So before I begin, I would like to say that I don’t love the pandemic. I mean it goes without saying. The COVID-19 outbreak is probably the most anxiety provoking event of my lifetime thus far. That includes things like the constant threat of nuclear war growing up, 9/11, my two children being born months premature, and the fear of being forced to eat guacamole because I sincerely don’t trust that green avocado slime.
And as the news unfolds daily with more and more outbreaks, event closings, lock downs, cancellations, confirmed cases, and most of all deaths, it can feel as if you are living in some sort of nightmare scenario where we are only a virus mutation or two away from being one of the nameless among the heap of corpses Larry and Rita find in Lincoln Tunnel while escaping New York in The Stand.
But if you take a deep breath, preferably inside that is, you do realize that this is not Captain Trips, and some sort of biblical doomsday is indeed pretty far off. However, it doesn’t mean COVID-19 isn’t something to be taken seriously for sure. Very serious. More serious than cramming for that calculus final after blowing off most of the classes that semester (not that I had experience with that…umm…mind you) .
And although it seems I’m making light of things, I do so because humor is how I help cope with a world that seems to be spinning more out of control every day. I am fully aware of the consequences of inaction. COVID can be a real killer for the elderly or those that immunocompromised. It can hide for days among the asymptomatic as they pass it to surfaces that can be then touched by others, who then become infected by rubbing their faces. And despite the fact that GotS tries not to be too political here, the lack of availability of testing kits in the US due to the way our overall system works, means we are flying blind here with some conservative estimates pointing to the fact that for every confirmed case we have, there are probably 5 other confirmed cases.
As such really it seems as if our only weapon other than scrubbing our hands until the skin peels off is one of the more unlikely “buzz” terms of the past decade: Social Distancing.
It’s not surprising that the notion of staying the heck away from other people became our best defense against the spread of this disease. It’s been a tried and true method of dealing with plague outbreaks for centuries as those in confided densely populated places have a better chance of passing things from one person to the next, than if you lived in the middle of the woods surrounded by nothing but pine trees.
In fact the entire thing reminds me of the accidental release of the Corrupted Blood debuff spell from Worlds of Warcraft in the mid 2000s, and how despite that being a video game, it proved that most will flee populated city centers and stick to a nomadic life style until the epidemic blows over.
That’s why the the event attracted the attention of epidemiologists for years given it correctly predicted what the human response would be should an infectious disease attacked to general population.
The scary thing though is that this is not a simulation, and unlike a game which you can turn off, we have to live this life 24/7 for the foreseeable future. And it’s extremely vital we do so. We have to flatten that curve, folks. We have to slow the infection incursion rate down so that we can buy our health care system enough time to deal with those that are very sick thanks to the virus without sacrificing proper care while others search for a vaccine to help stop further spreading all together.
That’s the plan, folks.
Social Distancing is not a cure. It’s just a delaying tactic, like watching another episode of “Family Guy” instead of finally getting around to doing your taxes. Only the procrastination is actually whether or not you’ll ever get around to seeing a movie at the mall with your friends or take that woodworking class with your wife to make a brand new living room wall clock. Yeah…we did that. It’s a damn fine clock. Damn fine.
Anyways, you are delaying your possible exposure to the virus, and that means we all have to spend less to no time around those day to day social networks that we’ve created for ourselves to make our lives a little more pleasant. Whether those are podcasting buddies, our Pilates class, or even those right outside our immediate family unit, such as brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, and especially grandparents. But for a growing number of you out there that does mean co workers as many of you are starting to work remotely as offices clean out faster than Charmin toilet paper on a Wal-mart shelf.
As Stew would say, the bears know it’s damn fine toilet paper…
Working remotely can be a challenge for some after the initial excitement of not having to drive to work every day or heat up leftovers in the dirty office lounge microwave. Some can feel aimless, unable to remain focused on their day to day activities given all the distractions that can come from being in your own dwelling. Some also thrive more thanks to the social aspects of work whether that be the ability to get direct feedback from co workers on projects, eating the occasional piece of birthday cake thanks to an office party, or simply put the whip crack of just knowing big brother is watching at all times in the office so you can’t take that 3 hour nap on the couch.
And that comes to the main reason I’m writing today’s article, thanks to an idea from fellow GotS co host, Chad Smith. You see, although some of you out there are experiencing for the first time the notion of extended time working remotely, for me, it’s been a normal part of my every day life for nearly 13 years.
Some of you might not know that everything we do here at Ghosts of the Stratosphere is in fact my creative outlet. A hobby as it were while I have a normal day job that keeps the lights on and food on my kids table. I mean even Peter Parker wasn’t Spider-man all the time. He had to pimp those pictures to ol’ JJJ at the Daily Bugle to keep Aunt May a flood with all those heart medications.
And although I’m not going to go into what I do in my “civilian” alter ego life, working from home has been my standard operating procedure for most of my professional career. As such, I thought I’d provide a public service by passing along some of the daily rituals and routines I’ve developed over the years to not only remain productive but also sane despite having little to no contact with coworkers.
1) Get Dressed.
This seems like an odd one to start off with, because it seems like common sense that you wouldn’t work out of your home office in the nude. However, you’d be amazed at how many people have said to me over the years: “Wow…if I worked from home, I’d just put on sweat pants and a tank top every day!” or “I’d just never get out of my pajamas”.
See, that’s dangerous thinking. That kind of thinking enforces a notion that working from home is a “joke” or “not something to be taken seriously”. It’s like what they used to say about “clothes make the man”. There’s some truth to that in that if you dress like you don’t care, then subconsciously that reinforces the fact that you don’t care. And if you don’t care deep down, then of course you are going to find that it’s more difficult to stay focused.
