78 tips for “lockdown working”

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Cabin fever has always been one of the biggest challenges of remote working.

Most solutions involve “getting out of the house.”

What everyone’s doing now, though, isn’t remote working—it’s lockdown working. Lockdown working takes cabin fever to a new level, and demands different solutions.

Our team members are based in eight countries worldwide—each under different levels of lockdown. We asked them what they are doing to overcome cabin fever.

We’re aware that cabin fever is the least of many people’s problems right now. Many of our family, friends, and followers are having to endure much tougher challenges.

This guide is for those of us who are in lockdown yet fortunate to be able to carry on our work, and contribute towards the economy—albeit while juggling parenting, caring for vulnerable relatives, and standing in for family members who are in essential roles.

The article is part of a guide called “Answers to all your remote-working challenges.”

A few disclaimers and comments:

Keeping in touch with friends, loved ones, and the local community

Family at home on webcam

“Our Facebook Portal TV is working great. It’s connected only to WhatsApp, and not Facebook. My brain seems to think I’ve been out of the house. (They are currently out of stock, but Visualping can tell you when the words ‘Out of stock’ disappear from the page.)”

“For video calls, I plug the laptop into our TV. That way, all the apps and software shortcuts I would normally use are available. I use a wireless keyboard and mouse, plug my Logitech 4k BRIO webcam into the laptop, and then attach it to the top of the TV.”

“I’m using a laptop connected to a TV, with an external webcam mounted above the TV. For on-the-fly calls, I answer on my phone and mirror the screen to a Chromecast attached to the TV.”

“We have been telling relatives what TV we will be watching each evening and at what time. We then watch the same show at the same time, we call one another, and then leave the line open. It’s not amazing, but it’s better than nothing.”

“We’re having regular video calls with all our family and friends. We connect the iPad to the TV. We’re finding it provides a better sense that we’re all together (especially if others on the call do the same), and it’s more comfortable than holding a device.”

“I’ve done a couple of Google Meet calls with friends. It’s not as good as going to the pub, but it’s nice to keep in touch.”

“Helping and volunteering brings me a feeling of being socially needed, which is hard to get these days. I started helping schools with online schooling, setting up accounts for parents (and teachers), and explaining G Suite. It doesn’t take much time, and helping others is very soothing.”

“Some friends of ours had a ‘cocktails and nibbles’ evening last week, over video conferencing. They said they had a great night and woke up the next morning with hangovers.”

“I’m using the time to get in touch with old friends.”

“We created a Google Doc and asked all the kids’ friends (or parents) to add their gaming usernames and friend codes. It saves all the WhatsApp-ing down the line when the kids want to play games online.”

We left notes on the doors of our neighbors, offering to help them with their shopping. We might end up with more friends after things settle down!”

Fitness and activities

Yoga at home

“I have a treadmill and have set a goal to run one mile per day for thirty days (which is a lot for me). I also just got an indoor bike I ride with iFit, so it looks like you’re on an actual ride. It’s been nice as well.”

If I see any sun hitting the garden, I give myself five minutes and some mindfulness too.”

Walk-and-phone: My brother and I are going for brisk walks, alone, separately but at the same time. We talk on the phone throughout. We aim for midday, so the sun is at its highest, and we can get the most vitamin D for our bucks. Plus, it breaks up the working day, and I come back energized and better able to concentrate.”

“Since the start of this year, I’ve been using the paid version of the Ten Percent Happier meditation app. I particularly liked the module ‘Phrases for Stress’ by Joseph Goldstein. The app is currently offering free access for healthcare workers.”

“Early in the mornings (very early), I’ve started taking walks with our dog around the neighborhood for about 20 minutes. There’s usually no one in sight. It’s a great way to start the day.”

My partner and I have been exercising together. We both enjoy kettlebells. Kettlebells are great to do together. We follow the same routine or video but differ our intensities by doing a different number of reps or using different weights.”

“I’ve been doing The Body Coach high-intensity interval training (HIIT). I find them quick and effective.”

The kids and I are doing PE with Joe Wicks. It’s a fantastic start to the day.”

“We’re doing PE with Joe Wicks. As well as the obvious benefits of exercise, it gives us a structured start to our day. It means the kids need to get up at the same time, get dressed at the same time, etc., a routine that’s easy to lose when there’s no school.”

I like to mix up exercise. Otherwise, with everything else going on (and not going on), it can feel like groundhog day. I mix up different HIIT sessions, weights, and exercise bike.”

My wife has subscribed to Les Mills on demand, and is doing a proper workout most evenings.”

