One of my secret hobbies is catastrophizing.
And I love dystopian books. I find them handy how-to guides.
I’m a self-taught gardener in case supply chains collapse or supermarkets empty (even though that could never ever happen, right…).
Between you and me, I’m a wannabe prepper who hasn’t come out of the hermetically sealed, fully stocked closet.
At the same time, I’m interested in efficiency and productivity. My favourite fantasy is time pauses and everyone is frozen in place except me. I get to move about, complete my chores, squeeze your pimples, exercise and work so that when time starts again, I am way ahead of you all.
Back in 1987, I was at high school in England, filled with pubescent anger and resentment fuelling me to be a hard-working and goal driven teenager. But despite my strict self-imposed study schedule, I was falling behind. Practice exams loomed, assignments were due and the pressure was mounting.
I wished for a pause in time. All I needed was one day at home, with no classes, no activities, and no weekend shop assistant job chomping up my hours. I would not only catch up; I could get ahead.
One Thursday evening that October, the weather report came on at the end of the nine ‘o’clock news, downplaying concerns a viewer had about strong winds…
A few hours later, our household woke up to howling, gusting squalls outside. Anything not bolted down flew over fences from garden to garden. Distant glass smashed and garbage tumbled down the street.
My mother braved the destructive gusts, her voluminous nightie billowing, to retrieve our bins from down the road. But it was futile. Garden umbrellas flew through the air like javelins, trees fell onto cars, and by morning the calm thrum of the milkfloat delivering pints of gold- and silver-top was absent, replaced with roaring sideways rain.
As the grey, stormy Friday morning broke, I hovered with my siblings at the front door, worried about being late for school. Maybe we even took a few blustery steps outside towards the bus-stop.
We soon found out schools and businesses were closed. Safe at home, we tuned into the local radio and turned on the TV to settle into the hypnotic trance of all-day coverage.
And I realised my dream had come true.
We had a day, unexpected and unstructured, where I could catch up on my schoolwork.
But this tremendous storm was blowing around us. How long would it last? How much danger were we in? Writing a geography assignment was impossible when a real-life geography event was happening right outside.
The storm passed and soon we were back to a subtly altered normal after a few days of cleanup.
Except by Monday morning, I felt more behind in my schoolwork than ever, now burdened by the loss of a missed opportunity.
Fast forward 33 years, and I had that same sensation of unexpected freedom and opportunity at the start of the COVID lockdown. Activities, parties and gatherings were cancelled, if not outright forbidden. I felt unexpected guilty joy amidst the tragedy and grief.
Organise the pantry, sort out our family spaces, re-invigorate the sad little vegetable bed, write, study, work and exercise; all possible were while staying contained in our family bubble.
The reality was chaotically different, and I remembered my reaction to that storm in 1987. I struggled to maintain a normal routine because I couldn’t tell what normal would be in three months’ time. Will I even exist? Will I be foraging in the countryside for food? Will you and I be friends? Or frenemies? Or oblivious to each other?
In the first two weeks, my emotions roller-coasted and the kids feigned helplessness, requiring every small thing to be done for them while I eyed my desk in the corner of the living room. Yet when I got to my chair, all I could do was hit refresh on news websites over and over, entranced, hooked on the next development. Productivity hit zero, just like during that stormy day in 1987.
This time around, the solution came from a two-week experiment suggested by productivity expert, Amantha Imber. Simply complete the following sentences at the end of each day:
Today I made progress on _______
If I do ________ tomorrow, it will be a great day.
Gratitude for progress, even in one tiny area, lifted my spirits and energy. A plan, even a small one with focus on one task, was enough to make progress the next day.
The practice didn’t finish after two weeks. It continues today. Now I am the eye of the storm; calm, focussed, and hyper-productive in the turbulent chaos of responding to 2020.
I’m Rananda, a Sydney-based writer and editor.
With 25-plus years in corporate life, a financial background, a science education, and a lifetime of writing, I know there is more to starting and growing a loyal following than just the words on your website or saving that draft manuscript in a folder.
I bring comprehensive practical experience to supporting your writing needs.