How to make most of the lockdown (and not become an alcoholic)

COVID-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the normal way of life. Since it begun, “stay at home” orders have been introduced everywhere across the globe.

For many people, it was like a kick in the teeth. Mental health issues have skyrocketed. Consumption of alcohol and other drugs has increased. COVID-19 kills. But it is now clear that so do the lockdown measures.

But it doesn’t have to be hopeless and depressing. Lockdown can be a great opportunity. If you get into the right mindset, you can take advantage of it. If you’ll start taking specific actions now, then, when it’s all over, the quality of your life will be much greater than it was before the pandemic.

These specific routine that I am about to propose will also save you from other vices that are so easy to fall into while the lockdown is still ongoing. It will help you to avoid the behavior that makes your lockdown experience worse than it is. These include excessive consumption of news, social media, alcohol, drugs and other similarly destructive things. You will simply have no time for this.

This is something I came up with. I’m sharing this with you because I personally found it extremely effective. And I want it to help as many people as possible.

The first step is to sit down and come up with a weekly routine.

How to design your weekly routine

One of the biggest reasons why people start exhibiting more of destructive behavior patterns is that they don’t have a goal. All of their plans have been thrown out of the window by the pandemic. All they can do is just stay at home whole day long. In some parts of the world, they still can go for a walk, but in many places people can’t even do that.

It’s even harder for those people who have lost their job. They cannot even work remotely. Their standard daily routines were completely disrupted.

So, the best cure for this is to come up with a list of items that you will perform every week no matter what. But there are specific principles that you need to use to chose the items:

  • Each task in the list needs to contribute to a goal that is important to you personally.
  • Each task has to be meaningful and take you a substantial amount of time to complete.
  • Whatever you put on that list, will absolutely have to be completed each week.
  • If you aren’t sure that you can complete a particular item, don’t put it on the list.
  • For certain tasks, you may specify the number of times it has to be done.
  • The list should be big enough that you will have no time for excessive engagement in useless or otherwise destructive activities.
  • The list shouldn’t be so big that you will be overwhelmed and burned out.
  • Work, business and family duties must take precedence over the list.

So, it could be anything. But it must not just be random. The tasks have to be meaningful to you.

So, for example, if running is important to you, you may include three running session on your list. If you want to learn a specific skill, you may want to include two theoretical and two practice sessions on it.

The whole point of the list is that so, every time you wake up, you will know exactly what you’ll need to complete today. You will remind yourself of the goals you want to achieve and you will be taking specific steps to achieve them. And now, lockdown is the period when you also have plenty of time for that.

An example of the action list

If you are struggling to come up with your own action list, I’ll share mine as an example. But before we’ll go into the specific items, we need to start with the goals. Always start with the goals!

I am a software engineer and I want to be the best I can be in my craft. I want to be as competent as I can be. Also, I want to earn as much money as I can, specifically by producing something of value. I want to have good communication skills to be a good negotiator. The soft skills are also important to me because I routinely teach people how to code. I want to become known among professionals and build a personal brand. Finally, being physically fit and strong has always been important to me. I’m unashamed to say that I aspire to be a tough alpha male 😀

So, here is my list:

  • Three strength training sessions
  • Two cardio training sessions
  • Three sessions of stand-up martial arts drills
  • Two sessions of groundwork martial arts drills
  • Get up to date with the latest news in tech industry
  • Complete at least one coding challenge on CodinGame
  • Go through a tutorial on marketing and take notes
  • Complete a module on practical psychology and take notes
  • Publish at least one self-authored blog article
  • Complete a substantial side project task
  • Complete a tutorial on machine learning
  • Find a question to answer on StackOverflow and provide a detailed answer
  • Find a question to answer on Quora and provide a detailed answer
  • Read at least one of my own articles I’ve published previously

And if you are still struggling to decide which tasks to include in your list, I will go through each item in mine and will explain how it relates to the goals I’ve specified above.

Strength training sessions

Being strong is very important to me. Gyms are closed as I am writing this, but it’s not a problem. Based on my experience, I found out that you can do quite a bit of progress just by doing calisthenics (i.e bodyweight training). You won’t look like Mister Olympia, but you can still build an impressive physique.

And it’s easy to get the right equipment. You won’t need much anyway. For your back and biceps, you can buy a pull-up bar that fits in a door frame. And for your chest and triceps, you can get hold of parallel bars like these:

My exact workout routine has changed, but an example of it that I did at the beginning of COVID-19 pandemic can be found is below:

Cardio training session

Strength is important. But for overall fitness, cardio is important too. I don’t enjoy doing cardio exercises as much as I enjoy doing strength ones, so I only have two sessions of those.

The exact exercises vary. Sometimes I just go for a long run. But since recently, I have been mainly doing very effective and time-efficient HIIT training.

All you do is find a nearest hill and do 6 to 10 sprints up it. Just walk back down between the sprints. That will be your recovery intervals. After you’ve done this, do 50 to 100 burpees. And if you jog to the hill at the beginning, you won’t need a warmup.

Stand-up martial art drills

The way it’s different from either strength or cardio session is that it’s still sport-related, but it focuses on training movement skills rather than improving fitness. I have always been into martial arts, so for me it’s that. But for you, it may be break-dancing, yoga or something else. And when will you ever get such a chance to fool around, trying to master fancy movements and falling over while nobody is watching?

For me, such session would consist of shadow boxing, practicing kicks in the air like karate people do, doing various reaction drills and stretching.

Groundwork martial art drills

I’ve enjoyed practicing Brazilian jujitsu before the pandemic. And, although you can never become good at it unless you have a training partner, there are still plenty of drills you can do. Here are some ideas:

Getting up to date with the latest news in tech industry

Once a week, I give myself an hour or so to catch up with the latest developments in the tech industry. This is, of course, specific to my profession. But the same principles can be applicable to any other profession.