“In the garden, we are playing football, badminton, and French boules.”

“We have been using the time to do some physical activities that are outside of our comfort zones—like dance aerobics, pilates, or … online tennis.”

“We get outside with the whole family on the back lawn at least once each day, weather permitting. Table tennis, giant Jenga, and volleyball are the top draws this week.”

Working from my backyard (weather permitting) is nice as well.”

“When the weather’s good, I love working in the back yard, sitting in a Coleman Sling Chair. I find most camping chairs painfully uncomfortable, so I did loads of research to find the Coleman.”

While working

Working from home

“To kick-start the day and get everyone up and grooving, I’ve started playing uplifting music, really loud.

“I’ve been watching Nike’s ‘Rise and Shine’ TV commercial to get me started.”

“I’m spending even less time than normal outdoors, so I have moved my desk nearer to the window. (In winter, I rely on a stupidly large SAD therapy lightbox, which gives me that energizing feeling of being in the sun, but at this time of year, the window is a much more pleasant light source.)”

“If it’s really quiet at home, I sometimes put on the radio or music on a really low volume. I feel a bit more connected with the outside world when I do so.”

I listen to the radio (though I’d love to find a good radio station that doesn’t read out the news every hour).”

“I find the motivational speech from Rocky Balboa increases my determination. (I smile whenever I remember that the video is part of our company’s onboarding flow for new team members.)”

“When I’m struggling to focus, Ultraworking’s free Work Cycles template helps me a lot. It combines the Pomodoro technique with several other psychological motivation techniques. I find it helps to do Work Cycles in sync with colleagues, to provide accountability.”

Parenting

Family learning together

“We are trying to keep the whole family to a routine that’s as normal as possible during lockdown…even if it’s a new normal.”

If I need to attend a work call, I abandon whatever I was doing with the kids and let them do what they like best (which in their case is going on their tablets). It minimizes the risk of being interrupted.”

We have arranged for my parents to give online lessons (and sessions) with my kids. My mum is in isolation, so she has loved preparing for the lessons. And it gives her large chunks of time to spend with the boys.”

I bought each child a pair of headphones, for obvious reasons.”

Homeschooling

Homeschooling

“My partner is doing daily baking lessons with the kids. She also bought a load of science experiments from Amazon that the kids are enjoying.”

“The kids love Mark Rober’s science classes on YouTube. Mark is a former NASA engineer, and his lessons are fun. For much more formal lessons, they like the FreeScienceLessons YouTube channel.”

Will Sliney, from Marvel Comics, is doing daily drawing classes on YouTube. The kids love it. He’s doing subjects like Pokemon and Star Wars.”

“For learning languages, our kids are competing with each other on the Duolingo phone app. It’s so well done. The gamification is designed so that kids can compete even if they are at different levels—or learning different languages.

“We have also worked through Derek Sivers’ summary of the book How to Learn a Foreign Language.

“And we have discovered the Easy German and Easy French YouTube channels. (YouTube allows videos to be played at slow speeds, which we are finding useful.)”

“One of our team members researched many US home-schooling platforms, and AcellusAcademy was his favorite by far. We are toying with the idea of signing up our kids for it, if only until September.”

“For her homework, my daughter had to make a poster about the instruments in an orchestra. It took her about 90 minutes. After she had finished, I discussed with her what she had learned. She hadn’t listened to a second of any of the instruments—she had no idea what some of them sounded like—so we concluded she hadn’t learned much about music. She had designed the poster in Google Docs, so she hadn’t learned anything about poster design. She had written an essay, and it’s always good to practice writing, but she hadn’t learned anything new about writing. She had followed the homework in letter, but not in spirit.

Since then, for each item of homework, I’ve been encouraging both kids to ask themselves, ‘What am I trying to learn from this?’ followed by ‘What would be the fastest way to learn this skill?’ and ‘How would a professional do this?’ So if they are learning to create posters, then we find some good advice for creating posters and use the best technology (Canva is fantastic, as is Piktochart, a former client of ours). I expect the teachers will be pleased to see that the kids have taken this extra initiative.

“My son had to design a poster in CorelDRAW (what is it with homework and posters?). So, following the above system, we made an ‘executive decision’ to abandon CorelDRAW—because few professionals use it—and use Adobe Illustrator instead. We signed up my son to a highly rated Udemy course called Adobe Illustrator CC—Essentials Training Course, which cost less than $20. He loved the course so much, he started work early and didn’t stop for lunch.

