Sunny April skies heralded our return to a more normal life after more than a year of pandemic. I counted down the days until restrictions lifted and embraced getting a haircut and exercising in a gym. The greatest pleasure has been meeting friends for dinner – even if it requires woolly sweaters and a heavy coat! Surviving this challenging time required well-honed coping strategies. I’ll be keeping five of these hacks now life has become more enjoyable.
A good night’s sleep
Sleep is the bedrock of a productive day. It is impossible to think straight and feel balanced without sufficient shut eye. During lockdown, I worked on improving my night-time habits. I went back to basics and turned off all screens from 9pm, pottering around the flat until getting into bed at 9.30pm and reading Matthew Walker’s Why We Sleep. That book was the perfect incentive to turn the lights out at 10pm as it discusses the extraordinary benefits of sleep and underlines the dangers of spending less than seven hours in bed. I’m now less rigid about my night time habits but going to sleep at the same time every night and waking up at 7am in the morning – even at weekends – is very effective at keeping your sleeping patterns consistent.
Rocking the routine
Unmoored from normal life’s patterns, many people found it hard to maintain a regular schedule during lockdown. But a consistent waking time helps to nix this problem. The trick is to build on that momentum by building a morning routine which carries you through the day. It might be tempting to lie in bed and scroll through Twitter but you are better served to shower, dress, make your bed, meditate and eat breakfast. That helps you not only to keep your meal times at regular but get to your desk at a regular time every morning.
The power of planning
I’ve always loved to plan. I’ll come back from a holiday with five new goals I want to achieve over the next six months so I found the monotony of lockdown particularly challenging. An important coping strategy was to use the time when work was quiet to achieve all those things I never had time to do. I took a social media course, learnt how to use Linked In better and revamped my website. I used very simple tools to achieve this – updating my to-do list and then planning out what tasks I wanted to complete every week. Like every other human, I tend to be over-optimistic about what I can achieve in a day but I’ve got better at figuring out how long it takes to do things. The system is not perfect – I’m not always as disciplined as I would like to be and things do take longer than planned. But I get more done this way. More importantly, knowing I have a plan keeps me calm and focused.
The easiest way to become more productive is to build good habits. This is the most effective way to regulate your behaviour with little effort. Then you can preserve your mental energy for more challenging tasks, such as completing taxing but interesting work projects as well as maintaining your emotional equilibrium. Good sleep patterns, a regular routine and planning your life are all examples of good habits. I found James Clear’s Atomic Habits a helpful guide to how to make a series of small changes which when added up make a significant difference.
Balancing productivity with pleasure
The social constraint of lockdown was my biggest challenge. It made most of the last year feel like a period of endless revision with few rewards. I had to focus on building robust habits in order to survive. But now the pleasures of normal life are returning, those well-established strategies will help me to be productive with less effort and make the most of all those moments of happiness we once took for granted.