We all have a routine. Whether it’s going to Starbucks for our morning caffeine boost or getting dressed in a particular order. Most of us mildly upset when these routines are even slightly interrupted. Road rage when some cuts us off or the light just doesn’t want to turn green comes to mind. If our routines are disrupted for an extended time, as they are during COVID-19 quarantine, the levels of anxiety, unpredictability, and frustration elevate exponentially. With billions confined to their homes, it is crucial we maximize this quarantine to our benefit and take care of ourselves physically, mentally, and emotionally: body, mind, and spirit.
Below are my thoughts, tips, and tricks, I found myself thinking about and using while quarantined in Mauritius, off the coast of Africa. A country I have not been to and the culture and language I am getting to know.
Establishing a routine where there is none is perhaps the most critical thing we can do. It gives us a sense of purpose, and it allows us to maintain control of our daily lives. It would be effortless to slip into this disorganization and binge watch Netflix’s Tiger King. In my book, that’s ok for a day or two. Still, you can imagine the time, resources, and productivity lost if unproductive time goes unchecked.
So having a routine is paramount. Come up with a plan either the night before or in the morning to seize the day. Wake up at the same time you usually do. Make breakfast, have your coffee, work out, just like you typically do. If you haven’t formed a routine yet, create one. Start small and expand from there. Include anything that helps you maintain a sense of normalcy. Even the little things like making your bed or having a to-do list can help set the tone for the day. Similarly, going to bed on time or maintaining a regular sleep schedule is paramount to keeping your mind and body sharp.
If you are used to exercising in an outdoor or a big gym setting, this quarantine certainly did a number on you. However, there are quite a few alternatives you can do indoors using just your bodyweight. For example, calisthenics, handstands kettlebells, or my favorite, jump rope, are all viable options.
If you are in decent health but haven’t worked out in a long time, doing three sets of max repetitions with 1 to 2-minute breaks of push-ups, pull/chin-ups, dips, planks, and squats (try pistol squats for extra challenge) should be a good start. Generally aim for somewhere between 8 and 20 repetitions. If you can’t do that many, modify the exercise accordingly until you can. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down. If you don’t know what any of this means, reach out to your one friend who always works out, and he or she can help you avoid some of the common mistakes and misconceptions. There are also plenty of YouTube videos and online resources, just make sure you filter through the bogus ones.
Generally, there are no “six-pack” abs in one or two weeks, or magical foods, or diets that help you spot reduce or lose belly fat. In short, if it sounds too good to be true, it (probably) is. If you tend to eat extra calories when stressed, this is an excellent time to watch your caloric intake by taking the time to prepare your meals, or simply take a break from fast-food and on-the-go snacks, we tend to eat during our busy work schedules. You can even lose weight during the quarantine. No, like above, there are no secret diets.
The basic formula is to burn and consume fewer calories than it takes for your body to operate. If my BMR (basic metabolic rate) implies it takes my body 1800 calories to function (this changes based on weight, sex, and age), and I consume 2000 and burn 500 during a workout, I am net negative 500 calories for that day. One kg of weight equals about 7000 calories, so in 14 days of the same routine, I can be a one kilogram lighter. You can look up your ballpark BMR and calories for common foods on google. Tracking calories and limiting soda, alcohol, and sugar intake while increasing fiber and colorful veggies and fruits should be a decent start. There are, of course, multiple directions to branch off from there, but just introducing those basics will help maximize this quarantine to your benefit.
Unlock New Skills
Additionally, this is an excellent time to acquire new physical attributes. My friend, Lachlan Giles, during his quarantine in Australia, committed himself to get into a full split by the end of it. Perhaps you aren’t Lachlan, but making small, consistent increases in whatever you set out to conquer, will allow you to emerge out of this quarantine ready to take on the world. As I shared in my last post, I am trying to improve my handstands in Mauritius. I will keep you updated on my progress.
Having a decent workout routine will give you a sense of purpose, control, and accomplishment. Moreover, it will provide you with leftover time to devote to your other activities. For example, if you’re working, it will enable you to have more time to plan for the meetings or one-on-ones. Do this well, especially if you’re a leader in your role, and you will extend the same sense of purpose and control to your employees and coworkers. Perhaps some casual banter or ice-breakers can come in handy. Having a little unorthodox fun, usually not possible in a regular work setting, can also go a long way. That said, make sure you are respectful of people’s time and feelings, and you maximize the productivity of all involved during this quarantine. Here are some general tips for productive and professional interactions.
(Remote) Work Tips
Seek the benefit of all involved. Despite putting in long hours, early in my career, I felt, most of the time, at least, as if the world was on fire. I did not know how to manage anything effectively. Through experience, I learned to sit back, observe, and take my time understanding how things really are. It is only then I moved in a deliberate, focused, and well-thought-out direction. The lens to use was always to benefit the customer, the employee, and the company. Processes needed to meet all three conditions, or we wouldn’t do them.
