After no travel or in-person research during the initial Covid-19 lockdowns from March until June of 2020, I was excited to start traveling and conducting in-person UX research again, albeit in a more limited Covid-safer way. The research and the travel from July until October went smoothly and felt comfortable and safe enough.
But by November, Covid numbers continued to climb and I began to feel more uncomfortable with the idea of doing in-person research and especially with travel, so for the past three months, I’ve been working exclusively remotely even though this has meant a bit less billable work. Looking at the trend lines, I’m at last feeling hopeful that I’ll be able to resume travel in the near future.
Meanwhile, however, as I’m sure nearly everyone has experienced this year, it’s harder to focus on work than ever before. I’ve been experimenting and iterating with what works best to help me focus. Here are some of the things I’m doing as well as some of the things that I tried but that didn’t work so well for me.
As I’ve written out before, even in good times, I maintain a focus on personal fitness. I find that when I exercise regularly, the world seems brighter, more cheerful. All the more so this year!
Running is the one thing that hasn’t changed much. Aside from the need to have a mask with me (which I put on when there is anyone around), I love my trail runs. I live only 3 minutes from the entrance to a trail, which isn’t too crowded and in fact, on weekdays, I can often go for half a mile at a time without seeing anyone. I don’t listen to music when I run, enjoying my time in the surrounding forest. The packed dirt with lots of rocks and some slippery spots also helps focus me as I need to remain fully present in order to not slip and lose my footing.
I suspended my gym membership but did expand my home gym a bit, buying one large piece of gym equipment, a used Precor Adaptive Motion Trainer, to provide some variety and allow me to exercise when weeks like this one – full of snow and ice – make running not so safe. I also expanded my collection of relatively low-cost items such as a variety of resistance bands and some wall mounts to snap them to.
I haven’t gone swimming since my outdoor neighborhood pool closed on Labor Day and admittedly am still struggling a bit with whether I feel safe swimming laps indoors. I haven’t decided for sure one way or other but for now I’m not swimming and do miss it a lot.
One thing I recognized in 2020 was how poorly I was sleeping. Between the ambient anxiety of Covid, and a seemingly chaotic world, my sleep quality just wasn’t the same. Also, while I love my Apple Watch for fitness tracking, I find that I just can’t sleep with it on. So, in addition to trying to only read news (and not watch it because I find watching more anxiety provoking), I got an Oura ring to better measure and understand my sleep quality. Every morning I review my sleep metrics and over the past few months, like the proverbial string tied around my finger, the Oura ring does remind me to do the right things that lead to better sleep quality.
When spending almost all my time at home, it’s remarkable how much one day blends into another and I feel like it’s harder to form new unique memories. I came to realize how much I missed unique sensory inputs. For example, I’m very cognizant of how things smell different. When I go running on my own trail, I know how that trail smells, the plants that grow, the dirt, the water that runs nearby. When I travel, things smell different, unique. And differences like that are what make me feel like travel is a great reset for me.
Although not traveling, I bought some scented candles – for example one that is supposed to smell like the beach – although perhaps more like sunscreen wafting through the air – but that works. It’s something different!
Another helpful 2020 purchase was to explore virtual reality with an Oculus Quest 2, which, while stuck at home, I leaned into for something visually different.
Virtual biking: In terms of fitness, particularly not going to the gym, I purchased a Bluetooth cadence sensor, which I at first tried connecting to my Precor. But the movement of this fitness equipment wasn’t picked up by the cadence sensor so well, so I then purchased a relatively low-cost under-desk cycle, which worked more reliably. As such, I subscribed to both Holofit and VZFit. Holofit lets me bike through virtual worlds – some more realistic than others – while VZFit actually lets me bike through any Google street view maps.
Virtual movement: I’ve also enjoyed an app called Supernatural, which involves arm activity while encircled by beautiful VR surroundings from around the world.
Virtual travel: With respect to sensory input, I’ve enjoyed using Google Earth VR and an app called Wander to return to places I’ve been and take a look at new places. It sure isn’t like real travel but at least it’s something to look at beyond what’s in my house!
Back to reality soon (hopefully!)
I really hope that the numbers keep trending downwards, that the vaccine rollout picks up, in-person work and general interaction resumes, and resources like my gym and pool make sense to go to once again really soon! In the meanwhile, however, I’ll continue to explore options to keep me healthy, balanced and in the right mindset to work productively.
Do you have other ideas?
Have you found any new life hacks to keep yourself balanced during these crazy times? Let me know and I can post additional ideas here!