“Some of the above thinking was inspired by Derek Sivers’ article, ‘There’s no speed limit.’”

“When my son brings his homework to me, I’m ensuring he follows the same process that I follow when I produce copy. It’s working ridiculously well:

“First, I ask him if he has checked his work using my copy of the book A Pocket Style Manual (which he’s finding useful. Only the first 86 pages are applicable).

“Second, I get him to read it out loud. Doing so makes errors stand out; he spots his own mistakes and fixes them.

“Third, I get him to paste his work into Grammarly, which points out mistakes in his spelling, style, and grammar. While he’s going through Grammarly’s suggestions, I encourage him to spot recurring themes. (It turns out he forgets to add commas sometimes—a mistake I make, too. Maybe it’s genetic.)

“His writing has improved so much that I suspect the teachers are going to question whether he did the work.”

Entertainment and fun

Family playing cards together

“We are making a conscious effort to play board games, card games, and computer games together—there is only so much TV you can consume. Now is a great time to explore some of the fantastic games in Board Game Geek’s Gift Guide.”

“One of our family’s favorite board games is Clank! In preparation for lockdown, we bought a new version of it: Clank! Legacy: Acquisitions Incorporated. (A legacy game is one in which the rules change permanently over a series of sessions.) We haven’t started it yet—and I’m pleased about that. I like the fact we have more lockdown plans than we’ll have time for. It’s nice to know we have fun up our sleeves.”

“The TV show Taskmaster sets tasks for comedians. Now we are in lockdown, the show has started a YouTube series called Hometasking. Every few days, they set weird tasks for the locked-down general public to carry out. The responses from the task ‘Camouflage Yourself, Then Reveal Yourself’ made us laugh. Now I’ve discovered it, I’m looking forward to getting our family to submit one.”

“We have movie night a few times a week where each child gets to pick the movie (within reason).”

AvE is a great YouTube channel if you want to watch a Canadian engineer rip tools and toys apart and explain them (he swears a fair bit). His insights into manufacturing are awesome, and I find him funny. Here he is taking apart a Juicero (the failed juicing machine).”

“Our daily walk is usually to a nearby woodland that has a disused canal and ponds. We’re doing lots of wildlife spotting.”

“We recently got a bird feeder for the garden. (Ours is in the back yard, but I hear that window feeders work well, too.) It’s paying off now—our garden is full of birds and squirrels. We may have to rein it in, though—we had a mouse last week.”

“We’ve subscribed to Disney+. The new Star Wars series, The Mandalorian, is proving popular. Baby Yoda just gives a cute expression every three minutes, and all of us say ‘Aah.’ I’ve never known a lead character do so little.

“My son is enjoying The Imagineering Story.”

Monopoly Junior has been popular in our house.”

“We got a PlayStation VR at Christmas, and it’s come into its own during isolation. I feel like I’ve left the house when I play games or watch some of the 360o videos on YouTube. You can get a similar experience using a phone and a Google Cardboard-compatible headset.”

“I’m in a busy household, and I’m setting time aside for myself to do something I enjoy. It’s easy to get sucked into spending all my time caring for others, but I believe I do a better job of that when I look after myself, too.”

“My partner was determined to get on the village Facebook group with some photos. We’ve discovered that to get the best pictures, we need to shoot during golden hour. Many professional photographers don’t even bother shooting outdoors unless it’s during that time frame. It’s like cheating—everything looks incredible. We are finding this Golden Hour Calculator useful.”

“I’m using the time to pick up on some old skills (and learn new ones). Many online learning platforms are giving 30-day free trial offers. I started playing the violin, learning from YouTube, to stay sane (and to drive my housemates crazy). Fortunately, there are ways to silence a violin.”

“We’re playing cards and games with the kids. We also have a video game night where Jake gets to pick the game we will play together–mostly Super Mario Party.”

“Seeing all these responses has reminded me of a habit we stopped doing. We have a whiteboard in our kitchen(!). Once a week, we used to agree to a schedule for each evening—movie night, board games night, Xbox night, etc. We need to start that again.”

Shopping

Home food delivery

“We pick up our groceries using a drive-through service. The handlers are excellent. They load the groceries into the back, drop the receipt into a bag, and stay clear. Every time I’m at a food pick-up, I’m reminded how much we depend on our grocery workers, pharmacists, first responders, delivery people—these people are superstars of our economy right now, for sure.”

“We are using a milkman. In the ‘70s, they were using electric vehicles, recyclable bottles, and social distancing—did they know something we didn’t? New apps like The Modern Milkman (the UK only) allows you to order household essentials like bread, cakes, and butter, which are delivered to your doorstep the following morning.”