As a result, we stopped doing things just to do them. Team Members were less disrupted, participated, adopted, and even owned the process. Better customer experiences helped everyone win. I used this approach in the legacy company, both startups, and even a couple of the business I launched.
Motivate through positive reinforcement rather than fear. People always remember how they were treated, and countless studies show time and time again, that positive reinforcement leads to lasting change. It also facilitates trusting, collaborative, and open culture.
Be clear and concise. As you work with your Team Members, any expectations and agreements should be specific, direct, and goal-oriented. In other words, there should be no ambiguity of what should be achieved by when and by whom. Think of a goal as a “specific and measurable accomplishment within a particular time and under specific cost constraints.” A prevalent and widely known method is referred to as the SMART method. In short, it just means that the elements of a good goal are:
- Specific: task/goal agreed upon to achieve
- Measurable: outcome (110% of target, x amount of revenue, deadline, etc.)
- Achievable: practical, and possible
- Realistic: resources available (time, energy, people)
- Time-specific: who does what by when
Workplace Interactions and Facilitation
Allocate specific roles and responsibilities. This is especially important for teams working remotely as subtitles of in-person interactions are removed, and asking for clarity is difficult. In my experience, an unclear picture of what the company/management/leader expects from employees is their number one pain point. In other words, Team Members do not fully comprehend why they are doing what they are doing. Even more importantly, they are unsure how what they are doing is benefiting the company. Providing context as a leader is essential to give a full picture, a culture of transparency as well as benefit business acumen of Team Members.
The easiest and most successful method to employ here is known as a What/Why/How method. In short, we must describe what needs to be done, why it needs to be done, and (most leaders fail in this) then demonstrate how it is to be done. If you notice, this method directly addresses the number once complaint employees have about the unclear picture of expectations. Of course, repeating the process once or twice will not suffice, but just being aware of it, should help you make an immediate difference. Lastly, Team Members may not like all of the reasoning and rationale provided, but they will at least understand it.
Always be prepared. All the leaders I admired were always prepared and in control of interactions. Every amateur can improvise and shoot from the hip. Still, this approach doesn’t lead to long-term, sustainable growth, and improvement of the business and Team Members.
Some quick things that make a big difference:
Have a drafted agenda for the meeting(s),
Carefully review any prior documentation (pre-reads, one-on-ones, etc.)
Fill out paperwork/forms entirely and correctly,
Follow the expectations carefully and deliver on deadlines,
Turn your cell phone off
create a distraction-free environment
Give your full attention to all interactions
Remember, every interaction builds on the last. Doing so consistently demonstrates your care and professionalism.
Be(come) a great facilitator. Top leaders facilitate any interaction (meetings, one-on-ones, huddles, etc.) skillfully and use it as a coaching and growth opportunity. They know how to captivate, inspire, and motivate their audiences. While there are plenty of books and resources out there, this area perhaps requires the most deliberate practice. I am by no means an expert but have had a few speaking arrangements across various audiences, and I found that a little basic outline helps. Of course, like other areas in life, you will have to modify it to fit your individual, group, and business needs.
- Greeting (engaging whenever possible)
- Agenda (times and roles)
- Recognition of behaviors and individuals
- Best practice share (when/if appropriate)
- Presentation (the main reason for the interaction)
- Takeaways and responsibilities (who does what by when?)
Maximizing Quarantine for Your Benefit if You’re Not Working
If you’re not working, you can use this time to further your skills and keep your mind sharp to position yourself well when this quarantine ends. This is also good general advice for an increasingly global world. However, during this crisis, the daily reality and workflow of most businesses are profoundly changing. Whenever a significant disruption in the marketplace occurs, some companies, industries, and individuals successfully evolve and adapt, while some don’t. Think of what Gutenberg’s printing press did to guilds of book illustrators. Ford’s model A meant the extinction of horse & buggy much the same as computers ended typewriters, and digital cameras ruined Kodak. It is our responsibility, therefore, to position ourselves to be in the conversation of the new, emerging realities.
This is an excellent time to brush up your resume, improve your interviewing skills, or simply research new careers. For example, I remember being at University looking for supplemental income. Before ultimately obtaining a personal training license, I was actually able to find quite a lot of work and study materials online. This nudged me in the right direction and made it more comfortable when it was time to take the test.
Because the business reality is shifting, it means that the topic is also on many people’s minds. Reach out to your HR/Recruiting friends, old coworkers in new roles, or (executive) head hunters. Just make sure when connecting, you’re genuine and authentic based on rapport and relationships from the past. Nothing is stranger than receiving an open solicitation to endorse or even hire someone with whom you barely worked or never spoken a word. Always be professional in your dealing and communication, including grammar. Also, if you don’t have a mentor yet, get one. Lastly, and it’s a personal plug for which I am not compensated, keep your LinkedIn current. Both of my last two roles have come from recruiters contacting me through this site. This is important as many companies and recruiting professionals are beginning to dismiss typical resumes and result to forwarding on your profile to interested parties. Maximize the time provided by the quarantine to your benefit by spending an extra minute on really polishing the fundamentals.
