A Staff Officer’s Guide to Surviving (Another) LockdownBy Nathan Pierpoint August 24, 2021
After spending the better part of nine months in lockdown while in the U.S. last year, and now staring down the barrel of at least another 3-4 months in lockdown in Sydney this year, I feel somewhat qualified to impart some guidance to my fellow staff officers on how to manage a lockdown. I note that for some this may be their first extended lockdown – fear not, they can actually be quite an enjoyable experience, provided you are willing to let go of your old routine! This short piece will provide FIVE sure-fire tips on how to get through your next lockdown with some resemblance of both your sanity and your work ethic intact. Actually, as I found last year, it can be quite a healthy experience in re-connecting with your family – an area you may have neglected over the last few years.
Maintaining decent work output during an extended period at home can be a real challenge. While for some it may appear a blessing in disguise (that onesie you bought last year suddenly looks enticing again), suddenly having to manage the pressures of work against either being at home alone or being a parent can be more difficult than you had previously considered. Home maintenance (doing the little projects you may have put off previously), home schooling, keeping yourself and your children fed and active (mentally and physically); consumes time and effort not otherwise part of the daily routine you have grown comfortable with up to now, and that’s okay. The following are a few quick ideas on how to set yourself up for success:
1. Put some pants on. While that old unit tracksuit looks appealing, it won’t help you do any work. If you think about it, you’ve generally worn your tracksuit when lounging around and relaxing in the past, not working. Sub-consciously you will want to do the same during lockdown instead of focussing on your work and the other priorities for the day. For me, getting dressed in neat clothes that I’d wear in public (pants and collared shirt), helps me to mentally focus on work. In addition, maintaining an acceptable grooming standard is also highly recommended. Having a shave, doing your hair, or even ironing your clothes can help you to mentally prepare for work. The added benefit of not having to hide during Skype meetings or coming up with some excuse as to why your video isn’t on can be handy too!
2. Build a new routine. Your first task should be to build a new routine that is flexible enough to contend with all the daily pressures you face at home. While it should look something like your normal work routine, you should look to factor in specific times for a break, walking the dog, PT, meals, and kids’ activities (if you have them). I always found that putting it on the fridge for all to see, particularly when I had meetings during the day, allows my family to understand when I need space, or extra WiFi speed. Chore charts for your kids can help them to focus on achieving set tasks for pocket money, and can give you some extra time you can put back into either work or play. You will notice the rubbish you tend to create, and the amount of washing you invariably go through while at home increases dramatically. Getting your kids to help with these tasks, and building some life skills they may not have otherwise gained, helps to share the love across your family unit. The structured timetable can also help with allocating screen time, which I know can be a challenging undertaking for most parents. Your family needs structure as much as you do, and a clearly visible routine can be an easy way to put some structure into an otherwise ambiguous and stressful time.
3. Get fit (and healthy). No more excuses, stop complaining about not having the time, or that the transit to/from work eats up your ability to go to the gym. Now is your chance to get into a PT program to shed those extra kilos. If you haven’t bought some equipment from the last time you were in lockdown, do so now (what else are you going to spend it on?), or get some gear signed out from your unit/base gym. Ask a PTI for a program or look for a local gym that does Zoom classes. Do some research, or again, ask your local PTI for nutrition advice and start focussing on eating healthy now you don’t have to rush snacks from the closest cafe. Do some self-reflection and analyse what your short and long-term career and family goals are. These discussions can be really healthy for your family, and helps others discuss things they might not have had the time or confidence to say previously. For PT, my local gym does a range of excellent classes during the day, catering for all age groups and fitness types. It allows me to stay connected in my local area and squeeze in a PT session when my daily program permits.
4. Find activities or projects to do as a family. I have found that finding a project, activity, or even a TV show that your family can enjoy together can really help to pass the time. It’s a good opportunity to give back to your family, and spend some quality time you may not have otherwise been able to achieve in normal circumstances. Importantly, you need to ensure this is at a time that is best for your family, not just you. You can work around these activities, and it helps you to prioritise work far better than you may have been able to otherwise. For example, we’ve painted rocks in the past (no my kids won’t be going to 1RAR), regularly hold card and board game competitions, built obstacle courses, developed our zombie apocalypse plans, held tennis and handball competitions, and binged TV shows like Survivor and home renovation series.
5. Find an activity for yourself. Now is also the time you can look to read that book, or try and do that short course or activity you’ve always wanted to do. I appreciate that you may think you are time-poor, but you need to find the time in your week to do something professionally rewarding for yourself. It doesn’t have to be every day, but you need to find some time to undertake an activity you enjoy outside of work. This is not just PT, but can be a course or tertiary study you’ve always wanted to do. There are some great short courses available online, which I found really enjoyable last year. Some time to read (it doesn’t have to be military focussed), can help your brain switch off and focus on something other than a TV or computer screen. While I enjoy reading Jack Reacher novels, I’ve read a few sporting biographies and joined some short university courses in an effort to take my mind off work.
Hopefully the tips I’ve provided have been beneficial and help you to realise that your time in lockdown can actually be quite rewarding and productive. This is obviously not an exhaustive list, but it has certainly helped our family get through extended periods of lockdown together. Don’t get me wrong, there have definitely been challenging moments, and there will be days you need to throw it all out the window, get some take-away, and spend the day watching movies. These tips have helped us to ensure those sorts of days have been fleeting moments. Most importantly: remain engaged, support your family and your mates, and aim to come out of lockdown refreshed, fitter and better prepared for all the challenges that lay ahead.