As we collectively face the Coronavirus situation, we find much of our work and schooling has shifted to online. As a person who has worked outdoors every summer since 1984, you may ask why I would I know so much about deskwork?

Camp is an extraordinary place. We try doing the impossible at least a few times before lunch each day. During the off-season though, I have had to work autonomously or as self-employed for the last three decades. Switching from 24/7 life outdoors for seventy days to months of mostly deskwork can feel monumentally hard.

Here are my top tips:

  1. Embrace your own company. Be supportive of your happiness and humanity, not just your productivity. The 80/20 rule (or “Pareto’s Principle) states that 80% of the results come from 20% of the outputs. This means that grinding it out for hours and hours isn’t as effective as some good breakthrough moments that come from deeper thinking. At camp, contemplation and deep thinking can take the forms of Silent Meeting, Outdoor Living Skills’ “Sit Spots”, solos and more. With these activities, we start to be more comfortable sitting quietly with our thoughts – sometimes for as long as a 24-hour solo. In the off-season, I get breakthrough ideas regularly when outside walking my dog. The important thing here is writing those ideas down once I get home – they seem unforgettably brilliant, but then they evaporate as soon as I touch my keyboard. Give yourself permission to really focus on the most important things, not just putting in hours. You now must be the boss of your timeline, so why not be a good one?
  2. “Discipline is remembering what you want” One of the Quaker values is integrity. This approach of focusing on what you want to work requires radical self-awareness. You may not really want to get good grades or get in shape. Figure out what you do actually want and then have honest conversations with those around you. If you need a prompt, consider William Glasser’s Choice Therapy: people want to feel playful, powerful, loving and free. At Timberlake, when we see a kid acting out, we figure it’s because they are not feeling playful, powerful, loving or free and that their behavior might be an attempt to achieve those things. We can coach campers and ourselves regarding this. We might see ourselves acting out at home during this time by not being our best selves or being constantly distracted by something external (social media, snacks, etc). In his bestseller Indistractible, Nir Eyal’s first step of a four-step process is to master internal distraction. He states “All motivation is a desire to escape discomfort. Anything that stops discomfort is potentially addictive, but that doesn’t make it irresistible”. When you know what you authentically want, your motivation is focused on getting you to that, not getting you out of discomfort. Your integrity and honesty will help you avoid the worst levels of distraction. You will also be surprised at how many supervisors (teachers, bosses, etc.) respond well when you state what you want.
  3. Tomato Sprints and “Minding the Gap”. Farm & Wilderness has a “let’s get it done” energy. In anything from pot-scrubbing with your cabin or a difficult homework deadline, you are going to have to bust it out. Your new best friend is the 25-minute Focus Sprint aka “The Pomodoro Method”. Pomodoro means “tomato” in Italian. Why this name? Who knows? But, we do know it works. Use a watch or an app (there’s a Chrome Extension called “Marinara”) to measure your time. You must commit to the 25 minutes. If you get distracted, you must start again. If you have a lot of people in the house, let them know you are going into focus mode. Put on headphones or a plastic crown. Get your Fifth Freedom on. Let your world know you mean business and are about to get it done! Take a five-minute break between sprints. Know that apart from a few rare birds, most of us can only put in 4-5 hours of true, creative focused productivity in a day. So, go back to step one and cut yourself plenty of slack on the number of these you’ll get done. Also, go back to step one if you mess up. Everyone messes up. Addictions and habits are tough to break, and the most effective way is to give yourself permission with a bit of delay. “I’m going to log in and see if there is anything new in… ten minutes. “I’m going to take a step outside after I finish this Pomodoro.” Delaying the urge works wonders. Those focused sprints are like push-ups – better to do fewer in good form than a bunch of wonky ones. The second part of this is to really watch that gap as you transition between things. Ever start looking at your phone as you wait for something to download only to realize you’re still looking at it fifteen minutes later? It happens to us all, so mind the gap. Try moving around, closing your eyes, or playing with a pet for a little break – something that won’t suck you into a spiral of distractedness.
  4. #FearlessIsMore This was a camp sticker we printed up a few years ago. What do you have to lose? Be socially bold. Things are different now. Everything has been shaken up. This is a great time to reach out to make a new friend. We all expect things to someday get back to “normal”, but in the meantime, you can change all those scripts that say things like: “normally I wouldn’t talk to someone I didn’t know very well ….. normally I wouldn’t put my work on the internet … normally I wouldn’t sing in front of others … normally I wouldn’t ask my parents when they met…” Normal is great when it means your basic needs are being met. After that, it’s overrated. No one should go at it alone!

I hope these are helpful. Each one of us is unique. A core tenant of Quaker belief is that there is “The Light of the Spirit” in each person. That’s why it’s best to start with your unique wants and desires and build a framework of focus that really works for you and lets your light shine during these strange times.



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