10 Things I Learned During Lockdown

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The last few months have been pretty mind-blowing for all of us.

Whether you agree with it or not (and this isn’t a place for that debate!) lockdown is easing off in most places. With that in mind I thought it was a good time to take stock, and look at the things I learned during lockdown.

It’s certainly been a challenging journey of self discovery. I suspect that when you read this, you’ll find plenty of points that resonate, and also some reasons to feel at least some positivity for the uncertain times that still lie ahead.

At least that’s the idea. So let’s begin.

1. We Are Far More Resilient than We Think We Are

Lockdown has certainly had some low points and moments of despair. Particular “highlights” that spring to mind for us include:

  • The week when reality kicked in in the business world. My wife and I had a run where every day brought fresh news of a client cutting budgets or pausing their work. (Not the first time we’ve experienced freelance “feast or famine,” and it won’t be the last!)
  • The week when our eldest son really started to miss his friends and lose his mojo. Seeing someone who’s usually so full of life and smiles lose their sparkle is really hard, especially when it’s your job to make them happy.
  • The period when Google updated its algorithm, and I lost 30% of this site’s traffic and income over night.

We’ve all had these moments, and they’re different for each of us. But what lockdown has taught me is that there’s an enormous amount of wisdom to this quote:

It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up. Vince Lombardi. 

Under lockdown, plenty of things that would ordinarily have sent my mental health spiralling for multiple weeks only affected me for a day or two.

Going back to the things I mentioned above: My wife and I have both seen client work begin to pick up; Our son is back to his happy self after some proactive action to meet his needs; And traffic to the site is slowly beginning to pick up again.

Lockdown has been incredibly hard, but I’ve found levels of resourcefulness and endurance I didn’t think I had. I suspect you have too.

2. Juggling Work and Childcare is HARD

We’ve now had a six-year-old and a two-year-old at home constantly, with no support, for over 100 days, whilst running our own businesses and working full time.

If somebody had told me we’d have to cope with that in January 2020, I think I would have run for the hills!

We’ve managed it, but it’s been incredibly difficult.

Children on computers

It’s not so much the relentlessness of having SO. MUCH. TO. DO. It’s more the little nuances that make it feel so relentless:

The difficulty of being able to have a quick adult conversation or make a decision without three people speaking at once; The frequent nagging feeling that despite putting your heart and soul into the work AND the parenting, you’ve somehow managed to fall short with all of it.

I certainly have a new-found respect for the people who manage to combine work and childcare all the time. And as for the teachers and child-minders? Well, let’s just say they have my eternal respect!

3. We Must All Respect Other People’s Challenges

Following on from the above, one thing that’s given us the extra drive to rise to the challenge of juggling so much is a recognition that we’ve been very fortunate to still have work during these difficult times.

It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking the grass is greener. It’s easy to envy the people who’ve been placed on furlough and assume it’s been like one big paid holiday for them. But then you realise that work is such a key part of peoples’ identities. Weeks of not doing any has left many with mental health challenges of their own.

It’s easy to compare yourself to the people who’ve had government financial support and been able to spend time on the beach – unexpected quality time with their children. But then you realise they’ve probably not been able to fire off those endless online shopping orders without having to worry too much about the cost.

The point here is that this unusual experience has affected all of us differently.

Empathy goes a long way in times like this.

“Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.” Mary T. Lathrap, 1895.

4. A Dedicated Work Space IS a Good Thing

I’ve always been a little scathing of the many articles that bang on about the need for a dedicated workspace when you work from home.

But one of the things I’ve learned during lockdown is that it really REALLY helps!

A dedicated workspace

We’re fortunate enough to have a purpose built office in our garden (it was actually featured in this article!) But we’ve not always used it consistently. I have a tendency to start work on the bed or the sofa and stay put once I get into the flow.

However, with such a crowded lockdown household, it’s been worth every penny: A place to concentrate, a place to hide(!) and a place to stop every aspect of our home-based lives rolling into one.

