This pandemic means different things to different people. Something I realized after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami is that disasters are selective–the people living past the edge of the wave didn’t have their homes destroyed, and people inside sturdier buildings weren’t swept away, though certainly everyone was affected.
Like many people, it seems, my life hasn’t been extremely affected by COVID-19 to this point–I’m not feeling sick, I can easily work remotely, I haven’t had urgent needs I couldn’t meet, I’m content to be alone for long periods, and my time was already fully occupied at home. As far as I know, no one I know has caught the disease, though at least a couple of friends are at risk. So far I’ve stayed busy just trying to manage my life like I usually do, and to a certain extent this shutdown is like a vacation, a break from certain activities that gives me a different vantage point from which to consider life and some space to experiment and to rest.
But while I’m on my placid journey, I’ve tried to stay aware of people who are having a much harder time–people who have the disease or who have died, their loved ones, health care workers, government officials, business owners and managers, people who’ve been laid off, students with uncertain futures, people stuck away from home, church staff, nonprofit workers, people with mental health issues, the homeless, people who are alone and need help, people who are worried.
What can I get myself to do beyond thinking concerned thoughts? I’m still working that out. I am certainly mired in my own comfort zone.
About the pandemic in general, from what I’ve read, the keys to controlling it other than social distancing will be (1) broad testing, (2) a vaccine, and (3) better treatments, so those are issues I’ll be keeping an eye on.
In my continual quest to waste less time and get somewhere in life, I listened to Deep Work by Cal Newport. It’s a good book, but the obstacles to deep work it addressed were mostly the diffuse work styles people choose on purpose rather than the problems of distractibility I deal with, though he did advise accepting boredom, and he suggested some exercises for building up concentration endurance. I might read a book or two on ADD for extra advice.
I continued rethinking my project planning and reflected on the fact that my project “months” amount to much less than a month of time, so thinking of them as months only keeps me less aware of the time I’m working with. I found it helpful instead to think of each project month as a 40-hour work week and each project week as a 10-hour work day, so a calendar year is equivalent to 13 work weeks or just over three work months. This way of thinking gives me
- a better idea of what I can expect to accomplish in my personal projects (the amount I’d expect to complete in a week at my job);
- an important factor in selecting projects (my limited, well-defined total time per year and the large, well-defined chunk each project takes up);
- a sharper awareness of productivity and waste within a project (wasteful activities take up enough time to endanger the main tasks);
- a way to monitor my time usage within the project (as a percentage of the allotted time); and
- a stronger reason to monitor my time usage outside the project (to reserve a specific amount of project time per week).
Time will tell, but this new paradigm feels like a game changer.
For ideas on planning my projects more realistically, the previous week I’d listened to The First 20 Hours, since a lot of my projects are about learning new skills, and last week I continued the theme with the book Systematic Approaches to a Successful Literature Review, since a lot of my other projects are about getting an overview of a topic, ideally from multiple sources. My idea is to choose a principled subset of the book’s guidelines based on the particular project’s goals and constraints.
This month’s project is to study the book Data Structures and Algorithms in Java by Robert Lafore (sticking with his program and not trying to get too innovative), so I started that last week and got through the first substantive chapter, which was about arrays and binary search. Part of the plan is to learn via flashcards, so I ended up spending a chunk of time figuring out Anki and how I wanted to get my notes into it.
I started working on the audio Bible recap.
Sunday I watched A Quiet Place, which is similar to both Bird Box and COVID-19 in that safety requires keeping yourself from normal human behaviors that to most people feel essential and automatic–speaking, seeing, and congregating, respectively–a kind of horror that feels very effective to me, especially with the notion that these unnatural, almost impossible precautions are permanent. Our COVID-19 precautions will not be permanent, but I suspect they’ll go on long enough to feel that way.
Saturday I watched The Incident (2014), a Spanish-language film that I picked because it sounded surreal, and though I liked it overall, the ending was confusing and felt a little contrived, and it made the whole thing feel like a long Twilight Zone episode, when I was hoping for something with a little more gravitas.