father holding his baby, offering a finger to  clutch

A 1906 story by American author O. Henry tells the tale of two gold prospectors, who are trapped in a snowstorm and have to spend a month together holed up in a small, one-room cabin. In those days before radio, telephone, television and the internet, the two friends start out with good cheer, laughing at each other’s jokes. But things devolved after three weeks together ….

The first man tells his cabin mate: “I never exactly heard sour milk dropping out of a balloon on the bottom of a tin pan, but I have an idea it would be music of the spears compared to this attenuated stream of asphyxiated thought that emanates out of your organs of conversation. The kind of half- masticated noises that you emit every day puts me in mind of a cow's cud, only she's lady enough to keep hers to herself, and you ain't."

The unfazed cabin mate retorts: “Mr., you having been a friend of mine once, I have some hesitations in confessing to you that if I had my choice for society between you and a common yellow, three-legged cur pup, one of the inmates of this here cabin would be wagging a tail just at present."

This bickering goes on for several days and the impasse is only broken when the two mates discover a pair of books, giving each of them something to do. Once back in civilization, the cabin mates parlay the knowledge gained from reading those two books into practical advantage.

In today’s reality of sheltering-in-place and self-quarantining, we do not suffer from yesteryear’s lack of external distractions. On the contrary, today we are pummeled with information: continuously-updated coronavirus statistics, non-stop sniping courtesy of CNN and Fox, and a daily deluge of information, misinformation and disinformation. No, today’s challenge is not finding something to fill our time alone, but rather, how to filter out the noise so we can use our time wisely.

How Are You Spending Your Time? 

A lot of advice is available about how to manage your work time at home, so I won't add my two cents. Rather, my suggestion is to allocate time to doing something else: Think about what’s really important.

It is times like these that we realize how fragile our existence really is. Just a month ago, we saw historic lows in unemployment. Several weeks later we have reached heretofore unseen unemployment levels, with an unprecedented 10 million registrations for US unemployment benefits in the last two weeks of March. And while many of those jobs will return if the crisis passes quickly, some will not. 

So, here are some things to think about before life goes back to "normal":

Spend Time With Family

Practice social distancing outside and practice social closeness in the home. There has never been an opportunity like the present to spend quality together time with the family. Define certain hours of the day to put down your mobile devices and turn off Netflix. Study something together. Read together. Take out a puzzle. Play a board game. Talk.

Related Article: Putting Leadership to the Test

Reach Out to Friends and Family

We are all struggling with the flux and uncertainty of the virus dynamics. Reaching out to those close to us makes the world feel like a smaller place and gives us a sense of community. Here is a good article that explains how to use Zoom, Slack and similar tools for staying in touch, in real-time.

Limit Facebook Time

Those who predicted the demise of Facebook clearly didn’t see the COVID-19 pandemic coming. Since the crisis hit the US, Facebook says usage of the platform is “up more than 50%” with people spending 70% more time across Facebook apps.

While Facebook claims it is pulling out all stops to combat misinformation, a New America report claims the company’s current moderation policy isn’t up to the task. The takeaway? To paraphrase an old adage, “don’t believe everything you see and only half of what you hear.” Seek out reputable sources of information like the CDC or WHO websites.

Related Article: Is Your Time Online Time Well Spent?

Think About What to Do Next

Rather than fret over when you will be able to get back on the corporate treadmill, think about alternative futures. There hasn’t been a time in recent memory when business offices worldwide have been closed and everyone is stuck at home. It’s the only time we can be free from workplace FOMO. Use this time wisely. Even if the current crisis lasts only a few weeks, changes are likely to be on the horizon for the workplace of the future. For example, the stark reality of today’s gig economy leaves many people exposed at the worst possible time. There is likely to be a backlash, or at least a reckoning of some sort.

Thinking about the future is easier said than done when the fear of meeting next month’s rent is palpable, but there is no time like the present to explore new opportunities. While there probably aren’t many active opportunities now, spend some time online doing research. Worst case, you might discover something about yourself that you didn’t previously know.

Give Thanks for What You Have

While being home may be inconvenient, at least most of us have a nice place to lay our heads. The glass is always half-full. For most of us, this could be a lot worse.