31 ways to spend your coronavirus quarantine time growing your mind (and maybe even your money)

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31 ways to spend your coronavirus quarantine time growing your mind (and maybe even your money)

There are many ways you could be spending your time right now. Why not make it a period of growth?

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31 ways to spend your coronavirus quarantine time growing your mind (and maybe even your money)

Well, here we are—you, me, and the rest of the world stuck at home, staring at a screen.

How are you feeling? Anxious, scared, depressed?

Bored, restless, lonely?

Fatalistic? At one with the universe?

Me? I was freaking out the other day. I’m doing all right today. I was just thinking that our new reality is kind of sweet, in a tragic way: billions of people holed up in little rooms, tapping out messages to one another. We’ve sequestered ourselves for a common good—we’re staying apart to save each other—and yet our species can’t help but feel the tug of social connection. We want to hug our friends, family, and loved ones and say, “it’s okay, we’re in this together” and paradoxically, we’re terrified of getting too close.

In case you just woke up from a coma (hello! I’m so sorry!) or are reading this blog post several months in the future (hello! I sure hope we fixed this by now!), the world is battling a pandemic known as the coronavirus—AKA COVID-19, Sars-CoV-2, corona, the rona, coco, the no-no virus (all definitely* real** and epidemiologist-certified*** names)

*Nope.

**No way.

***Definitely not.

Whatever you want to call it, it’s highly contagious and potentially deadly for large numbers of people. It’s seriously disrupting our lives, straining the healthcare system, crashing the economy, and forcing us all to remain at home. And it might be here for a while.

Whether you’re quarantined, self-isolating, sheltering in place, or merely practicing social distancing, you probably have a lot of time on your hands and not a lot to do with that time. If you’re lucky, you’re able to work from home, but that still leaves you with mornings, evenings, and weekends you would have otherwise spent traveling, shopping, going out or hanging out with friends, attending shows, visiting museums—I’ll stop twisting the knife. Point is, it’s a strange and unfamiliar time.

Well, unfamiliar to most people. As a freelancer, I’ve been living in a version of quarantine for about a decade, with periodic breaks (vacations, road trips, mental health days). On any given week, I spend 85–95% of my time in my house. And hey—I’ve stayed (relatively) happy, healthy, and sane. I’ve also managed to remain financially stable and even save some money.

This crisis is certainly affecting me, but in many senses my day-to-day life looks largely the same as usual. As much as I dislike giving advice, I figure I’m better-equipped than many others to offer it right now. Moreover, I feel it’s my duty—I have a responsibility to share what I’ve learned about working and living from home. Here are 31 ways to spend your time in the age of the coronavirus growing your mind and your money:

1. Make your bed.

If you can and like to do it, sleep in. But whenever you wake up, you need a morning routine. Brush your teeth, floss, and wash your face. Then make your bed. This small activity has outsized benefits that reverberate through your day. Here’s how a US Navy Admiral SEAL explains it:

"If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. And by the end of the day that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed."

2. Put on pants.

You’re going to need a few inner qualities to get through this. One is a sense of humor. Another is a sense of dignity. My grandfather, who lived through World War II and the Great Depression, would shave his face every single day, no matter where he was or what was going on in his life. If he had stubble, you knew he was severely ill. Shaving was his way of taking care of himself and maintaining dignity; he could respect the person he saw in the mirror. You don’t need to shave every day (or even shower every day), but you do need to wear pants.

Editor’s Note: No matter what people say, leggings count as pants when you’re at home.

3. Eat a big breakfast.

I used to be one of those people who “skips” breakfast, by which I mean I would cram a Clif Bar into my mouth around 11am when my stomach started to hurt. Don’t do that. You deserve better. Wake up with something to look forward to: a big, (moderately) healthy meal. I’m talking protein, fats, and carbs (if you’re into that sort of thing), along with a full cup of coffee or tea.

We like to make iced coffee around here. If you have a drip machine, it’s easy—just use two times as much grounds as you would for hot coffee, hit the “strong brew” button, pour it into some glass jars filled with ice cubes, and throw it in the fridge for a few hours.

4. Get something done every day.

This is the most pivotal habit for me as a work-from-home freelancer. Regardless of whether you’re making money from it, you should have something to work on every day, and at least one thing you can complete by the end of the day. File a report, send an email, finish a drawing, apply for a job, clean the bathroom—give yourself a task to do, and do it.

