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10 lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic to keep using when it’s over

Many countries have already passed the 100-day mark in lockdown.  As we’re getting used to the new normal, I wanted to share some valuable lessons and best practices I learned during lockdown while I was studying my Full-Time MBA at Imperial that can also be applied to life beyond the pandemic.

1. Your house is not a classroom, but it can work as one

Even before the pandemic, an increasing number of people were being given the option to work or study from home. With the future of work irreversibly changed by the events of this year, it’s important to make sure your living space is suitable for productivity should this become a necessity.

Studying from home offers a lot of distractions and temptations: the dog has to go out, your neighbour is remodeling his house, and then there’s that growing pile of laundry that you’ve been meaning to get around to. The solution to this is separation - find a quiet space away from everything else, with good lighting (next to a window is preferable), some plants around your desk (nature makes everything better!) and plenty of space to help you get things done.

Of course, not everyone will have access to the perfect home working setup, so it’s important to maximise your use of what you already have. My home working must-haves are as follows:

  • A good pair of headphones

  • A laptop stand (or a few books under the base) - your eyes should be nearly level with the top of the screen

  • Light on your face for videocalls

  • Casual clothing – try to find something comfortable that isn’t your pyjamas

2. Daily routines keep us sane

It’s sometimes easy to forget how daily routines can help us make our lives easier and improve our wellbeing. To address this (and avoid spending the whole day on the couch), creating routines has become my new daily ritual. We are all going to fail at following a strict schedule at times (life happens) but creating some structure can help us feel more productive, and remind us what our critical priorities are for the day.

There are also several apps to help improve your productivity that I’ve found extremely useful. Two of my favourites are Trello; a Kanban style list-making app with a really intuitive design, and Pomodoro; a time management tool that breaks down work into small intervals (usually five and 25 minute breaks)

Remember: little wins and small boosts in motivation are your best friends in times like these!

3. Use to-do lists

Almost everyone struggles to get things done from time to time, especially now. Some of us even struggle with the stage before that, figuring out what we need to do in the first place. The answer: to-do lists.

Having to-do lists helps you break down tasks and achieve quick wins throughout the day. A simple example of this would be grocery shopping. At a time when it’s less desirable than ever to spend time in the supermarket, pre-planning my meals for the week and having shopping lists has helped me save time and be way more efficient, which means fewer visits to the store. Plus, who doesn’t love that feeling of satisfaction you get from ticking items off your list?!

4. Make family time part of your routine

One of the most important practices I have established during the pandemic is setting aside some time each week to talk to my family and friends. Previously I was used to speaking with them while multitasking; whether on the way to work, out for a walk, cleaning up the house or walking the dog. For me, living abroad meant conversations were always sporadic and with each family member or friend individually. Sometimes I got lucky and got two of them at the same time. There was never a schedule.

Over the lockdown period I’ve found that by scheduling regular meetings with them, I’ve been able to get my whole family together, as well as groups of friends, for a weekly virtual drink or dinner. I’ve made it a regular part of my routine and plan on continuing the tradition as we move away from lockdown.

5. Gyms are good, parks are better

When you’re thinking about starting a workout routine and getting in shape, probably the first thing that comes to mind is getting a gym membership. With the pandemic reshaping the world as we know it, it may be time to rethink this monthly service. Memberships are expensive and can get a little boring after a while.

I’ve rediscovered how great it is to exercise with fresh air. Working out outdoors is a great mood lifter, and there are so many options. You can go jogging, biking, hiking, do functional training, boxing, the opportunities are endless!

And if you’re not an outdoorsy kind of person you can always build your own little gym at home buying weights online, using YouTube videos and fitness apps. In the long run, it works out considerably cheaper than paying monthly for a gym, and you have no excuses (like bad weather or lack of time) to cancel it.

6. Netflix is not the only form of entertainment

Let’s do the math: three hours working on a report on your laptop plus four hours on Zoom meetings plus three hours binge-watching Netflix and … (I’m not even going to talk about social networks) = not the healthiest combination for your physical or mental health.

This also applies when we return to the office or classroom – try using your spare time on more constructive activities that will let your mind shift focus and help you relax while awake. Some of my favourite alternative forms of entertainment: getting stuck into a great book, puzzles (the 3D ones are really cool), board games, or organising your house like Marie Kondo.

7. Actually, you don’t need to spend that much

When we think about savings there’s always the question: do you really need to buy that latte macchiato when you’re on your way home? Maybe your answer is ‘YES, I REALLY NEED THAT’. However, one of the exciting parts of staying at home is that our savings have been kept in a vault. The pandemic has been a great opportunity to rethink our spending priorities and remember that we perhaps don’t need to spend as much as we thought to lead a happy, healthy and productive life.

8. Bikes are the new buses

Bikes are more popular than ever as a means of getting from A to B, here’s just a few reasons why you might want to get rid of your bus pass:

  1. No permit required (your license is your helmet and your feet!)
  2. No extra money for fuel (just a great meal before a long ride)
  3. Less time-consuming and more straightforward routes (traffic is often diverted in London!)
  4. Extra calories burned!

Most people, like me, used to rely on public transport. I had basically shaped my days around it. However, with people now more keen than ever to avoid crowded areas like buses or the underground, two wheels makes more sense than ever before.

9. Face coverings: bring them, use them!

As we move through the pandemic and learn more about the virus, most research seems to be pointing to the fact that face coverings can be helpful in reducing the spread of the virus. With many governments now advising face coverings in a wide range of public spaces, it’s good advice to carry one with you whenever you leave the house and wear it whenever it’s appropriate to do so.

It’s a simple solution that may be beneficial to those around you, plus it could become the norm in years to come, so it’s probably better to get used to the idea sooner rather than later.

10. Stay safe, stay happy!

One of the most important things we can all do during this time is to look after both our physical and mental health and be aware that while this is a challenging time, we are not alone. It’s okay to sometimes feel like you’re unsure about what’s happening. Try to do more of what makes you happy, keep a positive mindset and understand that better days are still ahead!

I hope these tips help you navigate life beyond the pandemic. While it’s not yet over, the world continues to move forward, and it’s lessons like these can help us all lead happier, healthier lives no matter what challenges come our way.

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Brenda Carmelino

About Brenda Carmelino

Full-Time MBA
Brenda is a student on our Full-Time MBA. Before joining Imperial, she spent five years at IBM in Peru - in her last role she was an Operations and Finance Analyst.