Some observations on work and routine for today.
The number of talks, seminars and meetings that I have attended in the last six weeks would have been impossible to attend if they were to happen in the physical world. Not just this, the variety of conversations – academic, professional and other types, that have opened up for participation is striking. At the Institute of Public Policy we have managed to do more public facing events in a month than we did in a whole year earlier. The education company I worked with has unlocked a whole new area for itself – by now they have over twenty five short courses that have gone online for children in K-12 education. The pace of things have been fast in some spaces and have completely crashed in others. I recognize that the intensification of work has happened only in areas where the work could migrate into digital space. A restaurant worker for instance can do nothing about the lockdown unless he switches to another sector that can operate via remote participation.
To work these days has acquired a different meaning – we are there and not there, in rapid alternating cycles. We are home and at work, at the same time. That is making both the spaces seep into each other in unique ways that has also led to interesting new trends. For instance, the quality of output in some forms of work has improved. People find them to be more effective outside the rigidity of a formal office space. Some have been the most excited about eliminating commute time from their daily routines. But those with children at home seem to be having a difficult time providing for them, paying attention to them and working at the same time. More than ever, we now realise the highly important role that schools and offices play as institutions in a society. Last night I found myself craving for a bike ride.
When the lockdown began in March, I anticipated that removal of the most basic routines of our daily lives – children go to school and parents go to work, would throw people off their comfort zones into a state of confusion from which finding one’s way back into a normal life will not be easy for people. In this disruption some found themselves questioning the futility of things that they did earlier while others went crazy without knowing what to do every morning as they left their beds to begin a new day. The days turned into an unstructured mass of time that seemed to get bigger in size as the uncertainty of the virus’ impact loomed over all of us. The effects continue. To navigate these uncertain times needs effort. Adapting to the lockdown meant that people have a response to the falling apart of the normal structure with its expected routines and rhythms which didn’t prompt the individual for decision making every hour. In lockdown, days begin with an option question – what will you do today? For a variety of reasons, people have more time available for themselves now. As the lockdown began, those who responded promptly by building a new routine for themselves and managed to build a new referencing system as opposed to normal references of a typical work day, work week, weekends etc , managed to fare better in terms of their productivity, mental health and spirit through these days marked with anxiety and fear.
In the absence of an external routine that can be followed, a self-imposed routine becomes necessary. This can begin by looking forced upon self, but soon one can see its merits. There is a definite plan at the beginning of the day and therefore the questions that replace the space vacated by tasks like getting ready for office, driving to office or dropping children to school, do not arise. Those empty spaces in a day that throws people off when filled with an activity can prove to be simple hacks to get over difficult days. I have followed a routine through these weeks of lockdown. Reflecting on my lockdown routine today, I felt I will carry some parts of it into the post-lockdown days and in a way attempt a renewal of my normal life. I see a substantial improvement in my productivity, engagement with various aspects of my life, volumen of reading and in being satisfied with the days. We do not see a clear end in sight yet, but when it happens, I know that the new routine will be better because of these lockdown days.
Meanwhile, speaking with parents and siblings everyday, I see even these things finding their space in my daily life. This will continue as well. There’s greater involvement in my niece and nephew’s lives and I can see their art work, their cycling skills and their little toes and fingers changing a little everyday than waking up to those surprises of grown up babies when I met them every few months earlier.
Our two plots of farm are ready for the monsoon and sowing season ahead. If the virus slows down and public transport resumes, I might be home in time for the rains. There is no better joy than a sight of sprouting seeds.