Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that—unless the body is acted upon by some force—a body in motion tends to remain in motion and a body at rest tends to remain at rest. As we struggle to regain the societal, communal and business normalcy we enjoyed pre-COVID I observe Newton’s first law of motion all around me. In my own daily routines, with my children and with the people I interact with professionally. Before March of 2020 we, all of us, as a body, we’re in motion and remaining in motion. COVID-19 acted as an outside force that stopped that motion. So many of us completely changed the way we live and work, and far too many do not have jobs to go back to, and are having a hard time getting back to “the way things used to be”. I don’t know about you, but I have observed a sense of this societal body being at rest and staying at rest. My children only go to school two days a week, they have a much harder time getting up and going those two days than they did going five days back in February. The other five days of the week they’ve fallen into a kind of Snapchat and Netflix induced coma. They’re lethargic, grumpy and depressed. Granted they are teenagers, so much of that may be just natural. Getting them to do homework, chores, sports, or hobbies takes more effort than usual. And it’s not just them, it’s me too. I’ve pretty much worked from home since 2009, so I feel I’m pretty well-versed on how to maintain a productive day while working from home. But this is different, pre-COVID I spent about 2 hours per day in my car going to and from meetings, jobsites, networking events, lunches, or just to the coffeeshop to set up my laptop. Pre-COVID my wife and kids weren’t home all day. On March 12th that all changed. Now all my meetings are on the phone or virtual (I gained about 8 hours a week by not driving), my kids are home, my wife was home all day (she went back to work in August), and my routines changed. I stopped going to the gym in the morning, I spent a good amount of time coming up with things for my kids to do around the house, I relaxed and enjoyed my family. Though my industry, construction, was considered essential and I kept working, my time in my home office has completely changed. I became more of a body at rest. Finding time, and more importantly the right mindset, to sit down and crank out head-down work on my laptop has been a struggle. I doubt I’m the only one.
I was talking to my insurance agent the other day and we were both commenting on how hard it is to get work done now. It’s not necessarily that there isn’t someone available, or that materials or products aren’t readily available (though that certainly is common in construction nowadays) it was that the people we rely on to return our calls, to review our proposals, credit, applications, etc. are in a state of rest. So many people have been working from home, and though working from home has its benefits, there is definitely a different sense of professionalism and expectation that people have compared to being in the office. Twelve months ago we could expect a call or email to be returned within 24 hours, now it may be more than a week if at all. We were able to have conversations about the particular situation and the nuances involved to prepare and execute plans that made our jobs move forward. Getting in the mindset to do critical thinking or head down tasks seems to be a huge undertaking, as I mentioned above it is for me. It’s hard to pick up the phone and change your mindset to take on that detailed conversation with a peer or client when you’re in your pajamas and your daughter is asking for more juice. It was easy when you put on your suit, got in the car and walked into the office. That routine let your mind know, that you were heading to work and it was time to get your head into it. If you’re still working from home, where do you find that routine? How do you get your mind prepared to focus on work?
Now it feels like everyone is resting at home with their slippers on, that we got used to putting in four hours of work instead of eight, and though we may all be complaining about not having our normal routines in place, it’s much easier to stay in those pajamas, watch TV, take care of the kids or pets, and answer a fraction of the calls or emails we once did pre-COVID, than it is to “go to work”. We tend to prioritize tasks by our own definitions. Simple, yet mundane tasks that we would do in the office quickly and easily, now become something we can put off till later. “Oh, that will only take five minutes, I can do it later.” Five minutes becomes infinite if you never start. Doing that five-minute task in the office was routine because it was what was expected. I know that there are many folks who will read this and say “I’m busier than ever” or “That’s not me, I’m more productive at home,” and I’m not saying there aren’t instances of that being the case. But there is a psychological impact to being at rest, and each of us needs to be enacted on by an outside force to get over the “ease” of being at rest. I don’t know if that outside force will hit all of us as a society, perhaps after our president has been officially announced or after a vaccine is distributed; or if the outside force is more individual.
I can only speak for myself, but if you find yourself being that body at rest and you want to get into motion, please know that we need you in motion. We all need each other to be in motion and to be helping each other get our jobs done, meet our clients’ expectations, return the calls, review the applications, pay the bills, and do the work. I hope that if you need it, that thought can be the outside force to change your inertia.