As a software engineer who specializes in Microsoft stack and especially .NET platform, I first check Visual Studio Magazine. This is where the news on any updates to this specific tech stack are published.

I then move on to Redmond Magazine. It’s also dedicated to the news about Microsoft technologies, but it’s wider in scope.

Following this, I check if industry influencers, like Scott Hanselman, published any useful content I can learn from.

After this, I just check generic tech news on websites like The Verge, Wired and The Register.

Completing a coding challenge on CodinGame

CodinGame is a website where people solve interesting challenges with code. You can pick up any language and then choose a challenge of any difficulty.

Some of the challenges involve programming video game bots to react to their environment and perform appropriate actions. These ones are mega-exciting!

This is an activity that both keeps me sharp as a programmer and provides an entertainment. To me, it feels very similar to video games. But unlike the latter, it’s not a waste of time!

Marketing tutorial

To achieve anything substantial in life, you need some sales and marketing skills. That applies regardless of whether you want a career in marketing or not.

Fundamental marketing skills are absolutely crucial to master if you want to get well-known and build your personal brand. And why build your personal brand? Well, the more people know you and the better your reputation is, the more good things will come your way.

Also, if you own a website (like I do), you need to know how search engine optimization (SEO) works. Otherwise nobody will find your content. And SEO is also a form of marketing.

So, once a week, I pick up some tutorial or a lecture on sales skills, SEO or something similar.

Practical psychology module

Not all of the psychology is a real science, because not all of it strictly adheres to the scientific method. But regardless of this, many hypothesis produced by psychologies actually work.

I don’t look at the academic data. I usually read blogs from reputable experts in psychology or listen to their podcasts. It’s easier to consume practical information this way.

Primarily, I do it to motivate myself and be more effective at my chosen endeavor. It also helps me to come up with systems and routines that help me to achieve my goals. You can do it fairly well when you know how your mind works. In fact, this whole system that I’m writing about is a product of my understanding of some psychological concepts.

On the other hand, knowing things like Dark NLP gives you the tools to protect yourself from people who will try to manipulate you. And believe me, the higher you go in the status, the more people like this you will encounter. So, if your goal is to be successful, be prepared!

Self-authored blog article

As well as being a software engineer, I also own a website where I regularly write about the topics that other people might find useful. And to make sure I keep doing this, I have added this activity to the list of compulsory tasks.

Having your own blog has many benefits. Firstly, it helps you to greatly improve your writing skills. Secondly, the exposure of your thoughts to the internet makes you less shy and more confident. And thirdly, you can actually reap a material reward by having a blog with quality content.

In my case, I have received a couple of good job offers purely because people found my website. I’ve also collaborated with various organizations on short-term project because someone has found my blog. And I have earned some money doing it.

Substantial side-project task

I am employed full-time as a software engineer. But occasionally I participate in various commercial projects on the side. Those mainly are coding courses that I author or narrate.

Sometimes, big publishing houses, like Packt, Apress or Manning offer me to author training courses for them. Other times, I come up with my own courses, which I then publish on Skillshare and Udemy.

Regardless what type of course I do, I have to complete a substantial part of it within a week. And by “substantial”, I mean something relatively big. For example, film a batch of lectures. Or prepare all the code samples for the entire course. This way, my course can be completed in two or three weeks. And the faster it’s published – the faster I can start earning from it.

Tutorial on machine learning

Machine learning is perhaps the most fundamental part of artificial intelligence. And the skills in machine learning are in high demand.

But machine learning is also one of the hardest areas of software development to master. It involves way more maths than any other niche. In some other niches, you don’t even need any maths at all.

So, there are two reasons why I go through machine learning tutorials. Firstly, learning something hard allows me to become a better software engineer overall. And secondly if I will ever encounter anything related to machine learning in my work, I will be able to contribute.

Answering a question on StackOverflow

Those who work in IT industry already know what StackOverflow is. For those who don’t – it’s like Google for software developers.

This is a website where programmers ask other programmers how to solve a particular problem. And then those answers can easily be found by other programmers. In 99% of cases, if you are stuck in your programming task, there is already an answer for you on StackOverflow.

As I enjoy mentoring people and helping them, once a week I go to StackOverflow and look for a question to answer that hasn’t been answered already.

It also helps with building the reputation. Some software companies even look at your StackOverflow stats in the hiring process!

Answering a question on Quora

Quora is also a question-and-answer website, but the questions are way more generic than they are on StackOverflow. It has questions on pretty much any topic.

It includes questions on software development. But those are usually less technical. Instead of asking for a solution to a specific problem, people usually ask more generic questions, like “How to not get bored in programming career?”.

Still a good opportunity to share your thoughts, help people and build your reputation online.

Reading one of my own articles

Once a week, I have to sit down and read one of my older articles, either from my own website, or any other website where I have been a guest author.

This has two purposes. Firstly, I may have had some great ideas that I have since forgotten. Secondly, seeing how my writing style has improved gives me motivation to produce more content.

Wrapping up

It has been a long post. But hopefully, you now have a template that you can apply to your life.

If you’ll adopt the practice of compiling a list of compulsory weekly activities, you will establish a routine once again. No longer will you be waking up in the morning not knowing what to do. You will have a chance to master the things you never had time to practice. And you may even eliminate your bad habits that you always wanted to get rid of. You will be occupied with much better things. There won’t be any time left for those vices.

And the best thing is that this system will allow you to come out of the lockdown better and stronger than you ever were. And, once the semblance of normality returns, you may even want to keep doing some of these activities and carry on growing.