31 March 2020. The last day of a month that has become increasingly unusual as the days passed. And as lockdown began on Tuesday 24 March (or, to be precise, was announced at 21.20 on the previous evening) this is also the first day of week two.
Like most people, I am a creature of habit and have found that the only way to reliably do something I know I should do but would rather avoid – take exercise, for example – is to make it as ingrained a habit as cleaning my teeth. During this season of enforced social isolation we are all being encouraged to maintain a sense of normality by creating new routines, scheduling our hours and resisting any temptation to succumb to a succession of duvet days. For me, some things are changing and some – perhaps most – are staying the same. I have worked from home for almost three decades and although that routine would normally be punctuated by the various social or charity activities I have become increasingly involved with while embracing semi-retirement, it means that there has been no huge readjustment to make. Apart from a few brief years post-uni and pre-children, life has never revolved around a daily commute, a shared office or chat during tea breaks. So, although I cannot now attend weekly choral society rehearsals or home-group Bible studies, fortnightly writing group meetings or monthly gatherings of my church’s leadership team, all except the first of these are finding ways to convene online get-togethers and so my social contact has changed rather than ceased. I do miss the tea and snacks that generally form a part of such evenings, but much of life is continuing as normal.
But what of other habits and how will they be affected, renewed or perhaps newly established at this time? I finally began a daily exercise habit a few years ago, and traipse down our garden before breakfast each morning to notch up four kilometres on an exercise bicycle. It would be extremely tedious and I would have abandoned it very rapidly had I not discovered that I could read a book while pedalling. The additional fifteen minutes or so every day – that is over seven hours a month – has added considerably to the time I spend reading for pleasure as opposed to ‘for work’ and for the first time ever I read an average of a book each week during 2019. Something I have avoided for years became bearable because it could be combined with a source of enjoyment – and that can apply elsewhere as well. I am not a huge fan of ironing but it is the only time, apart from when driving, that I switch on the radio. Job done, and the repertoire of music that I can recognise and sometimes even name is expanded thanks to Classic fm.
Other habits are less productive but may still have benefits. I have to be honest here and confess that while I may spend hours at my study desk on an average day, by no means all of that time is spent working. However, when I am proofreading a book, probably working with paper and pen rather than screen and keyboard, I still take time out every so often to check social media, monitor emails or relax with a cuppa and a few games of online Scorpion Solitaire; nevertheless, the hours genuinely spent working can still add up to an average office day. At other times – and this is much more the norm now than a few years ago – more often than not a day will largely consist of a range of predominantly online activities. With involvement in a number of organisations, just working through a day’s inbox of emails can extend well into late morning. For the rest, I might be checking over articles that friends or colleagues are writing for magazines or websites; compiling a newsletter; putting together church accounts; or attempting to write something myself, either for our local writing group, for our local churches’ magazine, for this blog or as part of a bigger writing project – although this latter has lain neglected for over a year.
The present restrictions mean that what would be a half or full day in London for a meeting may now be an hour or two over Zoom, and already there are suggestions that having got used to new ways of doing things – ways that are more inclusive for people living far from the capital or with other restrictions on their time or finances – we may well adopt some of these ideas beyond the time of Covid-19. Time will tell, but I am sure there will be new habits that prove to be useful in the long term. However, there are some of our lockdown habits that will have to be unlearned: crossing the road to avoid people coming towards you down the pavement might have been considered rude a few weeks ago, now it is among the things many people are doing almost without thinking as they are out getting their daily exercise; and pausing when the doorbell goes to allow the delivery person to retreat to a safe distance is sensible now but not great in the normal run of things if the expected parcel then gets taken away again.
I have not yet decided – and perhaps the start of week two is too early – whether I should have a daily timetable to remind me to do certain things every day over the coming weeks or months but I do note that already there are two things on my mental ‘to-do’ list that I have not got around to today, so perhaps it won’t be long.