weeks but this is the first week my kids have also been off school. As we aren’t allowed to leave the house we have a unique problem of how to define a difference between the weekdays and the weekend. I am not sure why it seems important to do this but it does.

There will be differences: I won’t be sitting in my office from 9 until 5 so they will see more of me. We are also unlikely to attempt the sort of formal home-schooling my wife has been doing for the last week. But other than that?

We will watch some films together. I might finally get out for a run. I will do some gardening. But we won’t be able to go out anywhere and it’s only now that it really hits me how much we are losing there.

I have always been more than happy to stay at home to work. Sitting in front of a computer is the same wherever I happen to be doing it. It’s also very rare that we go out in the evenings. On weekends we used to go out; to the cinema, for meals, to the park, for long walks. Now we can’t do any of that.

It’s going to be a strange experience. Oscar is already asking about going out and despite how much fun he’s had in the garden, Jude is also starting to get bored. And really, this is only week one of complete lock-down, we have a long way still to go.

Don’t Go Crazy

This might be my last post specifically relating to the Cornovirus outbreak because it’s time I started following my own advice.

Since my Digital Declutter post in May last year I haven’t blogged. I have been trying very hard to cut my internet use and media consumption back. I have been successful for weeks at a time and I have felt a lot better about everything. I was still doing this when the virus started leaving China and making its way to Europe so I was slow to pick up on what was happening. Even as Italy prepared to lock its doors I was under the mistaken impression that it wasn’t really going to impact me.

When it finally did hit me I fell back on my old patterns of using the internet too much, listening to news radio and, basically, trying to inhale as much information about the situation as I could. Unsurprisingly, the weeks that I have been doing so have been very stressful. And the question I find myself asking now is; was I really worse off when I didn’t understand the full implications of what was happening?

Perhaps, but I’m not sure it’s as straightforward as that. Maybe it would be better to ask whether I am better off checking the news every fifteen minutes than I would be checking it once or twice a day? I’m pretty sure the answer is no.

Most of the news I’ve read and watched about it isn’t actionable information. Which means that the only outlet I have for it is panic which doesn’t do me or the other people around me any good. And it is quickly driving me back into the old unfortunate habits that I’d hoped were behind me.

My solution then is to check the news twice a day; once mid-morning and once when I have finished work for the day. That should give me everything I need to know about what’s happening and it should reduce my levels of stress. What it means for this blog is that I am going to try to write about other things, things that I was thinking about before this all started and will still be thinking about long after it is all over.

Stay safe out there.

Try to make the most of it

This isn’t a good situation. It seems like half the world is locked away and none of us knows what the long term impact of that is going to be. Personally, I’m not even thinking about that as most of my concerns are more immediate; what happens if someone in my family catches the virus?

But on the bright side I get to spend more time with my family every day. I get to eat lunch with my wife and children every day. I feel more a part of the family than I do when I spend two hours a day sat in my car by myself. And whatever the next few weeks may bring, I want to enjoy that and make the most of it.

It’s Not The Apocalypse

I have read a lot of post-apocalyptic books and watched a lot of movies. I’m sure you have as well. That’s probably one of the reasons why I’m finding the news so distressing at the moment; because it all looks so familiar. But if that was the only issue then I think we would be okay and we would see a lot more people behaving like reasonable adults. Unfortunately, we also have a lot of experience of modern news reporting to go on.

We all saw what the media did during the Brexit campaign and during the most recent election. Until recently we could see it happening in the Democratic Primary in America. We know that the media isn’t presenting us with an unbiased factual report of what is going on. They are using the same attention grabbing techniques that they have always used, the scare tactics and rhetoric. Unfortunately this seems to be creating two courses of action:

  1. People refusing to believe what they are being told and carrying on life as normal.
  2. People believing that the world is going to end and panic buying toilet paper and hand sanitiser.

Neither is a good response, but I can’t blame anyone for either. This is what the media does now and no one trusts it. Either we assume they are over-inflating the crisis, or that they are deflating it. There’s no real way of knowing which one of these it is or if, in this rarest of moments, they have all decided to start being professional journalists and are reporting things accurately.

There’s no short term answer to this and I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. My advice would be to listen to the doctors and nurses who are working on the front line and have first-hand experience of what is going on. And, while it’s probably a good idea to play it safe, can I suggest that if we run out of toilet paper in the shops we have probably already run out of something much more important.

Working from Home

In the last few months I have been lucky enough to start working from home three days a week. Lucky, firstly, because otherwise I spend two hours driving to and from work every day, secondly because it involved moving into a job where I could work from home during the Coronavirus outbreak. My previous job would have made it less practical.

Having already transitioned to working from home some of the time meant that I had some experience when my company asked everyone who could work from home to do so. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for someone who has never had to work from home to suddenly find themselves in that position.

