There are two types of people during quarantine: Those who treat this time as a long-term vacation, and those who are use this extra time at home to refine their habits and emerge better than before. I hope you fall somewhere in the middle — using this time to get reacquainted with yourself while putting your best foot forward. We feel lost because our lives have changed and we are stuck at home. When it comes to fitness, I have major trouble working out at home. There are so many distractions, animals, and chores I should probably be doing. It’s tough to focus, and I tend to not push myself as hard without an instructor breathing down my neck. The first two weeks of “shelter in place” here in St. Louis I treated like a 336 hour snow day: I ate whatever I wanted, lived in my pajamas, and consumed as many hours of my favorite video game as possible.
When it became apparent that we were in this for a longer haul, I came face to face with some parts of myself I have trouble accepting. Particularly how I behave at home. When it comes to my personal projects and exercise, I only do my best work from public spaces. If I was going to keep momentum during this time, major changes had to be made. I’m sure you all can relate.
It was clear I had some habits to change, and fast.
Segment your space to match your habits.
Your body is acutely aware of how you behave in different parts of your home. It’s really tough to work in bed because your body is predisposed for sleep. Over time, working from bed will erode your sleep schedule because your body will wake itself up and prepare for mental strain. In a note book or spreadsheet, write down the different areas of your house (kitchen, living room, reading corner, etc.) and designate which key activities or habits should happen there. Here’s mine as an example:
Kitchen — Food preparation, morning coffee routine
Dining Room — Deep work (Personal projects or work-related)
Cozy Chair in Dining Room — Reading, mediation
Den — Television, Video Games
Bedroom — Sleep
Empty Nook in Den — Yoga, exercise
These defined zones will help your body and mind prepare for the type of work that should take place in that area. When I’m in my room designated for deep work, I have trouble unwinding. My focus has increased.
Build new routines.
This is extremely important. Your old habits probably aren’t working for you right now. Waking up and grabbing a latte at the shop down the street can’t happen. Used to rolling out of bed and heading straight to the gym? Not anymore. It’s time to build new routines that respect the zones you established in the previous step.
This is also a great time to revamp your routines, since you literally can’t fall back into your old habits. If you’ve been trying to make a change, now is a great time to do it. For example, I’m focused on exercising in the morning ( I’ve been finishing my day with exercise, and can tell it’s impacting my sleep). Working from home has disrupted my routine and given me more time back. Since grabbing Starbucks is no longer an option, I now brew my coffee at home. Here’s an example of my new morning routine:
- Wake up, spray face with toner
- Start brewing decaf coffee in the Ratio 6, take medication, drink 20 oz water
- Deliver coffee to my fiancé, hop on the Peloton for 20 mins
- Take the dog for a short walk around the neighborhood
- Come back, grab coffee, hop in the shower
- Sit down for work
An easy change you can make to start your day is drinking water first thing or exercising. There are plenty of apps for strength and cardio workouts that are being offered for free. While many focus on their morning routine, the most successful people consider afternoon and evening routines to optimize their days. The key is to start with one small habit — don’t change many at once or you’re likely to become overwhelmed. Just like a diet, start with small changes that you’re confident you can maintain over long periods of time.
Use a habit tracker to keep you honest.
Habit tracking apps are great accountability tools to help you hit any goal. Some are very specific (like a water tracking app) while others are flexible to accommodate a custom routine like Fabulous. You’ll be energized to you see your streak add up as you make long-term changes to your habits. Some of the trackers also gamify it with different achievements. Even on days when you’re not motivated, you’ll look forward to checking those boxes.
Identify new rewards for habit achievement.
The old ways of rewarding yourself have changed in this “new normal.” For example, I would treat myself to a trip to the coffee shop after particularly grueling sweat sessions. Since I can no longer do this, I made new reward systems. I’ve started focusing on longer-term rewards, taking the money I would have spent on that coffee and instead pooling it into something else i want after I complete a streak of workouts. For example, I required myself to exercise every day for 3 weeks in order to get a smart scale that I really wanted (read the review here).
- Find a low-cost daily reward for hitting your habit goals. This could look like a relaxing bath with a bath bomb at the end of the day, doing a restorative yoga session, or having a glass of wine or kombucha. These micro-rewards will give you something to look forward to all day. (Just be sure to not settle for less — if you don’t hit your goals, don’t give yourself the reward just because you can or the day was hard).
- Find a separate, larger reward for your habit streaks. On days when it gets really hard, that micro-reward might not be enough to get it done. Identify something you really want that aligns with your goal (like I did with the smart scale), and commit to doing your routines for a set period of time. That could be a week, month, or even a year depending on the size of the reward. Once you’ve identified the reward, make sure it’s in your face all the time .Make a photo of it the background of your phone and change the names of your routines in your habit tracker to reflect your new motivation. For example, work toward a new smart water bottle to hit your water goals and label your routine “Drink 20 oz of water so I can earn my new H2O Bottle!” The constant reminders will keep you going when it gets hard.
Restructure your days to fit new habits.
Since you literally can’t go-go-go anymore, you may find more freedom in your schedule. If you’re not used to this freedom, you may take this time for granted (or not notice it at all.) For example, you may sleep in more instead of sticking to the wake-up time that accommodated your commute. Open up an extra 30 minutes for your new routine by sticking to that early wake-up time. If you’re used to going out for lunch, eat something from your kitchen and use the rest of your time to get outside and walk.
If you find that you do your best work in non-work hours, this might be the time to negotiate your schedule with your boss. While things are in flux, they may be more amenable to letting you finish work earlier in the mornings or later in the evenings. Write down in a notebook or spreadsheet your ideal day — When do you wake up? When do you work? How long do you spend getting ready, cooking, or reading? See how close you can get your schedule to reflect that ideal.
One game-changer for me has been subscribing to Hungryroot food delivery. It’s like a hybrid between a straight delivery service and Blue Apron. They deliver healthy recipes (think lots of riced vegetables and the best dairy-free sauces you’ve ever had), most of which you can assemble in under 15 minutes. We honestly spent more time cooking before the quarantine. Between the time saved making dinner and removing our commute, I have gained at least 2 additional hours of productivity every day.
If subscription services aren’t for you, learn how to plan easy meals with Asana.
Commit to your bedtime habit.
Since there’s less variability in your days, this is a great opportunity to find a sleep schedule and stick to it. Sleep is one of the key habits that knock all the others out of whack (your whole morning routine can be wiped out with one bad night of sleep). It’s critical that you actively manage this piece of your life. I’m not suggesting that you go to bed at 8 PM (unless that’s your thing). Just find a sleep schedule which results in you waking up well-rested with enough time to complete your morning routines. Stick to it — even on the weekends. You’ll be so surprised how much longer your weekends feel when you get up the same time you do for work. You will have so much extra time.
What habits are you trying to cultivate during quarantine? Let me know in the comments.