Surviving the day in lockdown: designing a schedule in uncertainty.
Now it's lockdown a lot of the structure has fallen away. I find the restrictions tend to bring up a mirror to anything that’s already feeling tweaky in my life. Many of the external social distractions, consolations, motivations and rewards are off the menu for now. It feels a little like a global mid life crisis. All the fun has fallen away and we’re left facing ourselves and our situations starkly, our good and bad habits so clearly apparent. The places where we just haven’t figured stuff out yet, previously noted at the level of a mild suspicion or irritation, now present themselves as raw issues, fiercely challenging, intractable.
I feel like I “missed” the last big lockdown in a certain way. We moved house at the beginning, a few days before we went “in”, I got what I think was covid quite early on. I spent the rest of the lockdown recovering and wasn’t really on my feet again til the end of September. I was quite poorly and exhausted. I was still on sabbatical from work after post break-up breakdown. My ex partner took on homeschooling the kids for some of the time, but we shared the job between us. I just wasn’t juggling the whole working-while-teaching-while-caged piece. I was convalescing. My current partner has also been sick this year, so we had a steady stream of socially distanced human visitors to our door bringing things, checking on her, and exchanging news in the sunshine.
This time it's different. I’ve got one child at home (the older one, so he’s pretty self-sufficient in his learning.) And I am working on two separate businesses, one of which is in the re-launch phase. I’ve got a lot more energy - I’m finding I NEED to exercise, my body is really asking for it. And of course it’s winter. We’re not lounging in the sun on the front yard, we’re huddled up indoors.
At this point, I have a lot more goals than last time. In the summer my goal was to get from one end of the day to the other. Now I’m more engaged. I have personal development goals, learning goals, work goals, and things I’m trying to achieve with my physical health and wellbeing. (I may well return to the getting-through-the-day existence, but for now I’m staying optimistic). I lost my second parent in the autumn, which took the stuffing out of me: I’m really ready to lean into life at this point.
Just before this lockdown was unceremoniously imposed overnight (WTF?!) I had poured quite a bit of my Christmas holidays into carefully planning not only three months’ worth of child friendly meal plans (with shopping lists) but also a weekly schedule that I was finally happy with, after quite a bit of experimentation in December. I had figured out how I was going to get everyone’s needs for food, connection, play, learning and rest. I will never know how well my plan would work in practice because after one day at school, back to normal, (might even have after school club this term...) BAM, all bets are OFF. That wheel you just designed: time to reinvent it. Now it is All. Out. The. Window.
I rely a lot on structure to direct my attention, help me get things done and remember what I need to do. I like to reduce my cognitive load by making as much of my life automatic. I find in-the-moment decisions taxing and, for me, things tend to go awry quite quickly if I just go with the flow. I either get distracted and neglect what’s important, or I don’t pace myself and end up feeling overwhelmed.
I was excited about the new term. My youngest enjoys his new school. I wasn’t ill any more. I’m not freshly bereaved and daily processing the reality that, yes, my mummy really is now decomposing in a wet cardboard box in the ground in Essex, and no, I’m really not going to have just one more conversation with her ever again.... I was ready to get stuck into something normal. God forbid... a routine.
In preparation for the new term I’d planned everything around the school day - in particular my younger child’s day - and now that’s all gone, probably for quite some time.
I can’t just invent a schedule out of the air. I’ve never been that good with a blank sheet. I work best when I’ve got something to respond to, so I had no choice but to muddle through for the first couple of weeks (week 1 was junk data because I had both boys here, we were just getting through the days, no homeschooling for the younger one). Week 2 we were into how it was going to be going forward: my younger child doing homeschool at dads, older boy working from home, fairly independently.
I had to run a week and see what his connection needs are like, what support he needs to engage with his learning, how tired I was, when we were all getting to bed. It’s been a bit of a bumpy ride (I’m never good with newness). Now it's nearly the end of week 2 and I’ve got a much clearer picture ... I can start planning again.
For me the planning process is about first assessing how much time I’ve got available. I do like to go with the flow and be responsive in terms of what my son needs, and I had no way of predicting this until we’d had a few days together. We also lost some of our domestic help this week so I’ve been making space for that too. Then I needed to work out what I need to stay sane, which again is different with the new set up compared to school.
I was going for a run after dropping off at school. Without that trigger, I’m going to have to get cleverer about ensuring I go out - because I’ve learned this week that I REALLY need to get out. On the other hand, I seem to need less sleep than I do when I’m juggling two kids, and am less “sleep emergency” tired.... But the afternoon nap is still essential.
We don’t need the kid-friendly meal plan, because my eldest is a lot more flexible with food, but I also don’t have the trigger of hungry-kid-home-from-school to get dinner on, so I’m going to have to work out when I’m going to finish work and start making supper. Evenings are a lot clearer because I don’t have a child to “put to bed” and I can actually have some social time with the older one (a rare commodity in normal life).
So that’s quite a lot of important data.
I’m feeling more equipped to design a schedule that’s actually going to work for me - with target bedtimes, wake up times, and get a sense of how much time I’m going to spend on meditation, planning, and exercise in the mornings, and how many blocks of uninterrupted focus time I’m going to bed.
If you’re trying to plan your lockdown days so you have a bit more structure, I suggest you firstly work out what your commitments are - like how much you have got to spend making meals, putting kids to bed/homeschool etc along with inescapable work allocations. Then you block in the things which will keep you propped up. This will be unique to you, but should include exercise, rest and connection. For me they are Outside exercise, Listening Partnerships, and my daily naps. I put my focus blocks in after that, then finally plan some time for admin and other ephemera.
Lastly (because pleasure is my weak point) I’ve been thinking about actually planning in something nice in the evenings and weekends. This is new to me, because in normal times I’m half cut by 7pm and don’t want to do anything except fall into bed... but there’s a bit more energy at the moment, and I’m not that interested in TV! I’ve realised I need a clear cut off from working, and a good incentive/means of celebration. So I’ll be thinking about that a bit over the weekend.
I’d love to hear how you’ve been planning/navigating your days during lockdown? Is this one different from the previous two for you? Or have you just slotted straight into “lockdown” mode? Do you like to plan? If not, what’s your recipe for a successful lockdown day?
I might talk a bit about managing mental health in a future post - ie what happens when the schedule goes out of the window and your mojo fails. Would that be interesting?