I can’t speak about the difficulty of not having co-workers around me. By nature I am an introvert so working in isolation feels more natural than in an open-plan-office. Although, having said that, as I am now into week two of full-time working from home, I do find myself more involved in conference calls which I used to take a back-seat in. But, on the whole, this aspect hasn’t been a struggle for me.

What I imagine will be a big struggle for some people (and still is on occasion for me) is the issue of motivation. Office life has its own structure and flow. You get in, make yourself a coffee and spend a few minutes catching up with co-workers. You do some work, you go for lunch, you do some more work and then start thinking about going home. You don’t give a lot of thought to these routines but if you look for them, they’re there. Then, suddenly, you find yourself at home with an eight hour block of time to manage and a pile of work to get done.

It can be daunting, and without a boss looking over your shoulder, it is easy to lose motivation. The key is to build your own routines.

This will take a bit of work. It’s likely that the routines of your office were there before you started and will be there long after you leave. You didn’t have to think about them, but when you’re working at home, you do.

Everyone is different, but this is what works for me:

  1. Get a notebook and create a plan
  2. Start by splitting your page in four (so three dividing lines)
  3. At the end of each section write breaklunch or finish as applicable
  4. Add your meetings into each quarter; we are aiming for four equal sections but meetings can be tricky so you need to be flexible
  5. Work out what times you will be taking a morning break, lunch, and afternoon break and then what time you will finish, add them to what you wrote for number three, so break @ 1045
  6. Fill in the other activities that you need to do in the appropriate quarter
  7. Add some other things in like drink water
  8. Stick to the plan as much as possible
  9. If something comes up that means you can’t stick to the original plan, such as an unexpected meeting, then, when you are next able to, adjust the written plan and try sticking to that

I have been using something similar to this for a few months now and it works well for me. It gives structure to my day and means that I get the most out of the time I am working.

A bonus tip if it’s possible for you:

10. When you finish work switch off your computer and phone

Digital Declutter

Digital Declutter

I try not to waste time online and generally prefer analogue tools to digital devices. However, over the last few months, I’ve found the digital creeping into my life in unintended ways. With that it mind, and inspired by Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport I have decided to invest some time and do a digital declutter.

This is going to take place over the next thirty days, with the following rules:

  • no websurfing
  • no RSS
  • no Reddit
  • no podcasts
  • no radio
  • no online shopping

Essentially I am going to remove all non-essential internet use. I am including radio in this list because I want to stay away from news about Brexit. I reserve the right to pick up a newspaper if I want to learn about what’s going on in the world.

The only thing that I am going to keep doing is writing this blog. I enjoy doing it and, the last few weeks where I’ve not been doing so, have coincided with my internet use getting out of hand. Maybe there’s no relation, but it’s something I want to explore.

My hope is that these thirty days will give me a sort of reset. I suspect that I will go back to some of it, and that’s not generally a problem for me. But I want to remove everything before adding back in the few things that are useful.

I’m sure I will write about it here again over the next thirty days, but if you’re interested then I highly recommend picking up a copy of Cal Newport’s book.

Photography

When I was at college I had a part-time job at a camera shop. It was just on the cusp of photography shifting from film to digital. We mostly sold digital cameras, but the vast majority of printing was still film. I suspect that, if I went into a camera shop now that would have completely changed and there would be virtually no film printing happening.

I don’t know enough to say whether that is an improvement or not, but I suspect there are plenty of people ready to argue for and against digital photography. But there is another issue that interests me.

The way we treat photographs now is very different to the way we used to. The only way to see what we had captured was to have them printed out and then you had a physical object in front of you which you could either put into an album or, if you were my family, stick in a drawer.

Now, I’m willing to bet, the vast majority of pictures are never printed. Probably fewer pictures are printed in total, which is staggering if you consider how many more photographs are being taken. We are all walking around with cameras in our pockets after all.

Most photographs never exist as physical objects. They have become ephemeral things that we see scrolling past us on news feeds, things that are only ever looked at on screens. They are temporary in a way that a physical print isn’t.

Back to the camera itself. I have done a small amount of research into getting hold of a film camera and already concluded that it isn’t worth the effort. The most popular ones now seem to be Polaroid-style instant cameras and they are too big and bulky to carry around.

Another option, the one that I have chosen, is to use a digital camera as if it is an analogue camera. What I mean by this is that I have a digital camera which I will use to take photos. Then, instead of loading them onto a computer (a step I wouldn’t even have to take if I used a phone instead) I will take the memory card and have the pictures that I like printed. I won’t delete the photos, the memory card will become something like a film negative.

The idea of using digital tools in an analogue way is very intriguing and it’s something I’m going to explore more in the future.