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Going Back Into Lockdown

    This year has been... strange.

    This year on paper was setting up to be a big year. Working for company with generous remote working policies, I had planned to leave Australia to spend a month in Bali, return to Australia for weddings in Sydney and Byron Bay, following that up with a 3-month stint working remotely from the UK and Europe, coming back for two more weddings in Australia and New Zealand and then finishing the year working from Japan. After four years of working relentlessly in Sydney and six months into doing the same after moving to Melbourne, I was very ready to get away.

    Then... well, everyone knows what happened.

    We're in unprecedented times with the global pandemic and even with the strides we have taken with technology over my short lifetime, I am feeling more disconnected than ever.

    During the first lockdown, there was a strange vibe to it. In a weird way, it actually felt like I was about to head on an extended school camp (weird analogy, I know). My time during our first lockdown that started in March was on a similar trajectory to what others around me went through:

    1. I organised Friday and Saturday night video calls.
    2. I went through that weird phase where everyone seems like a potential hazard at the supermarket.
    3. I organised morning exercise catch ups with work colleagues.
    4. I went through the board game phase.
    5. That board game phase morphed into a puzzle phase.
    6. Things slowly started opening and humans were the nicest I've ever seen us be to each other on the streets.
    7. After three and a half months, restaurants slowly started opening.
    8. Two weeks ago, gyms in my area finally began re-opening.

    However, here are a number of things during that time that have been slowly grinding me down:

    1. Compared to prior, my exercise routine went very downhill.
    2. I haven't met a new person in real life since we started working from home in January.
    3. I reminded myself why I hate puzzles (ha).
    4. My life has constantly been video calls.
    5. I've learned that video calls with friends are no replacement for real life interaction.
    6. I have not seen any of my close friends in person for six months.
    7. My parents don't video call, so I haven't physically seen them in eight months.
    8. Online dating becomes more ridiculous (than it already feels) when you genuinely can only talk online. I feel like I am 10 years old again on MSN chat chatting to a wall of text I cannot truly personify.
    9. There is no real "boundary" between my work life and my real life.

    That last point about the boundary has been the most innocuous of all. That distinction between life and work has been blurred to the point that they have become one.

    While people like to keep a firm distinction between the two, I've been more of the concept that you should bring your full self into work everyday and what you do at work should contribute to your full self. With a great balance, this is feasible and I wouldn't be so concerned. However, throughout the year it has been a slow descent into frustration and disorder. Both areas of my life started contributing negatively to each and it was an unexpected battleground.

    I must admit here, I've always been big on trying to be a well-balanced person with how much time I spend in different areas, but I will be the first to admit that my emotional and intra-personal intelligences are certainly my weak point. This is fine, and I feel if you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can act to favour your strengths. That being said, lockdown had truly brought me face-to-face with my weaknesses and diminished opportunities to focus on my strengths.

    When I am reaching that boiling point, the worrisome part is that I don't truly realise it until it gets to the moment that I instantly need to shut everything off and take a holiday ASAP.

    Eventually, just as with previous times, that boiling point came crashing down and I had to tell work with next-to-no warning that I needed some time off. Luckily or me, work graciously agreed to giving me two weeks off.

    Thanks to all the cancelled holiday plans, I have plenty of leave, but I am probably in the same boat as others where taking leave to stay in your house just seems like a real waste. In the end though, I couldn't starve off the lockdown to take a holiday and I really, really needed it.

    I spent this time off the laptop and enjoying other hobbies. Doing things such as a lot of cooking, reading and playing endless amounts of guitar and piano. It was genuinely an enjoyable two weeks by the end, and I came back to work with some new rules:

    1. Stick to the 8-hour workday. It's not to say that I cannot code outside of hours, but I firmly wanted that be by choice and benefit. The lack of boundaries over isolation meant that slipping into a 14-hour workday was not unheard of.
    2. Slow down to learn. I didn't need to constantly be burning JIRA tickets off the board. If there wasn't something I was vaguely familiar with, I wanted the joy of deep-diving into it and not feeling guilty about self-imposed deadlines.
    3. I wanted to start contributing in the open again. This has been what led to beginning my blog and contributing back more and more over the last two weeks!
    4. Once the borders opened, go on an extended holiday and work remote for awhile.

    So far for the last two-and-a-half weeks, I've been sticking to rules with great success and Melbourne has been slowly easing restrictions.

    However, the Victorian Government in Australia has just announced that Melbourne is to go back into full lockdown for six more weeks as of tomorrow. It is back to step one... only this time, we have tougher restrictions than the first lockdown.

    Given how unsuccessful my last bout was, I am very concerned about how I am going to go. When the last lockdown started, I was at least excited by the prospect of still being able to connect with friends over video calls and enjoying home activities. The excitement this time - at least on the video call, puzzles and board game front - is definitely not there. I don't even have the luxury of the two-month buffer I had last time where I was resilient thanks to the momentum I had prior to the first lockdown.

    I don't want this blog post to dwindle into negativity and feeling sorry for myself. I mean, hey, I am living in inner-city Melbourne in Australia and I am lucky enough that the company has enough money in the bank to keep us going for the next year or so. However, I do want it to be a recount of my first lockdown that I can come back to and look for accountability and retrospective on how I plan to tackle this lockdown.

    Here is my plan:

    1. Remain on the 8-hour workday maximum.
    2. Continue writing blog posts on neat things I am working on/my thoughts.
    3. Find an alternative exercise to just yoga (I feel difficult exercise is a great stress reliever). I was very excited for gym, but now that it isn't a reality I am going to bite the bullet and order some gear.
    4. Eat healthy.
    5. Launch a damn product.

    That last one is big. I feel working on my own stuff is a great motivator and I've been very into podcasts about those who just push the "go" button and see a product through. Even those that "failed" never failed in the words of those creators and founders. All were incredible lessons and motivators for their next product. As for those that did succeed - well, they have enough money to stop toiling away in jobs that do not enjoy.

    I'm going to share this post into the wild, begin my day here in Australia and turn my laptop off for half a day. A bit of an unusual post from me, but again, this year has been strange.

    If you have suggestions on what has gotten you through lockdown over the year that you can suggest, I am 100% all ears! I would also be keen to try streaming or podcasting, so any experience or tips anyone has would be greatly appreciated!

    This is more of an epilogue, but for what it is worth: I 100% understand the why behind the lockdown. You can play your part to helping the cause in the greater community but still be worn down by the reality of spending so much time alone. Regardless of how introverted you may be, humans are not designed to be cooped up in a bedroom for six months! I am just looking for ways to be alone but not lonely.

    Image credit: Richard Ciraulo

    Originally posted on my blog. Follow me on Twitter for more hidden gems @dennisokeeffe92.

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    Dennis O'Keeffe

    • Melbourne, Australia

    Hi, I am a professional Software Engineer. Formerly of Culture Amp, UsabilityHub, Present Company and NightGuru.
    I am currently working on Visibuild.


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    Going Back Into Lockdown


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