In these unprecedented times, most of us are going to be living and working in isolation for potentially months on end. That’s if we’re working at all. Many in the theatre industry, including journalists like myself, have seen our work all but evaporate overnight following venue closures.
Nevertheless, it is so important – in those infuriatingly ubiquitous but now finally relevant words – to keep calm and carry on. And if you suddenly find yourself working from home for the first time, I have a modicum of wisdom gleaned after four years hewing at the coal face of the gig economy.
Firstly, and crucially, I implore you to set and stick to a routine. It really matters. And it includes not allowing yourself to slip out of your regular patterns of sleep and self-care. Try to dress to a level you normally would at work, and set fixed hours if you possibly can (this is harder if you have children, but I’ll come on to that).
The total number of hours you work can, and should, be reduced in isolation. They are more intense and, if things are going well, more productive. So don’t try to stick to regular working hours. Instead set aside about four hours, with a decent break in the middle. Unless you’re especially prodigious this is about as much time as most people can be expected to stay fully focused.
Setting realistic targets is paramount in the coming months. I usually find that if I set a long-term goal – finish the book, start a business – it becomes a hindrance, a black cloud hanging over me as it remains unachieved. But saying: “Today I will write for two hours” or “today I will make a business plan” is more achievable, and gives you an immediate sense of satisfaction.
Whatever you’re working on, be kind to yourself. Speaking as someone who has had periods of depression, I’m all too aware what a challenge the next few months will present to our mental health. We must look after ourselves, and each other, whatever this involves. Stay healthy, and take breaks every half an hour to walk around, stretch, make tea. Guard against poor posture. Micro exercise is key – a personal trainer showed me recently that you can do amazing things just working your bare foot over a broom handle or door lintel for five minutes every morning.
Digital communications are a lifeline right now. Although we can’t meet our friends and many family members in person, we must maintain contact. And try where possible to speak to people, rather than relying on messages and social media interactions. Last night I had a two-hour conversation with some close friends and I can’t begin to describe the lift it gave me.
Like many people, I also have children to look after. We must look out for their mental health as well as our own, and ensure they feel included in our new routine – not just worked around. Get them involved where possible – if they’re old enough, bounce ideas off them, have meetings with them, ask them to help you.
Colleagues will understand if there is some background chatter on the conference call – in fact they will probably enjoy hearing it. Children will learn more in the next few months about their parents’ careers than they ever could have expected to. Try to make it the ultimate work experience.
If you don’t have work to be doing, but have time on your hands, this is a great opportunity to do some career development. There are lots of excellent remote learning opportunities – a stage technician I spoke to recently told me he was signing up for an Open University course on leadership – an inspired idea. Rather than getting rusty, ensure that when you do return to the workforce you’re even better equipped than you were before.
Finally, if you’re reading this, it’s likely you work in the entertainment industry in some capacity. Despite the venue closures, we still have a vital role to play. This will put our creativity to the test like nothing else, but people need to be engaged and entertained now more than ever. And if you don’t feel like sharing with the world, use it as fuel for future creativity. Keep a diary, make notes, paint, read, sing, play. In the words of chancellor Rishi Sunak, whatever it takes.
But most importantly of all, however you plan to get through this, take care, in all senses of the word. And if things get on top of you, reach out and please don’t suffer in silence. We’ve all got your back.
Theo Bosanquet is a freelance writer and former editor of WhatsOnStage