I’ll admit it: I’ve rather shifted my view on dedicated home working spaces.

5. Motivation is Really Inconsistent

During lockdown I’ve experienced periods of huge motivation, and periods of depressingly prolonged brain fog, indecision and procrastination. It all ebbs and flows very unpredictably.

And that brings me to my next point:

6. Too Many Targets is a Recipe for Misery

During lockdown, there’s been a massive “hustle hard” mentality, especially pervading social media.

People seem obsessed with outdoing each other with how much they’ve achieved: how many daily steps, how many courses completed, how many articles written.

I’m sure there are some “super-achievers” out there who are proudly ticking off their to-do lists whilst participating in an online spinning class and learning Spanish in their headphones. But the rest of us live in the real world.

One thing I’ve learned during lockdown is that giving yourself endless targets just sets you up not to meet some of them, and then you end up feeling like you’ve failed altogether.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that you merely drift along getting nothing done. But it’s not a competition. Trying to do too much at once can work for a month or two, but then you burn out and nothing gets done.

I’d be very surprised if there aren’t plenty of people who recognise that pattern.

7. Social Media is a Potential Threat to your Sanity

Regular readers may remember that I had a very successful social media detox late last year. It had such a profound effect on my life that I referred to it as a “mental health upgrade.”

Unfortunately, lockdown saw me drift back to the dubious attractions of Facebook and Twitter. To begin with it felt like a bit of a lifeline. Facebook offered live DJ sets, quiz nights and the chance to check in with socially distanced friends. Twitter provided the (false) impression that you could introduce some certainty in uncertain times, if only you took the time to read enough different opinions and theories on COVID-19.

Several months later, it’s time to kick it all to the kerb again.

Coronavirus plus social media has led to a phenomenon Wired has described as “doomscrolling,” and it’s an easy trap to fall into.

But more than that, since the start of lockdown social media has once again gone from a lifeline to a constant reminder that there’s not a single issue human beings can’t manage to disagree on. I really am (pretty much) done with it.

8. Household Admin is REALLY Time Consuming

I do the grocery shopping, meal planning and (most of) the cooking in our household, and I feel like I’ve spent half my life staring at supermarket websites for the past few months. You don’t realise how much food you consume until you’re having all three of your daily meals in the same place for weeks on end.

Food delivery

On some days, once you’ve done the food order, renewed that insurance policy, been on hold to the bank for two hours, and cleared down the bulk of your emails, you suddenly realise there’s not much of that day left.

Meanwhile, my wife is juggling home school, online exercise classes, laundry, a million other things, AND somehow putting in a full working week herself!

We’re very fortunate to have a distribution of duties we’re (largely) happy with, but BOY does it take time. Once again, it brings into sharp focus just how much uninterrupted time we gained when we had school and childcare.

9. Music is (Often) the Answer

Music has always been a huge part of my life, but it’s kept me sane during lockdown.

The soul and pop playlists that have fired me up for yet another “Groundhog Day”; The amazing “Virtual Festivals” that have been a highlight of many a Friday; And – last but not least – my two-year-old’s ritual of taking charge of the music in the garden after every barbecue we have. (His eclectic records of choice are Mary J Blige’s “Just Fine,” Dennis Ferrer’s “Hey Hey,” and Ricky Martin’s “Livin La Vida Loca!”)

Working eating and watching TV

This isn’t a music blog, but for the music fans among you, I’d particularly highlight:

10. Gaming is a Great Form of Mindfulness

I don’t think I ever properly understood the wonders of gaming until I started to become absorbed in Animal Crossing on the Nintendo Switch during lockdown.

SO much has been written about this game, and it was released at just the right time. Who wouldn’t want to hide away on an island of their own creation during such tough times, catching fish and bugs, meeting charming characters and planting trees and flowers?

Frivolity aside, gaming has been a great release, and a way to unknot the brain throughout this constant barrage of terrifying news, background stress and endless decisions and compromises. Yoga and breathing exercises may work for some, but it’s been time spent in to the company of my console that’s helped me reset and “just be.” I highly recommend it.

