Hello there, Dear Reader. Well, since we last spoke, the complete absence of leadership at the top of the system has ground society to halt. Turns out putting clinically-ill incompetent people in charge has disastrous effects on all things financial, industrial, economical, entertainment and well, all of it. Who knew? (SPOILER ALERT: Everyone that didn’t vote Trump)
While we all hope for a vaccine to bring this Covid scare to quick end, the fact is that most medical experts believe that remains still a year away. Even some of those treatments that are garnering some headlines still need many months of trials & testing before they become widely available. So how long are we in this situation for? Trump says until the summer which means it’s likely until the winter. Even if the summer offers a reprieve and we do flatten the curve, chances are good we’ll be seeing another quarantine situation in the fall. Maybe we won’t but there’s a chance we will.
So…a lot of us are going to be working from home. Now, for a lot of writers like myself who HAVE been working from home for several of the past years, this isn’t that big a lifestyle change. But for millions more people with a happier path in life, this is a MASSIVE culture shock. I’ve already talked to a few friends who are having real trouble dealing with cabin fever, stress, anxiety, you name it.
Allow me to present some of what I hope are helpful tips for staying sane during these uncertain times. First disclosure, I am not a parent. Those of you who are dealing with the biggest challenge of this whole thing – figuring out how to work from home while making sure your kids stay educated and/or occupied. I just don’t know if anything I have to say here will be helpful to you but maybe there’s a good thought or two in here.
And again, that’s all these are – thoughts based on what helped me stay productive at home when all the temptations of goofing are all around me. Take them or leave them but they just might be worth giving a try.
SCHEDULE OUT YOUR WEEK: I love weeks. I don’t always love days. We have bad days, unproductive days but if we hit our goals for the week, we’re not off track. Sunday is a great day for reflection – what do you want to accomplish during the week? Where do you want to be or what do you have done by the next Sunday? For parents, this might be useful – what do you want your kids to have done by the next week? Making yourself a reasonable and doable to-do list one week at a time can help one maintain focus and actually give one a sense of accomplishment. And feeling we’ve accomplished something, like we’re doing something can help keep the walls from closing in.
MAINTAIN YOUR WEEK: I’m seeing jokes on the social media about every day being Saturday or Sunday. I would encourage against that. For example, I rarely write on Sundays. I like that to be a day of rest & relaxation so I’m ready for the week. This is easy during the football season but I do break this rule often. That said – even if you hate Mondays – keep a weekly schedule where there’s say a fun movie night, or some kind of date night with your spouse et al. The structure of the week is the way it is to cater to our sanity. Five nights of the week, even when we’re watching TV, we’re in a “work mode” concentrating on the task days at hand while the weekend is for fun and unwinding. Do your best to keep this structure. Doesn’t mean you can’t have a glass of wine but turning every night into Saturday just gives you seven hangovers and those get old after two.
WEEKLY CHECKLIST: Something I started years ago and it’s been a lifesaver. I have a printed out weekly checklist of MUST DO things that I use every Sunday or Monday of every single week. These include things like cleaning the bathroom, checking up on bills, backing up the computer. (Fun Fact: My computer died for real in the middle of Murder Made Easy but regular backups meant Apple was able to restore it so that none of the movie was lost.) Treating your home like a business that has operational necessities just keeps everything running smoothly.
REGIMENT YOUR DAY: Granted, many of you are still working remotely and this done for you. If you’re not & you’re laid off, getting (waiting for) assistance, etc, I highly encourage you to create a workday. It’s very easy to get lost in the shuffle of what you want to do & what you actually do. Having set times for what you do when turns into a muscle memory that keeps you productive and on track for the weekly goal set above.
This a generalization but this basically what mine looks like on my most productive days:
Wake up before 9 AM. Walk the Dog (2 miles/one hour) Do the dishes, Shower/shave, emails/social media, lunch while watching the news, writing in the afternoon/evening, dinner, movie or TV, bed. Dinner & movie usually accompanied by a scotch on the rocks with a twist of lemon. Of course, this gets disrupted that crazy little thing called life but if I try to adhere to this schedule – well, that’s how I get my stuff written AND managed to stay in touch with the real world. Still – I need to incorporate more exercise but this has worked for me.
DON’T WEAR PAJAMAS & SWEATS ALL DAY: I very much encourage you to resist this temptation. I could write every script in boxers or a furry costume. No one would know the difference. But I still put on a pair of jeans and a T-shirt, which is what I’ve worn at 90% of my jobs in my life. Just the simple act of dressing the same as if I were going to a show or a set helps put my mind in the mode that it’s time to work. No, you don’t need to wear business suits & put on make-up but efforts in what you wear just helps your mindset. Changing into comfies or PJs at the end of the day puts me in the mind it’s time for Scotch and the WWE Network. If you’re wearing PJs all day and wondering why you’re not getting work done, I would suggest you might be forcing your mind to swim upstream.
Yes, I know some of you have perfectly productive days in your PJs. There are exceptions to all of these things. Rock-n-roll with whatever rock-n-rolls for you.
HAVE A WORK AREA AND A HOME AREA: If this is possible, try to create workspaces for work mode and home spaces for relaxation. I created a home office on side of a bedroom once and crossing an invisible threshold literally changed my mindset each time. This is the same sentiment as the one above but with space. I can’t recommend it enough. In my current place, I have a home office which is where all the writing & serious business happens. None of that gets taken to the living room or bedroom. This way – and even though writing is like constantly on my mind – I don’t feel bombarded by business all day and night.
