I’ve travelled through thirty-nine countries across four continents, lived permanently in three different countries in Europe and Africa, and I had never, ever had my freedom of movement stripped from me.
That is, until I moved to Johannesburg in November 2019. Johannesburg, like South Africa, is a beautiful, exciting place full of incredible potential, but large parts of it are still fairly dangerous to be in.
In the CBD (Central Business District, i.e. the centre of town) you simply do not walk around. Period. The concept of leaving your flat to walk out to the shops, or just go for a stroll, is an alien one for most people, and especially if you are not a local, i.e. look clueless as to which corners to turn and which to avoid.
I went from living in European cities without giving much thought at all to where I was walking, to peacefully strolling across tea plantations in rural Malawi, to working from home & taking an Uber to do my groceries, because walking around stopped being an option most of the time.
THAT was the big adjustment. The current quarantine is sort of what I was doing already, hence I’m finding it incredible easy to navigate.
So while we all figure out how to live in this brave new world, I’ve figured out a few ways to cope during my five months (in)voluntary sort-of-like-quarantine in the City of Gold.
Break Down the Time
If you think about the fact you have another two/three/ten weeks ahead of you, you will lose your s**t.
Instead break down the time in manageable chunks. I learnt this when I used to flyer for a comedy club in London (possibly one of the most mind-numbing, soul-destroying experiences of my life).
My shift was two hours. At the beginning they felt like they would NEVER end. I was sure I would put roots in that spot in Leicester Square, and one day in the not so distant future, my grandchildren would take a pilgrimage there to see the cavity left on the pavement by my restless toing and froing.
Then I started thinking about the two hours as four half hours, and then as eight fifteen-minute sections. There are many things you can do in fifteen minutes if you are standing in the middle of Leicester Square with a bib on, for example:
- Make fun of tourists who take the tube between Leicester Square & Covent Garden (a five minute walk)
- Be judgemental about people going into the M&Ms shop — I mean that’s what you identify London with? Really?
- Practice the choir song you are learning at the time (possibly in your head, or you might scare people away and not get paid)
Same applies now. Don’t think about having the whole week ahead of you, think about having seven days. And then think about each day as two half days, or twelve two-hour chunks, and then find things to fill those up. Good news: at least four of your two-hour chunks are swallowed up by sleeping!
Diversify Your Space
This might be more or less tricky depending on where you live and who you live with, but it’s time to get creative with how we use our space.
Designate a certain place for a certain activity, and visually separate the spaces if you live in an open plan apartment, for example with curtains or by rearranging furniture.
Also, try to switch between places & activities every hour or so.
For example, if you’ve had breakfast, leave the dishes for after you’ve done an hour of work sat at your desk.
I only do my paid work while sitting on my balcony, since it’s nice & sunny, and the nice environment gets me through the more menial tasks in my job.
The desk in the living room is for work I like doing but that doesn’t pay the bills (writing, basically), and I sit facing the wall, so I don’t see the rest of the room for a good hour.
Sofa & bed are for watching films or relaxing ONLY.
The kitchen table is good to sit at for Skyping friends & family (I don’t want to rub my sunny balcony on people’s faces too much).
A corner of my bedroom is for working out only, and I dress that with some nice candles and my yoga mat, again facing away from the bed and the rest of the room. When I’m done with my work out, I undress the space, and voilà, the room is different again.
Do this for a week, and then reassign spaces for the following week: suddenly you’ve moved office!
Don’t Double Up on Activities
I get it. We are all millennials affected by serious double screen syndrome and with the attention span of my one year old nephew, but now is not the time to multitask.
Do one thing at a time and stretch it out, otherwise you will have to fill up the time with half the stuff.
If you are watching a film, don’t be painting your nails at the same time (and yes, paint your nails if you want to, it doesn’t matter if you’re at home and no one sees them!)
If you are video calling your parents, focus your attention on them, don’t secretly scroll through Facebook or Instagram while you try to keep the eye-line so they don’t realise you’re doing it (mum, I have ABSOLUTELY never done that).
The only exception to this is for boring house work, which would probably numb you even more if done alone.
Washing dishes, cleaning, fixing stuff can all be done while you listen to music, a good podcast or a TED Talk (NOT about the C-word, ok? Let’s get some diversification in out lives).
Schedule Your Time
It may seem obvious, but when the natural time schedules dictated by work, family & society have been stripped off, you might struggle to make one for yourself.
Enter Google Calendar and colour coding! Create a differently coloured calendar for each aspect of your life, and schedule time down to the half hours. If you can, print out the schedule, or why not, take a couple of hours to design it yourself by hand, and add lots of pretty colours, hearts, flowers, glitter, skulls, whatever strikes your quarantined fancy.
I am self-employed and work remote in writing as well as a few other things, so I have calendars such as Pitching, Writing, Research, Social Media; as well as my personal calendar which has all the fun things I like doing.
Right now the personal time is especially important, so make sure you schedule that systematically, for example with reading time, social media time, TV time, Skyping time, working out time, which brings me to…
Duh, you might say. Yet when we have nothing to do & nowhere to go, motivation to do anything might plummet. Why do today what you can tomorrow, right? Wrong.
After two or three hours of sitting at your desk, take fifteen minutes to do some stretching, especially something to release tension in your neck and shoulders.
Finally end your day with some nice bedtime stretches after slouching on the couch binge-watching Netflix for three hours.
Hope you found these little tips useful. Worry not, we’ll get through it, have a reactionary six months of intense going out, doing stuff and wearing ourselves down, and then we’ll all get back to our slumping, screen-obsessed selves, and the world will be normal again.
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