Note from the Editor: In this week’s Quarantine Diaries, we’ll be travelling locally, just north of where I am in Manhattan, where we’ll check in with Art in the Bronx. I had actually met Art a few years ago in Morocco on a Sahara desert trip! At the time I was living in Germany, ready to move elsewhere, so it was a funny coincidence when we ended up in the same city just a few months later. In one of the biggest cities in the world, let’s turn to see how Art’s doing in the city that never sleeps!
Hi, I’m Art and I’m in New York City. My neighborhood in the Bronx is quiet, you could even say peaceful. I live here with my family in a house near the end of a block; my dad, grandmother and I live on the first floor (my aunt, uncle, and cousin live upstairs).
Since the pandemic started, the character of the neighborhood hasn’t changed much. The suburb-like sidewalks are mostly empty; neighbors work on their lawns, a house is being renovated next door, and the local dogs bark as you walk by. You’d scarcely realize anything was different here, except that now as you pass the grocery stores, you notice everyone loading their cars is wearing a mask.
That vague sense of “normal, but not quite” is part of my daily routine as well. I’ve been working solo on a startup in digital books for the past couple of years, and so, have organized a work-from-home routine to maximize productivity. My schedule has honestly hardly changed. Some days though, I find it hard to focus.
One recent, focus-shattering event: my cousin passed away from COVID-19. Though we weren’t close, of course an event like this makes you contemplate life (and also derails your carefully constructed schedule for a while)
I try to take this all in stride. Through this craziness, I’m thankful that I have an established home routine, with family, which has helped me maintain equilibrium. Even if some days I don’t stick to the routine entirely, I go easy on myself and take a deep breath, knowing the next day will be better.
Morning ~ 8:20am – 9:30am
As a programmer, even before the pandemic, I spent a lot of time on screens. Every morning before opening digital devices, I eat breakfast, tidy my room, and read a book to keep myself grounded.
Breakfast consists of oatmeal and a banana. While the oatmeal boils, I make my bed. This is probably the most important activity of the day. A couple of years ago, I saw this speech by a navy admiral explaining the importance of making your bed. I took it to heart. In short, it gives you an immediate sense of accomplishment, and it reminds you that the small things matter. Going to a well-made bed at night is also a great way to end the day.
While eating breakfast, I read. These days I’m reading War and Peace. It feels like I’ve been reading it for years. It’s good. And the parallels you see between the book and real life are amazing. For example: the citizens of Moscow continuing their daily routine, even though the invading French army is just miles away — similar to people today going to beaches as usual, denying that the pandemic is a real issue.
Work, Block 1 ~ 9:30am – 12:30pm
Work begins with me creating an Idea List in GoogleDocs. An Idea List is a journaling exercise. I write down any thoughts from the past day, whether related to business strategy, programming, or my personal life, it doesn’t matter.
While writing down my ideas, I generate a To Do list, carrying over incomplete items from the previous day. I also check email and social media. I don’t respond to messages right away. I’ll brainstorm responses to messages on my Idea List, as well as add the actual sending of responses to my To-Do list.
After creating my To-Do list, I usually tackle a big, hard task right away. This can range from programming a feature, to designing a prototype, to creating a contract. I work on this until I hit a milestone or mental block. In either case, it’s time for a break.
Shower & Lunch ~ 12:30pm – 1:30pm
I strategically place my shower routine in the middle of the day. This is important, because when I hit a hard problem, often I need to step away from the keyboard to let my mind mull it over. The act of washing, especially, helps stir up novel ideas. Frequently, I devise solutions to programming problems while showering.
Meals here are lovingly prepared for the house by my grandmother, and lunch usually consists of dinner leftovers — chicken, beans, rice, quinoa, rich sauces prepared with cilantro, aji amarillo, and more. It’s always delicious, and I’m super lucky and thankful to partake.
After this, feeling refreshed, I’m ready to dive into work again.
Work, Block 2 ~ 1:30pm – 5:30pm
The second block of work is like the first. Sometimes I’ll take a walk around the neighborhood to jog ideas.
In any case, this continues until I hit another mental block, at which point it’s time to exercise.
Exercise ~ 5:30pm – 6:15pm
My exercise these days is mostly shuffling. Based on the running man, shuffling is typically done to electronic music. Largely, it consists of sprinting in place. It does crazy things to your metabolism.
I started shuffling about a year ago. Startup life requires minimizing needless expenses, including the gym. And shuffling requires no gym. Just some music and a space to do it. So as the pandemic hit, it’s been great to have an exercise that’s already compatible with stay-at-home orders.
As the weather gets warmer, my motivation is also increasing and I’ve started with calisthenics again. Pull-up bars are fantastic.
Even before the pandemic hit, daily exercise was super important. Now, it’s doubly so. Some days I get caught up with work, and don’t manage to go outside before the sun goes down. I try to limit that though, as a more measured approach tends to produce better results in the long run.
Dinner ~ 6:15pm – 7pm
I’ll eat dinner with my dad and grandmother if our schedules align. Usually we eat together 3-4 nights out of the week. It’s a good time to discuss our days, the latest headlines. and plans for after the pandemic.
Work, Block 3 ~ 7pm – 10pm
Often, by the third block of work, I’ll have brainstormed a potential solution to problems from the afternoon. So I’ll keep hammering away until it seems reasonable to stop.
Unwind, Snack, & Bed ~ 10pm – 12am
After my third block of work, I give myself time to do anything. These days I tend to alternate between browsing Newgrounds or social media, reading digital comics, watching YouTube or Netflix, playing video games on my iPad, or creating digital book prototypes.
I usually eat a snack around now, otherwise I wake up in the middle of the night starving (remember: shuffling = crazy metabolism).
Finally, after getting ready for bed, I’ll read War and Peace until Tolstoy’s words soothe me to sleep.
Wrapping it All Up
In sum, overall I break work into large blocks that allow me to achieve flow, while also generating new ideas through the use of regular life activities (shower, exercise, meals).
Unfortunately, you can’t use this routine when you commute to an office. But home pandemic life is perfectly suited for it, and at least for me, setting up the day this way is essential for kicking your mind and productivity into overdrive.
The ability to work into the night, without losing time on a commute, is also super helpful.
More than that though, this framework has kept me generally productive in a time when it seems particularly hard to focus. Animator Hayao Miyazaki says in one of his books — either Starting Point or Turning Point, I can’t remember which — that his daily walks to the office, his volunteer work to clean a river, his routine, are how he makes sense of the world.
As I write this, it’s a beautiful day outside, it’s about 12:30, and I’ve finished my first block of the day. I’m about to take a shower. It’s been a great morning, and everything makes sense.
You can follow Art on Instagram at @artemiosans