In Conclusion

One thing I’ve said to several people lately is that as and when this is all over, I think there will actually be myriad ways that I will look back at lockdown fondly:

I wouldn’t have the same bond with my youngest son if he’d been in childcare during this noisy but wonderful stage of his life; I wouldn’t have a crazy, untidy fish-filled room in my Animal Crossing house if my eldest hadn’t helped me clock up over 60 hours in that escapist, virtual world.

Most of all, I wouldn’t have known quite how well my wonderful wife and I could rise to this level of challenge, and end at least the majority of the days with a smile and a sense of gratitude.

Those are the things I learned in lockdown. We’re not out the woods yet, so I suspect I’ll be learning plenty more.

Stay well, and stay safe.

Sitting in the garden during lockdown

Over to You!

I’d really love some feedback on this article. It would be great to hear which of my experiences resonate with your own, and what YOU have learned during lockdown. The comments section is below should you wish to share.

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7 thoughts on “10 Things I Learned During Lockdown”

  1. Hey Ben,
    Enjoyed the article. I’m continually impressed with your ability to routinely produce high-quality content under some of the most difficult conditions. The photos of the wife and kids were a great addition, showing the tumult of dealing with everybody at home all the time all of a sudden. Congratulations to you and your family team! Also, wanted to say I’m appreciating your weekly course on freelancing. Just gave Lesson 2 a first look earlier this afternoon and will be diving into the homework this weekend. I enjoy your writing style … direct and clear while being brutally honest about the realities. Good luck to you in recouping your losses during the lockdown

    Reply
  2. Lovely post, Ben. I will have to endorse number five – my motivation was horribly inconsistent – and number 10. In my case, though, I rediscovered Lemmings. Anyone else remember that or am I just showing my age?

    Personally, I learned that I can hole up for a long time so long as I feel that I’m doing something useful. And have access to the internet. The only thing I missed was my little grandchildren.

    I also learned how incredibly inventive Kiwis can be. Since there was precious little sports available our TV news shows featured videos sent in by Kiwis all over the country doing amazing sporty things in their backyards. We had people running marathons around their houses, incredible golfing and kicking shots (think over the bungalow roof and into the wheelie bin.) We had cul de sacs where everyone came down to the end of their driveway and did socially distant fitness programs, dance sessions, singalongs and even barbeques. There were competitions for the best dad dance (and then the best mum dance) which had so many fantastic entries.

    Finally, I wonder if mankind will learn from this pandemic or will history find individuals and countries sadly just as greedy, polluting, power hungry, and selfish as ever?

    Reply
    • Hi Lyn, Thanks for your response. I remember Lemmings very well! I remember there was a specific level I could never get past as well!

      I’m interested to know what mankind will learn too. I hear a lot of lip-service about it “teaching me what’s important” etc. but then I see the same people in a seemingly desperate hurry to get back to doing exactly the same things they were before, so the jury’s out so far…

      Like you, I’m not particularly averse to “holing up.” I do feel it’s got harder now with the children going a bit stir crazy. Our youngest would have started nursery around now, or at the very least socialising with other children at the childminders, and it feels like it could hold back his development a bit. Still, we’re in no hurry to get back out there until WE are told it’s safe, not when out government says it is!

      Reply
  3. All of this is super relatable. I also had to ditch social media as it can be a serious trigger and mental health hazard. The final straw for me was trying to work from home (like I have been doing for three years now) and dodging instant messages from everyone who was home but NOT working. I felt like the only person at the party who was sober, lol. The pandemic forced me to ramp up my pitching and proposal efforts as many of my clients started panicking and canceling projects. No time for Facebook land and the constant bickering over “to mask or not to mask”. As a plus, quarantine was a short leap since I am a natural homebody.

    Reply
    • 🙂

      Haha, yes, I’ve often send socially distanced was my default anyway, and I know I’ve struggled with lockdown less than more extroverted people!

      Reply

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