5. Exercise.

Like it or not, humans are built for exercise. We need it. It gives us energy and makes us feel good physically and emotionally. Plus, it boosts the immune system.  If you can leave the house, go out for a walk, run, or hike (making sure to stay at least six feet away from others, of course). If you’re stuck indoors, do some bodyweight exercises—push-ups, sit-ups, wall sits, lunges, etc. There are plenty of options—cycling, yoga, pilates, HIIT, dancing.

Here are a couple free guided stretch and workout routines the Think Save Retire trainer put together that you can do to stay active from anywhere:

Personally, I try to run at least 15 miles a week, alternating between cardio days and strength days where I do 100 push-ups and 100 squats, and plank for three minutes. You might want to go easier or harder depending on what you can handle. The goal of this kind of exercise isn’t to get super hot, but to maintain a baseline of physical activity and mental health.

6. Get some air.

Even if you can’t exert your body (because you’re disabled or recovering from being sick, for instance), you should make an effort every day to get some fresh air, pause, and take a deep breath. Sit outside for a few minutes. Open a window. Carve out time to do nothing but exist solely in the moment.

7. Pay attention to the news.

Also carve out some time to pay attention to the rest of the world. I’m not a believer in shutting off the news entirely. It serves an essential purpose, especially during these uncertain times. We all need to be aware of what’s going on around us. The news can be scary or even misleading, but it’s a vital part of a functioning society—it connects us to each other.

8. …But be smart about it.

Bearing in mind what I just wrote, beware the dangers of news overconsumption. If you’re refreshing Twitter right now, stop. Seriously—close the tab; delete the app. No one can handle the endless deluge of stories, reports, studies, analyses, fears, columns, opinions, and opinions about opinions as it all pours out in real time.

Instead of trying to stay on top of everything as it happens, dedicate an hour or two a day to catching up on the news. I tend to read through my feeds once in the morning and again in the afternoon.

Also, be smart about where you get your news. Don’t rely on a single source for the truth. Read outside of your political and regional bubbles. Trust your instincts. If something seems utterly terrifying, overly simplistic, or unbelievable to you, reflect on it and fact-check it. Watch out for hoaxes like this and this and this and these. You’ll discover there’s a lot out there to learn—and a lot we have yet to learn.

9. Call your mom.

We’re lucky this global lockdown is happening at a time when most people have phones. Check in with the people you love—parents, siblings, kids, cousins. Both you and they will feel better afterward.

10. Call your grandparents.

If you have older family members and loved ones, take some time to check in with them in particular. As I’m sure you’ve heard 800 times by now, the coronavirus is deadliest for people over 65 years old, meaning they’re likely more isolated and scared than you are. Now’s the time to reach out and talk to them.

11. Call your friends.

The coronavirus has forced us all indoors, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop socializing completely. You just have to change how you do it. It’s not like anyone’s going anywhere, right? Time to talk on the phone for hours like it’s 1996.

12. Reach out to your neighbors.

Everyone’s in this together. If you have food, medical supplies, or toilet paper to spare—or if you need things—please (hygienically) contact your neighbors. The relationships you build now will last longer than the pandemic.

13. Give back.

If you have time or money on your hands and the ability to donate or volunteer your skills in any way, the world needs you right now. Support a local food bank, homeless shelter, domestic abuse shelter, nonprofit, or arts organization. Offer to pick up groceries or medicine for others (if you’re healthy). Tutor kids over the internet. There are lots of ways to give back—get creative and make a difference in the way that means the most to you.

14. Journal.

Confession: I hate journaling. I write all day and the last thing I want to do when I’m done is continue wording the words and sentencing the sentences. But I’m making some room for it these days and finding it therapeutic. It’s the next best thing to talking to a shrink.

15. Read.

If you weren’t reading before, you really have no excuse now. Open a goddamn book and read. You’ll escape the world for a bit while expanding your brain and broadening your point of view.

16. Learn history.

The more I age, the more history fascinates me. I’m finding it especially interesting and useful right now. The conflicts, events, and beliefs of the past put our world into perspective. Give a documentary or (nudge, nudge) a book a shot—you might get hooked, too.

17. Learn science.

Many people have become armchair health experts over the past few weeks. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing, as long as it means people are taking in more scientific information. The more we know about the world, the better-equipped we are to navigate it. And we could certainly use more researchers, nurses, and doctors. Use your quarantine learning about medicine and you’ll be a few steps closer to an in-demand career when this is over.

18. Learn a language.

Again, you have an opportunity right now to do the things you know you should have been doing before but didn’t have time for. Become a more well-rounded person and pick up a highly practical skill by learning Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian, or another language.