GOOF OFF: Children get recess and play after lunch. Big secret – adults need the same thing. My dog isn’t super crazed or hyper but taking 15 minutes to have a wrestling match with her is great for both of us. She gets to burn some energy and I get a break from the computer screen. At the end, she gets a treat and I go back to work with a fresh perspective. Play is not something to be ignored. We never stop playing and we never should. No matter how busy or how much pressure one is under, ignoring needed moments of play only make the stress & pressure WORSE. Laughter, goofing off is all a reminder of a light at the end of the tunnel and probably the best assurance that things are OK at the moment. Just a little while of play every day can go a very long way to keeping you alert, productive and sane.
And yes, you are allowed to laugh, joke, be silly and have all kinds of fun during a crisis. On social media, be mindful that not every joke will play with ALL of your facebook friends but of course people should remember to have fun. It’s a stress-reliever and there’s no point in trying to stay alive if you’re not going to be alive.
BE PRODUCTIVE BUT REALISTIC: With every passing year, time goes by quicker and quicker. Our energy gets lower and lower, even for the most active of us. There are only so many hours in the day. Our society is one of “Do More! Be Better! Never Stop! Never Quit!” when really that can just drive us into a wall. So a lot of people are taking on new hobbies, new endeavors et al with all this “free time” on their hands. Be willing to say no to certain things, really big projects or endeavors if the calendar doesn’t lend itself to those. Figure out what you can do, do that – and then do more if you found that manageable.
Here’s a quick screenwriting example – when I’m writing a script, 10 pages a day is my goal. That might take me 45 minutes, it might take me 3 hours. But if I hit my 10 pages, I’m good. Some days I can write 20. Some days, I get stuck and only write 7 (this usually includes rewrites of the previous days work.) But for the most part, there’s really no reason why I can’t write 10 pages a day. I arrived at this because 5 pages was too little. 20 pages was too much. 10 pages was the perfect balance. If I do more, great!
BUY WHAT YOU’RE GOING TO EAT: I learned this from my freelancing days. As grocery stores get more stocked up, it’s easy to be tempted into grabbing as much as you can during infrequent trips. However, making a very specific list of what you want, what you will eat and sticking to that list can not prevent wasting food but also wasteful spending. The impulse buys (and I do them too) are the enemy. Especially as in these dire times, those without a lot of means may need some of the things we’re impulse buying.
CAREFUL WITH THE WINE: I lost 15 pounds. During the holiday season. That’s lost weight. Not gained. More exercise? Sadly not. Improved diet? God no. However, during the winter I did cut waaaaay back on wine. A glass of wine is good for you. Red wine has antioxidants according to many credible sources. But wine is also packed with sugar (which I have to be careful of) and empty calories. I lost 15 pounds of just empty bloat and even though it wasn’t that much “Have you lost weight?” greeted me everywhere back when humans could be around each other.
BOREDOM IS THE ENEMY: Nothing succeeds like success but there’s nothing quite as seductive as doing nothing which becomes so engrossing that the thought of doing anything becomes repugnant. Look, I’ve not come close to achieving everything I wanted to in life but possibly one of my proudest accomplishments is that in my personal time I have not been bored IN YEARS. I’m typing this late on Tuesday night. You think I’m up late typing because it’s some kind of chore? I love writing! Words. Any words. All words. This is fun for me. And part of how I’ve stayed productive is be actually pursuing what’s fun for me.
The sentiment I can relate to the least is “I have nothing to do.” I do not have the time in my life to write all the movies and shows I want to, but good Goddamn I’m gonna try. On our persons at all times, we have the collection of all human knowledge and wisdom. The modern phone & computers resemble the super-computers dreamt of in the far future in 70s sci-fi. What is that thing that makes a tiny spark that makes you feel alive? It’s easy to neglect that in the day-to-day or doldrums of quarantine. If the answer is something you don’t know, it’s a great time to find out.
ONE DAY AT A TIME: This is definitely in regards to the pandemic. We all have the biggest, most life-altering questions on our mind right now:
*How will I pay rent/mortgage?
*Will I find work again?
*Will my kids be safe?
*Will my loved ones make it through this?
The answer to all of those questions from any source is the same – I don’t know. There is no sugarcoating the severity of what we’re going through. I’m typing this on a day where the US death toll is now 4 times that of 9/11. That doesn’t mean we need to – or should, quite frankly – live in fear.
When the NBA closed down, I knew this was something we’d never seen before. I saw a lot of people say “it’s the flu” or “we’ll be fine” or “it won’t be THAT bad.” I’m sorry to say that every expert who said those sentiments were wrong has been proven right. I am glad to say that being one of the very scared parties in those early days (a few weeks ago) has helped me figure out how to cope. Everything is changing every single day, so there really truly is no point in worrying about what might happen next week because no one has any idea what next week might look like. So make your calendar, schedule your activities, continue taking every precaution you can, keep checking in on those who matter in your life but remember – and this is true during non-pandemic times – everything can change in an instant.
Again, not all of these will work for you but if you’re stressed & overwhelmed, this ever-handsome & always-modest screenwriter hopes he was able to offer something you can use to alleviate some of that stress. And if you’re hurting & suffering, don’t be afraid to reach out to those who can help. And if you’re strong & healthy, reach out to those you can help.
Here’s a look at what’s next to my desk in my current home office: