Posts about COVID

Quarantine diaries: 2020.04.17

Hildegard and I have been practicing social distancing for just over a month now. It’s been a long, unusual trip, and I suspect we’re just getting started.

Most days feel exactly the same. Wake up, shower, eat breakfast, meditate, get to work. Work until lunch. Eat lunch. Work until it feels reasonable to stop working, but hopefully not much later than 5. Sometimes 8 though.

It feels more pertinent than ever to share some of what we’ve been doing for fun. Somebody else might need a way to pass the time.


We’ve been playing more video games than usual. Animal Crossing has proven to be joyful escapism. I’m also enjoying Outer Worlds (highly recommended for fans of Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas) and Paper Mario on the Gamecube (which we still have in our house).

On that note, if you have a PS4, Sony has made Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection and Journey free for the next few weeks. Get both if you haven’t already.

If getting stressed out from playing a difficult video game will help you unwind and forget about real-world stresses (as it does for me), Sekiro is currently on sale in the PlayStation store. Dark Souls and Bloodborne are obviously great choices too.

Movies and TV

This is a great time to start watching or re-watch Parks and Rec or The Office.

We are watching a lot of movies. 90s Disney classics have gone down well. We’ve also enjoyed Burning, Onward, and Darkest Hour.

If you are interested in documentaries, some of Gary Hustwit’s work — the man behind Helvetica and Rams — is available for free right now. Every week, a different film of his is available to stream for free on Vimeo. This week, it’s Workspace.


Indoor workouts have been very important to our health and sanity. Hildegard is following along with virtual exercise/​dance classes, and my uncle kindly sent me some prison workouts. Not quite the same as the gym, but it’s something to get you moving.

I have discovered the best time to walk, at least in our part of the city, is at 8 in the morning. Nobody walks to work anymore, and the foot traffic is almost entirely construction. Similarly, the best time to get groceries is 10:30 in the morning — after the morning grocery rush, before the lunch break.

Separating work from home

This has been very difficult, even for me — and I’ve been working from home for nearly a decade! Without leaving the house to go for a walk at the end of the day, or to get groceries, my routine feels disjointed.

Most days, when the workday is done, I have a beer. It’s helped me acknowledge the working day is over, and it’s also been a great reliever of COVID-induced anxiety.

I was a little concerned about this for a while. I typically have one or two beers every week — not one or two a day. But then I recalled CJ Chilver’s blog post on this very topic:

This worked so well on my anxiety and made my family so much happier to be around me, that it started to get me worried: what if I made a habit of this and became dependent on this small vacation every day of my life? I went on to overthink it and talk for 10 minutes about the worst possible outcomes. [My therapist] stopped me. Does it help your anxiety?” Yes. Then have a drink.”

For some people, this is not a great solution. Obviously, don’t do this if alcohol is a problem area for you. But for me, a beer or two a day has worked wonders on my mental and emotional health.

You need to find a way to separate work and home, as best as you can. If you can’t (or don’t want to) have alcohol, try putting on shoes at 9 and taking them off at 5. Or work at a standing desk during the day — put your laptop on your iron board, if nothing else will do. Or do your indoor prison workout.

Or maybe just stare out the window for an hour, watch the sunset, and spend an extended period of time taking deep breaths.

After all, we’ve all got the time.

Let’s talk about something else

In an effort to talk about anything other than the novel Coronavirus, I thought I’d write about other things that happened in the past week or so that interest me. 

First: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is our for Nintendo Switch. It’s very good. I haven’t played one since the GameCube, but this has a loop which feels more interesting. It’s also, obviously, a perfectly timed escapist video game. Stuck inside all day? Go escape to a deserted island, make some animal friends, and slowly build your own village. Delightful. 

Secondly, Apple released a couple new products this week. This might be a bad time to announce luxury computing devices, but nevertheless, it’s a great time to be an Apple fan. 

The new MacBook Air looks fantastic. It has the new keyboard from the 16” MacBook Pro, which is a very good thing, because that keyboard is great. And now you can get a quad-core MacBook Air! That’s a nice upgrade. Plus, the price dropped by hundreds of dollars. That’s not a typo. Literally hundreds. If you need a new laptop for some reason (maybe you’re working remotely for the first time), this new MacBook Air is a safe and easy recommendation. 

Apple also announced a new iPad Pro. It’s got a faster processor, two cameras, and LiDAR support for… some reason. But none of that matters, because you can buy a keyboard for it that suspends the iPad Pro in mid air. This lets you angle the iPad whichever direction you like and raises it closer to eye level. 

I mean, look at this picture. Is this not the coolest thing you’ve ever seen? The keyboard is $350 USD, so this picture might be the closest I ever get to owning one, but it’s undoubtedly an impressive engineering feat.

Also, the iPad will have mouse and trackpad support in an update coming out to everyone sometime in the next week or two. Once iOS 13.4 drops, set up any wireless trackpad or mouse you have around the house with the iPad and give it a go. It could bring the iPad one step closer to replacing your laptop. 

Thirdly, and this news is a little older than a week old, but it’s been a slow” news week: Bill Gates stepped down from the board of directors at Microsoft. He hasn’t been CEO for a long time, but the man is a titan. This is the end of a pretty good run. He’s left to focus all his energies on humanitarian efforts. Good for him.

Finally, movie studios are releasing films that were currently in theatres digitally. This is obviously way ahead of their typical release plans, but the studios need to make money, and we all need something to watch. I’m looking forward to catching Pixar’s Onward, which will be available digitally in Canada on March 23rd.

Tips for working from home

For many people, this is their first week of working from home. Hi! Welcome to the club. We eat cookies whenever we want, because we’re always taking breaks in our kitchen.

I’ve worked from home since 2012, so I’ve socially isolated myself for my whole career. This can be a tough adjustment, so I’ve written some tips and tricks. Hopefully these are helpful for you! And if you have any other tips I should add, or any questions, hit me up on Twitter.

  1. Start the day with a standup call. If your team is used to hanging out in the office ever day, make a routine out of beginning the day with a quick 15-minute video call to catch up, say hi, and share what you’re all working on. Bonus points if you can avoid talking about the news, but since it weighs heavily on us all, don’t beat yourself up if it comes up.
  2. This might be a good time to try Slack or Microsoft Teams, if you haven’t already. But if you do use them, establish some rules. Let people log off once in a while to get real work done. We can’t be productive if we’re staring at a chat window all day.
  3. Start making lists. Small, approachable lists you can check off throughout the day will empower you and give you a sense of control and productivity. Trust me, this is helpful whether there’s a global crisis or not. We all need to feel like we’re accomplishing something.
  4. Don’t check the news or your email first thing in the morning, if you can avoid it. That includes Twitter. These things are poison to your happiness, and your productivity.
  5. You need to wear pants. Most of us are used to going to the work place and leaving work behind at the end of the day. That’s no longer the case. Now, you have to get into the work mode. So put on some pants. You can take them off when you’re done working. (I know some freelancers who wear shoes during the workday. If that helps you, don’t hesitate.)
  6. You need a routine. Workplaces thrive off routine. Your work mode needs one. I have a breakfast routine, lunch routine, daily gym routine, and even a caffeine routine. It keeps me stable (although my gym routine is definitely in flux right now, and I’m feeling it).
  7. Don’t take breaks at your laptop. You’ll stop associating your laptop with work, and then you’ll be on it all the time. 
  8. Music! Try and listen to some music. Shawn Blanc wrote about this a few days ago with some recommendations for instrumental music that keeps you in the zone. I’ll add some to the list: every Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross soundtrack (especially The Social Network, The Vietnam War, and Before the Flood), 65daysofstatic, Jon Hopkins, Ludovici Einaudi, Ólafur Arnalds, Nils Frahm, and Miles Davis. I could go on for a while, but you’ll figure out what you like pretty quick. The music (or a white noise app) will help you concentrate and get in the zone. If you need them, this is a decent time to invest in a pair of noise-cancelling headphones. Here are some picks from The Wirecutter. (I bought the Anker headphones they recommend as their budget pick, and they’re okay, but not great. This is a category where you get what you pay for.)
  9. Ergonomics are important for productivity — so get comfortable! I don’t necessarily think people should buy desks or chairs or anything — they can get wildly expensive. (But if you want a new chair or desk, I have so many thoughts!) If you need a bigger screen to be more productive, get a cheap monitor. If your laptop is too low on your table, get an external keyboard and pointing device and put your laptop on a stack of books. Don’t be afraid to budget a little bit of money to save yourself a lot of pain.
  10. Don’t forget to stretch at the end of the day!

Good luck with your new workspace. If you have questions, let me know on Twitter. If I’m following my own instructions, you won’t hear back from me before the afternoon.