19. Learn to code.

And then there are the cold, uncaring languages of the machines. Programming is still an important and potentially well-paying skill. Luckily, you don’t have to go anywhere to learn it—you can take classes (including some great free courses) at home, from your computer.

20. Build your website.

Whether you can or not, why not use some of this time to build a website? Launch your passion product, showcase your work, sell products of any kind, turn your dreams into reality—oops, sounding like Squarespace here (can you tell I listen to a lot of podcasts?). Whatever website creator you use, the hours you spend on your site now can translate to clients or employment in the future, or even sales right now.

21. Hone your skills.

While you’re marketing your skills, dedicate some time to improving those skills. Photography, cooking, makeup, rapping, ballet—if you can do it from home, do it every day. Practice. Watch tutorials. Try new things. Ask for feedback from others—there are plenty of communities online where you can find tips and support. Perhaps you’ll even get a chance to put those skills to use now and get paid for it.

22. Sell your stuff.

The coronavirus lockdown is giving us all some much-needed time to go through our closets, drawers, basements, and garages. Your old stuff could provide a crucial source of income for the next few weeks and months. Rather than dumping your unwanted items out on the street, why not sell them online?

23. Trade stocks.

You’ve heard the advice: “buy low, sell high.” Guess what time it is? Yes, as the stock market plunges, now could be an opportune moment to invest. Emphasis on “could” here—I’m not your financial advisor. Just something to think about.

24. Take breaks.

However you choose to spend your quarantine, remember to be kind yourself and take some time each day to do what you want to do, regardless of whether it’s productive or not. For better or for worse (I’m going with “worse”), it looks like we’re in this for a long haul. You need to take care of yourself. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

25. Take days off

In addition to daily breaks, take weekly breaks from your work, hustle, or quarantine-fueled projects. I urge you to set aside at least two days—days, with an s—to hang out, play video games, watch movies with your partner/family/roommates, goof off, laugh, drink, and be merry. Life is about more than work; it’s about more than the coronavirus.

26. Pet the cat.

As I write this, one of my cats is meowing in the other room. I’m going to take a few minutes to pet her.

Okay, I’m back. Glad I did that. Our animals need love and attention, too. I might sound like a hippie, but I’m convinced they can tell what’s going on in the world, or, at the very least, they sense when we’re stressed out. Giving them some love calms them—and us.

27. No pets? No problem…Or

Watch an animal livestream.

28. Appreciate music.

I’m just going to say it: music is the most powerful art form. It invigorates and soothes the soul. It provides a shape for our emotions and a means for expressing them. I love music. And in normal times, I love going to shows and concerts. It’s a bummer I can’t see any of my favorite artists and bands live for a few months, but fortunately there are hundreds of hours of performance videos I can watch on YouTube. Two of my favorite channels: KEXP and NPR’s Tiny Desk series.

29. Go hard on your hobbies.

That thing you love doing? Do it as much as you can right now. Lean hard into it. Get weird and nerdy and obsessive about it.

30. Nurture an inner fantasy world.

I debated whether to include this piece of advice as it’s several degrees more outlandish than the rest, but after mulling it over, I believe it’s actually an incredibly useful coping strategy. I’ve been a daydreamer my whole life, and I’ve weathered quite a few negative periods by retreating into my brain. Maybe that sounds depressing, but I find it liberating. I mean, you can do anything in there.

31. Take it a day at a time.

Get through today. That’s all you have to do. It’s all any of us can do, right?

What NOT to do right now:

  • Stay up late. Go to bed. Your brain and your body will thank you. You’re not missing anything.
  • Skip meals. You might not feel hungry, but you need to eat. You’ll feel better if you do.
  • Obsess over how you look. Now is not the time to wallow in self-consciousness. We’re all haggard and hairy and unwashed. It’s okay.
  • Google symptoms. If you feel sick, stay hydrated and get some rest. If you feel really, really sick—as in coughing uncontrollably, experiencing a high-grade fever, or gasping for breath—call a doctor. They’ll tell you what to do. Take it from a hypochondriac: Google will only make you panic and feel worse.
  • Force yourself to be happy. Life sort of sucks right now. You don’t have to feel good or hopeful. You don’t have to try to see the bright side. Allow yourself to feel what you gotta feel.
  • Shut other people out. Emotionally, I mean. Talk about it—with the people you’re isolated with and the people you’re isolated from. Communication is always critical in any relationship, but particularly right now.

How are you doing in this bizarre reality we call 2020?

Share your thoughts, feelings, uncertainties, and strategies for maintaining your physical, emotional, and financial well-being with our community in the comments below.

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