“I’ve been checking my local Facebook groups for local businesses that deliver. Many have started delivering in the past few weeks. We’ve arranged deliveries (with social distancing) of meat, fresh fruit, and vegetables this way.”

“We bought a breadmaker about 20 years ago, and finally it’s getting a lot of use. I don’t know why we didn’t use it sooner: the bread is lovely (as is the smell). It has a timer, so the bread is ready first thing in the morning.”

“We have identified some neighborhood restaurants (not the big chains) that are doing a good job with takeout and curbside pick-up, and we use them whenever possible. They are the heart of our community and the most at risk of going under.”

Miscellaneous

Reading at home

Cabin fever is like going to the toilet—the longer I let it build up, the worse it gets. It can be surprising how little it takes to relieve it. (I’m still talking about cabin fever here.)”

“I have a plan for what I’m going to do in evenings and at the weekend. It gives me a reward to look forward to, however mundane my tasks or chores might be, and I feel more energized come Monday.”

“If the day goes badly, and I’m getting into the too-much-information state, I just take a nap.

We turn the news off for two days at a time. It makes us feel so much better.”

“I think having ample sleep is incredibly important. Nothing makes me more focused, energized, creative, bold, happy, and productive. So if I don’t have scheduled meetings in the morning, I don’t set the alarm clock. Sometimes, I wake up late, but often I wake up early. And, occasionally, if I’m tired during the day, I go back to bed for an hour or so. (Again, I don’t set the alarm, but I usually wake up 45–75 minutes later.) It’s culturally taboo to champion sleep, but it’s my favorite productivity tip—and one that’s well suited to remote working.”

I try to stay away from the news. I read it twice a day (morning and evening). There’s no point tracking the exact number of cases and deaths; it’s not like I’m going to do anything with that data. Fake news is another danger (and fake news is getting ‘better’ each day).”

“A friend recommended the online counseling service BetterHelp. He bought a subscription for his whole team. I haven’t tried it yet.”

“I recently read the book The Infinite Game, which has given me a feeling of preparedness. The book reminded me of the strength of thinking long-term, even when my day-to-day activities are focused on the short-term.”

My favorite ways to reduce stress are (i) sleep, (ii) take moderate exercise, (iii) help others, (iv) go into attack mode—try to work wonders.”

“Although it’s compelling, and I’ve learned useful things from it, I don’t think social media reduces my feeling of cabin fever. I think it’s like pica.”

“I appreciated the book The Upside of Stress: Why stress is good for you (and how to get good at it). I liked the way it differentiated between fight-or-flight responses (which are characterized by fear, aggression, and avoidance), challenge responses (the kind you get when you give a public speech), and tend-and-befriend responses (the brave kind of stress you get when socializing and helping others). I find that the latter two—challenge and tend-and-befriend—are less painful and more energizing, so I try to steer my mindset towards those. I find it’s easier to switch to more pleasant types of stress (from fight-or-flight to tend-and-befriend, for example) than it is to go from stressed to not stressed (which are neurochemically very different states). I’m prepared that this year may be the toughest of our lifetimes, but, for now at least, I’m feeling up for the challenge.”

“I’ve been thinking about a quote I heard recently from Warren Rustand: ‘Embrace the possibility of your personal greatness.’ In the past few days, I’ve seen people doing things that are truly great. I’m aspiring to spend time in that mode.”

“I’m getting a lot of energy—and a sense of meaning—from trying to help others cope with the situation. So far, the help has been to our readers and our clients, but I’d like also to get involved with HelpWithCovid.com.”

We’d love to hear what you have been doing

We’d love to hear…

If you let us know, we’ll add our favorite responses to this page, to inspire others (not least ourselves).

The future is yet to be invented

Since our company began in 2006, we have worked 100% remotely. Almost everyone with whom we worked believed that we’d need to meet in person. So we had to innovate new formats for working remotely—with our bank, our accountant, our book-keeper, our lawyer, our clients, our team members. We had to introduce them to video calls, cheap international VoIP calls, screen sharing, file sharing, and all the other tools that were making remote working possible.

The same thing is now happening to everyone’s personal lives. Just a few weeks ago, the idea of having a “cocktails-and-nibbles evening” over a video call was unimaginable. We look forward to seeing how people innovate new ways of living under lockdown over the forthcoming weeks.

This article is one of a series, the index for which is here. To hear when the next article becomes available, get on our email list.

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