I am going to begin and end this post with a story.
Many years ago, when I had my first child, my mother came to help. There were some complications, so she ended up staying with me for almost three weeks. When it came time for her to finally return home, I remember telling her that I didn’t know if I could carry on without her. How would I get everything done? In response, my wise mother told me that I had to start thinking in a new way. No longer was I going to be able to run through my to-do list quickly and efficiently. Instead, I should cultivate a new way to feel good about my output. “For example,” she said, “focus on every little thing you accomplish, and celebrate each one. Did you empty the dishwasher? Great! Did you get the bottles washed and set up for the next day? Terrific! Did you hold your baby and watch her gurgle peacefully for a few minutes? Way to go!”
Initially, this seemed kind of silly. I had never counted “emptied the dishwasher” as an achievement… it was simply a task I mindlessly executed on my way to bigger and better things. However, as the days wore on, I came to realize that this was a worthwhile mindset to embrace. It alleviated the pressure of needing to check all the boxes on a long list. From day to day, I never knew what might pop up. Rather than rate my progress against a prescribed list of tasks, I fell into a routine of waiting to see what the day would require, and then being content with whatever I was able to achieve under the circumstances.
As COVID-19 rages, many of us are finding our lives thrown into upheaval. For some, this means working longer hours than normal (thank you medical professionals and tireless grocery workers!). For others, normal responsibilities have come to a standstill. Those who have fallen ill are fighting to recover their health. Everyone is grappling with finding a new normal, and figuring out how to define a productive day.
Here are a few thoughts to bear in mind as you realign your thinking during this challenging time.
Planning ahead will be difficult.
It seems like each day is bringing more change than an average month. It is hard to know what will be possible tomorrow, let alone two weeks into the future. For the planners out there, this is stressful! Our inclination is to clamp down and try to figure out all the possible scenarios and how we might proceed. Instead, it might be better to simply see what develops and make a plan for the day that unfolds.
To-do lists should be shortened and prioritized.
If you are working from home, and especially if you are surrounded by children and household “noise,” you simply will not be able to accomplish the same amount of work that you did when working uninterrupted in a quiet location. This is a time to expect less of yourself and to be brutally realistic about what might be accomplished. During this season, focus in on the two or three things that matter most on a given day, and set the remainder aside for another time. If you can’t tackle your normal tasks, think creatively about what you CAN do, and make this your goal for the day.
Unexpected and difficult developments cannot be completely avoided.
Under typical circumstances, productive people are expected to be able to anticipate problems and plan around them. However, these are not ordinary times. We are walking through an experience that is truly new to everyone in the world. We have no rulebook to follow, no rubric for evaluating the news, and no experience to help us anticipate what will happen next. No matter how much we plan, prepare, shop and stock up, we cannot be prepared for every eventuality. All we can do is follow the recommendations we are given, to the best of our ability, on a daily basis.
We may not respond as we would under normal circumstances.
This virus is creating a lot of stress. Uncertainty, close quarters, financial pressure, unemployment… all of these put the pressure on. We may be having trouble eating or sleeping, and may find we are acting impatiently or unkindly. Unfortunately, all of these responses are normal. When tempers flare, the best course of action is to be humble and apologize. We’re all in this together, so let’s try to forgive and seek forgiveness when tensions cause us to behave badly.
Success will look different than it did two months ago.
As I pointed out in my opening story, you will probably need to reframe your definition of success. Rather than bemoan everything that is falling apart, find a way to intentionally focus on good news and accomplishments. Consider creating a tangible way to do this, such as a poster board where family members can record positive happenings. Or, since we may now be gathering around a family dinner table, ask each person to share something that has made them feel good during the day. Nothing is too small to celebrate!
You will probably grow in some way.
None of us will escape this journey unchanged, and while there will be many negative impacts, times of upheaval often result in increased innovation and progress. When we can’t do things “the same old way,” we are forced to try new approaches. For example, universities are expanding their use of simulated learning experiences and e-learning alternatives. Newscasters are learning how to broadcast from their kitchens. Pastors are reaching isolated congregants through live streaming. Most of us are becoming experts with Zoom and other online technologies. Furthermore, given that everyone is scrambling, there is an increased tolerance for imperfection as we ride the learning curve. It will be interesting and heartening to see the long term advances that will emerge when this is all over.
Now for my closing story. You may have heard it before, but it bears repeating at this time.
Charles Adams, grandson of John Adams, served as a US Congressman and Ambassador to Great Britain under President Lincoln. One day he took his fourth child, Henry Brooks, fishing. Upon returning, Charles wrote in his journal,
… Went fishing with my son, a day wasted.
His son also wrote in his journal, saying,
… Went fishing with my father today, the most glorious day of my life.
We don’t know exactly what Charles Adams was thinking as he penned his line. Perhaps he felt the day was a loss because they didn’t catch any fish. Nevertheless, I believe it is important to remember that a day’s worth, and our individual value, are not the result of our accomplishments. We didn’t choose this situation, but we may discover opportunities to invest in endeavors that pay larger rewards than our daily routine ever did.
Stay healthy, everyone!