How to get things done and survive these dull winter lockdown days
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You don’t need me to tell you that this has been a most peculiar time. But it occurs to me that one of the weirdest aspects of the pandemic is actually about ‘time’ itself.
Where has it gone? How do we keep track of it? Does the average day seem longer than before Covid-19? Or shorter? Why do the last ten months feel as if they have been going on forever, and yet Christmas seems like a couple of days ago? It’s confusing.
I think that most of us have had a sense of disorientation about time during this crisis and – interestingly – that includes people who are busier than usual just as much as those who have less to do.
Of course, even before the pandemic, most of us have experienced that kind of limbo when you’re not sure what day it is – usually during the fortnight around Christmas or on a particularly relaxing holiday. But now we have this sensation on a vastly extended scale – and for most of us it’s not a pleasant feeling.
I notice that this time warp experience has now become a subject of study among some neuroscientists – because they, like the rest of us, are not just witnessing its effect on others but dealing with this oddity themselves.
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Professor Kevin LaBar at North Carolina’s Duke University commented: “As this drags on, and as your day becomes very constrained by your limited environment, the days kind of blend together.”
So, this is a global problem, but why is it happening? My best guess is that it’s about the absence of the stimulus and events which customarily punctuate our work, as well as our leisure and family lives.
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Normally, there are Christmas parties. A conference. A wedding to go to. Regular trips to the cinema. A holiday in the sun. A weekend with friends in the country. And when we look back on a year, it’s usually these high-spots which give shape to our past months and a perception of how we spent our time.
Without these reference points, loads of people – many of whom are older – feel as if their concept of time is becoming increasingly unreliable.
A client said to me recently: “I’ve always been a busy person and I’ve tried throughout the pandemic to remain active and productive. But now in this latest lockdown I wake at 7:30am and at 10:30am I realise that I’m still in my dressing gown and I’m very hard-pressed to fathom where the previous three hours have gone. I find this worrying because I feel it’s likely to cause me to age more quickly.”
She is not alone in her anxiety about time drifting in an alien way. So, I have dug out a form that I’ve used for over 30 years, and you will see it printed here. Its purpose is to assist us in keeping track of where the hours and days go, and also to show us what we are achieving and how that relates to what we plan each day.
It really helps people who have lost a sense of structure, but it’s equally useful for individuals who are very busy but can’t quite work out where their time goes, or why they never have a moment to phone their mother or Zoom with a friend.
It is also surprisingly beneficial for adults with varying degrees of insomnia. Often, we feel overwhelmed with anxiety about lack of sleep, but by using the form we can get a more realistic sense of when we’re awake in the night, because when we are, we can record the fact in the appropriate time slot.
Most people who use the form find that they develop a better sense of organisation, awareness, and control of their time. It doesn’t happen overnight, but generally they see results within a fortnight. So why not try it? Just get a sheet of A4 paper, divide it into columns for the whole day and off you go.
J R R Tolkien once wrote that ‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us’.
I imagine he might have coped with our pandemic rather well.