Equally as crucial to keeping your mind sharp is acquiring new knowledge. In other words, you should explore and expose yourself to ideas unfamiliar to you. One of the best examples I’ve learned and practiced over the last decade is to read three books a day for twenty-minutes each. The real benefit comes from the topics of the books. One should be about the subject familiar to you. The second should include something you have moderate proficiency in but want to improve. For me, this involves reading about the real estate market, or styles of martial arts in which I am not proficient. Third, it should be a topic about which you know absolutely nothing. Currently, I am reading a lot about virology to keep up with COVID-19. I am amazed at how much 20 minutes a day per topic compounds over time.
Of course, learning another language is always an excellent investment and beneficial, both professionally and personally. Most people I know wish they could speak another language. There are quite a few apps out there that offer a fantastic start. Through gamification, you will be surprised at the fundamental progress you will make. It just takes time and some dedication. If you’re already familiar with another language, watching an episode a day on Netflix, or reading close captions can do wonders. Also, it might be a great time to reconnect with that person you exchanged numbers with on vacation or at the airport. There’s also quite a demand online for native English speakers who can teach remote via Skype and make some quick cash. In addition to maximizing quarantine to benefit your language skills you might also benefit your wallet. Schools are canceled physically, but learning continues digitally.
Lastly, some of the industries which rely on physical proximity are going through tough times. From non-essential services, restaurants to gyms, and everything in between. And while it’s challenging to speak to each affected industry, I am in preview and awe of resourcefulness of my friends and acquaintances in the jiu-jitsu community. The rate and innovative ways through which they are maximizing this quarantine to benefit and serve their customers is inspiring. Of course, continued patronage of those training is also fantastic and commendable.
Social Time and Social Media
Even introverts among us are social creatures. In quarantine, we don’t have as much time or ability to be close to others, so we need to use technology to our benefit. Zoom, Skype, or FaceTime provide an excellent way to stay connected to those we love and those that love us. I have a handful of people that I talk to daily or, at least, every couple of days. It helps me express my emotions, my fears, and my thoughts, so I don’t dwell on them alone. In return, this forms a great dialogue, sharing of ideas, and planning. Most importantly, it gives us a sense of purpose and something to look forward to maximizing to our benefit when quarantine ends.
Try to stay off or limit the amount of time you spend on social media. As I said in my previous article, the Internet is excellent in providing information to the masses. Unfortunately, not everyone accessing all the information is also qualified to interpret it. That’s why you often end up with conflicting or even contradictory information. Honestly, after a couple of hours, it’s easy to get frustrated. You are not sure what to think anymore. As discussed in the previous article, knowing what you know and knowing what you don’t and being aware of your biases, will save time, headache, and questioning in this particular field. Less time on social media means you are bound to maximize this quarantine to your benefit by having more time for yourself.
Spend Time With Yourself
As much as we are social creatures, we need time to ourselves. Whenever you have time to spend with yourself, do. This could mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. Writing a journal, writing in general, forming gratitude lists, even praying. Whatever it is to you, use the time wisely to reflect upon the current situation. Use the time to examine what do you enjoy and what frustrates you. Is it a feeling of loneliness? Perhaps you have anxiety, because of lack of control. There will be a myriad of mental and psychological issues you will explore.
Think about it: if we want to get stronger, we hire a personal trainer. If we hurt, we go to the doctor. Yet, there’s a stigma about being in tune with our feelings, emotions, and mental patterns to which we may be beholden. You may find my article on How to Deal With Fear, Doubt and Anxiety helpful. At the very least you should know you are not alone or weird in whatever you may be feeling.
A decade ago, I was in a complicated situation personally and professionally, which was primarily driven by my paycheck to paycheck style. In short, I was living above my means. I promised myself I would persevere and never feel that pain again. Since frugality was not my strength, the task felt daunting. But it paled to the pain of trying to make ends meet. Every little victory and defeat led me closer to my goal. And while not perfect, I have maximized my situation to my benefit over the years far better during this quarantine than I did in 2008. Your friends and close confidants can also be a useful resource to point on what some of your shortcomings or opportunities may be.
This is not the first pandemic or difficult situation humanity and society have faced throughout history. So there is no question and doubt in my mind we will emerge out of this. What it really comes down to is minimizing our risks and exposure, while drawing as many benefits out of the given situation as possible. Yes, not everything will go perfectly, but we will lick our wounds and scars and use them as lessons for the future.
I hope that some of these ideas here nudge you in the right direction and help you in your day-to-day during this quarantine. My thoughts here are just that, mine. They can inspire you to move forward with some of them or pick a completely different, opposite route. Either way, I will have achieved my intention by getting you moving in “your” direction of maximizing this quarantine to your benefit. A more detailed analysis on what occurs once you undertake a journey is featured in my post titled: On Breaking Societal Norms and Living Life on Your Terms. As Russell Simmons would say: “Do You.” You are only limited by your imagination. Remember, people are still your best resource, and together, we will make it through this. Until next time, stay safe and healthy. Cheers, Gregor