Now I’m not saying that you should put on a 3 piece suit or something, but I make it a point to dress every day as if I were suddenly going to be called in to shake hands with my boss, I wouldn’t feel like a stooge. So it’s business casual most days. Jeans, a nice flannel shirt or something. I try to stay away from hoodies or gym shorts for any extended period of time, unless I’m working out as a mental “break” in between meetings or emails, which I’ll get to in a moment.
Long story short, try not to be a slob. Your home is your place of business now. Treat it with the same sort of respect.
2) Have a Dedicated Workspace.
As I just mentioned, your home is your place of business now. However, it’s important that your entire home isn’t your place of business. You may think you’ll get so much work done hanging out on the couch or in bed with your laptop, but if you equate those places with things like “places I play video games” or “places I sleep”, then sooner or later, that’s what you’ll do there, instead of working.
Better idea is to set up some sort of desk area, even if it’s just a kitchen nook or a dining room table and say “That’s where I work”. It’s better if it’s actual room as sometimes having a door in and out is important to sequester off that space and say mentally “When I’m here, I’m working”, but I know that might be difficult for those without that kind of dwelling. Regardless, if you can just have a desk like area in which you can work from, then you will most likely be more productive as it will feel more “normal”. Plus you can start separating work and personal life as well, which is extremely important
3) Have Dedicated Work Hours.
For all of you workoholics out there that might view “working from home” as a curse because you can access work at any time and as a result feel obligated to answer random emails at 3am, DON’T!
Just like it’s important to have a dedicated work space, it’s important to keep dedicated work hours. If you are traditionally done at work at 5pm, then walk away at 5pm. That’s your time. Just because you are at home doesn’t mean people have the right to ask more of you in terms of hours clocked. But conversely, if you are supposed to be at work by 8:30, then be at your desk at 8:30. That’s only fair.
Again, this is why I feel having a dedicated work space is important as it’s easier to keep hours if you don’t feel like your entire dwelling is your office and that you have to work whenever and wherever you are called upon to do so.
4) Take Mental Breaks.
Now comes one of the great benefits of working from home as long as you respect it: Taking advantage of Mental break time. Some argue whether putting in a load of laundry or doing push ups or reading a chapter of your book would lead to a slippery slope when it comes to working from home. But from someone that has done it for years, it’s really one of the fringe benefits. You see instead of walking to the water cooler when I need to take a few minutes after a difficult call to just mentally unwind, I have the option of walking away from my home office and washing some dishes or working out a bit or playing video games on my Switch for a couple minutes. And it’s those few moments that really do make a difference. It helps reinforce my autonomy, that I am in my home and somewhat free to do somethings that I might not be able to do in an office setting.
But it’s important not to get carried away. It can be very easy to start viewing these other activities as not so much a prize to be savored, but the norm. Remember you are still at work despite being at home. You need to have self control and remember that these are just breaks.
I can also add that if you happen to have a significant other who is not working from home, this is also a good way to signify to them that your work is still important despite being at home. Sure, you might have time to wash a couple pots and pans during one of your mental breaks, but you aren’t at home to do all the housework. You have a real job to do and they need to respect that.
5) Make a Conscientious Point to Socialize.
Of course this is the most difficult one when I just spent an entire article touting the benefits of staying the heck away from other peeps. It has been a secret of my success though as you’ll quickly find that working from home can leave you more lonely than a ESPN reporter during a pandemic plague. So I purposely make time every day to interact with others to maintain my mental health and stave off the inevitably that I’m going to be a strange old hermit someday collecting my toenail clippings.
It’s a major reason I thought it was a great idea to start the podcast in the first place, so I would have an excuse to talk with some of my good buddies a couple times a week about important things like the new Morbius comic series or whether syrup is actually a condiment.
However, with options like going to the gym, meeting folks for your book club, or even having a beer at the bar being out, I know following this guideline is going to be difficult. But it still is super important, so like the fact that you are working from home, socialize from home.
Grab a glass of wine and Facetime an old friend. Find a great online co op game to play. Organize a book review on Skype like we do on the podcast during our read piles. Hell, I could say you should start a podcast with a bunch of your old college roomies, but that might be a bit ambitious.
I’m just saying that although it may look like on the surface your chances for social interaction are slim, technology has given us some tools that will still allow it. And if you happen to share a domicile with someone, connect with them. This can be a real bonding experience that you remember for the rest of your lives, like being stuck in a lifeboat together.
So those are just some of the suggestions I can give for those of you out there that are working from home during this outbreak as to ways to stay productive. It’s important that even though we are practicing social distancing, that we continue to try to be as normal as possible, and that includes being decent workers.
I think in closing I did want to add one more piece of guidance that I’ve been trying with my life during this COVID lock down, which doesn’t have as much to do with work so much as just remaining sane…
Watch movies you have never seen before.
One of the things I know that my wife and I instituted as a daily ritual now as a way to carve out time for each other from a social perspective is watching the huge laundry list of movies we never got around to throughout the years leading up to all this. From Ford vs. Ferrari to The Man from U.N.C.L.E., the Aeronauts to Jojo Rabbit ,these movies have really helped us experience something new and exciting together, giving plenty for us to talk about into the wee hours after the kids have gone to sleep.
Although I’ve seen it several times, I think I might get Nicole to watch probably my favorite Kubrick film during our time in preventive isolation: Dr. Strangelove.
For those of you playing from home, that’s where I got the title for today’s article and I think that give current circumstances, we could both use a little dark humor to put things in perspective. Although it does break some of my rules here because I’ve seen it, my wife never has so I think it’s still an awesome pick for days like these.
After all, if you can’t laugh at something, sooner or later, you are bound to cry about it…