"Without a plan, there's no attack. Without attack, no victory."
- Ack Ack Raymond (Curtis Armstrong)
From my own work situation, the quarantine hasn't changed much. I typically work from home, traveling to customer sites every once in a while, but for the most part, I'm in my home office most of the day. The company I work for, actually, is 'remote first.' We have one office in San Francisco, CA, but the vast majority of the 900+ employees work from their homes. Before the virus hit, I would have conversations with friends about this work environment. I would explain that the best part about working from home is that you can work from home! No traffic to deal with, your own private bathroom, etc. The bad part is that it is SO EASY to just sit back and start working again--regardless of whether it is 10 PM during the week or in the middle of a beautiful Saturday.
When you work in an office, some location that requires a commute, there is a clear delineation of work-life and home life. That commute time, the transition from work to home and vice versa provides a buffer in which the mind can be adjusted. At one point, when I did have a reasonably hefty commute, that physical break-in location and time was the one thing I enjoyed. The time to listen to my favorite podcast or audiobook, and just let go of the stress of the day. However, when your commute consists of opening your office door and walking downstairs, that break and division no longer exists.
So, how do you apply that 24" gauge, when the markers are so challenging to read? If you look at how parents and teachers are managing home-schooling, you can get some great insight. Maintaining sanity requires a schedule and routine. I believe it was Jason Richards from the Masonic Roundtable who stated this week, that humans are creatures of habit, we need routines to function. Not only function, but the daily habits and routines enable us to maintain some level of sanity. If it weren't for the habitual behavior, every task, every action, would be a new decision.
In my personal life, I see this a lot when going out to eat, well when I used to go out to eat. I follow a plant-based diet, which I'm sure you can imagine, makes going out to eat reasonably tricky. Sometimes, if I am going to a more select location for a formal dinner, I leave it up to the chef to cook me something. In many restaurants, there is only one thing, or maybe two, that I can eat—no decision to be made. However, when I go to a vegetarian restaurant, it becomes more difficult. The decision hasn't been made for me, and I'm forced to make a selection. What if it's the wrong one? What if I don't like it? With a habit and with a solid routine, you have fewer decisions to make, and less fear creeps into your head.
Think of how much time is spent in the morning, trying to decide what to eat, or what to wear. I've heard some people state that they enjoy wearing a daily uniform, either for work or school. With the uniform defined, there is no need to decide what to wear. The brain isn't occupied and consuming energy trying to choose. Can you imagine how much stress and fear would be in our lives if every day we had to decide which toothpaste to use, or which part of our body to wash first? These habits and procedures have been built over years of just habit, and with those habits, we don't need the motivation, willpower, or the decision making energy to function. Unfortunately, some habits are more harmful than others.
There are millions of people in the world that are consumed by video games, drugs, alcohol, work, etc. These become habitual behaviors that can be detrimental to your life and consume every inch of that 24-inch gauge. Often these habits can initiate out of boredom--you start doing them, and then they become you're "go-to" every time you aren't sure what to do. Replacing these behaviors with something healthier can be challenging, but well worth it. Much like the years it took us to learn to brush our teeth or wash our hands after using the bathroom; it takes time to build good habits.
"Don't Break the Chain" is a methodology reportedly popularized by Jerry Seinfeld. When you want to replace a bad habit, with a good one, simply decide when you will perform that action and stick to it. Every day, check off your accomplishment, and the more you succeed, the less you want to break the chain. I would postulate that Brother Benjamin Franklin's routines and his practice of his 13 Virtues follows a very similar methodology. All of these methods encourage good habits by introducing one change, one additional link in the chain. The problem now is that our chain has been shattered. So how do you rebuild?
I can certainly admit that the immediate introduction of working from home, without a defined routine, can lead to hours of scrolling through newsfeeds, binge-watching television, and day drinking. But what drives these behavior patterns, if not boredom? Can you imagine how difficult it will be to get back into your routine when the time comes? Instead of falling into a bad habit, use the pieces of your broken chain to develop new routines and new habits that will help you thrive.
From recovery.org, "Why not take charge of it in such a way as to create the most healthy, balanced, and positive lifestyle possible?" Start with setting a schedule for merely waking up and going to bed. If you're feeling ambitious, add mealtimes, just include time for preparation, consumption, and cleanup! After all, the last thing anybody wants to do at the end of a day is spending an hour washing three meals worth of dishes (unless, of course, you find solace in that activity). Establish that foundational structure, and start adding other habits, tasks, or periods of work.
You need to own the day, not let it own you. But this also means setting boundaries. Stop for dinner, and walk away or entirely shut down your work computer. Don't let a restless night turn into an early morning work session. Without the physical boundaries, it's much more challenging to see the hatch marks in the gauge, but it doesn't make them any less critical.
There are a plethora of resources out there to help with self-organization to the point where the information can be overwhelming. My recommendation, should it matter, is to simply throw some terms into your favorite search engine (terms related to creating and maintaining a routine), and click the first link. Read a paragraph or two, and if you're in, great. If not, go back and hit the second link. Set aside 30 minutes in the morning to do this, perhaps with your coffee, and before you know it, you'll feel more productive, efficient, and happy than you ever did in an office explaining what you do to your seven bosses!
Robert Edward Jackson is a Past Master and Secretary of Montgomery Lodge located in Milford, MA. His Masonic lineage includes his Father (Robert Maitland), Grandfather (Maitland Garrecht), and Great Grandfather (Edward Henry Jackson), a founding member of Scarsdale Lodge #1094 in Scarsdale, NY. When not studying ritual, he's busy being a father to his three kids, a husband, Boy Scout Leader, and a network engineer to pay for it all. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org