Many Americans (and people around the world) are suddenly finding themselves stuck at home for a while. Some of us have children at home with us, some of us have to work from home, while others are simply there because their job is on a break.
Whatever the reason, you’re suddenly spending a lot more time at home and may be facing a serious reduction in responsibilities, too. Teachers all over America are feeling this right now, as are many service industry folks.
The temptation to just watch a lot of Netflix and seriously chill out or be lazy for a while is really tempting, but if you’re anything like me, that’s going to get old super fast. I’m just not wired like that, and neither are a lot of people.
Here are some things you can do during an extended period at home that will provide significant financial, professional, and personal benefits without much, if any, additional cost.
Make a dedicated working area inside your home, if you are able to work from home.
If you have to work from home right now, designate an area in your home that is for work and only use it for work. The reason is simple: you want a spot in your home that you begin to mentally identify as the place where you work as opposed to the place where you do anything else.
I have a standing desk in my basement that I do almost all of my work from. In my home, that’s my place for work. When I’m there, I work. I don’t do non-work stuff while I’m at that desk. If I want to do non-work things, I go somewhere else in the house.
That mindset really helps. It particularly helps if that spot is a place that can be isolated a little, by closing a door or through some other means. I’m usually the only person in the basement while working and, on top of that, I’m usually listening to audio through noise-canceling headphones which creates a further isolating effect.
Make a working space somewhere and keep it as a working space.
Learn a new skill useful in your career.
What skill could you use in your career to help you earn a promotion or a better paying job or help you get to the next rung in your career? What’s the hot new technology or idea in your field that you kind of understand but not really? Spend some of your time right now digging deep into a new professional skill and really mastering it.
There are almost endless resources for online learning, whether through actual coursework, e-books, online forums, YouTube videos and more. There’s almost no topic that you can’t learn about, at least to some extent, from home.
Identify a topic you can really dig into over the next few weeks, then set a daily schedule of learning for yourself. Put yourself into that “work” environment noted above and bear down on that subject for a few hours a day.
If you can, see if you can work on an actual project at home that utilizes that skill. For example, if you’re a teacher, you might want to use that time to develop some new course materials using some new ideas or technologies.
Set up a smart to-do system and start getting used to it.
One of the most useful things I’ve ever done as an adult was to get a robust to-do system up and running to manage all of the things I’m doing. The goal is to just make sure I don’t forget things, I have a system that tells me what needs to be done, and that the system isn’t distracting me when I need to focus (meaning I’m not trying to remember something when I’m trying to complete a task). It’s huge.
Everyone works a little differently, but here’s how I would get such a system started from scratch if I were starting over again.
First, I’d pick a simple task management tool that worked on my computer and on my phone. Todoist is a good choice. I’d also choose a calendar program — Google Calendar is a good choice. I’d also make sure I had an app on my phone for taking notes and/or a pocket notebook and a pen to carry with me at all times.
Get started by simply dumping everything in your life that you need to do or ought to get done soon into that to-do app. Everything. Get it all out of your head. This will take you hours, easily. Do it in sessions, over the course of days. In the process, you’ll really figure out how to use the to-do tool of your choosing.
If any of those things are scheduled appointments, put them in that calendar.
As you’re doing this, establish a daily habit of getting up and looking at the calendar and the to-do list program first. Start identifying a few things you really want to get done today and highlighting them in some fashion — in Todoist, you can mark them as high priority. I choose six each day, spread out amongst different areas of my life.
Another good practice to start working on is to get into the habit of writing down (either in your pocket notebook or the note writing app on your phone) anything that comes into your head that you might want to do or follow up on later. Then, a few times a day, go through those notes and add them to your to-do list tool and your calendar.
Start establishing these routines now when it’s not a period of particular high pressure and you’ll find that system is working well for you later on when you start having lots of appointments and lots of things to do again.
Start a simple bodyweight exercise routine.
You can do bodyweight exercises almost anywhere you’re at, and they’re a great way to gently start bumping up your personal fitness level. Just commit to doing them for 10 minutes a day and try to get yourself a little sweaty and out of breath — don’t kill yourself.
I personally really enjoy the daily workouts over at Darebee — they’re free and come in a wide variety of challenge levels. Also, the free Johnson & Johnson 7 minute workout app offers a bunch of great little bodyweight fitness routines you can do.
Remember, the goal isn’t to kill yourself. The goal is to push your body a little, get a little sweaty and a little out of breath, and feel good afterward. What you’ll find is that if you commit some time to doing this every day, you’ll gradually find the things you were doing to be easier and easier.
Get caught up on sleep, and get yourself on a healthy sleep schedule.
A period at home without as many demands on your schedule is the perfect time to not only get caught up on sleep, but to begin establishing a healthy sleep schedule going forward. Getting adequate sleep — around seven to eight hours per night for most adults — sets the stage for better health, focus, engagement and less stress in life. You’ll get more done in 16 hours after being well rested than you do in 18 hours without adequate rest!
My suggestion? Start going to bed a little earlier, but when you go to bed, turn off the lights and don’t look at your phone. While you have no appointments to wake up for, don’t turn on the alarm at all and allow yourself to rise naturally for a few days. See what time your body is telling you to rise naturally. However, when you’re actually awake, get up out of bed, even if it’s comfortable.
Do that for a few days and you’ll start feeling tremendous.
Then, start figuring out how that sleep schedule can fit into a normal day once things go back to a more typical schedule for you. If you have to be up at 6 a.m., when do you need to go to bed to feel this good? Then, start gradually shifting your bedtime to that time.
That way, when things return to normal, you’re already on that healthy sleeping schedule and you’ll be bursting with energy.
Read a book you’ve always wanted to read, or that a friend has frequently recommended.
It can be really tempting to fall into the most mindless of entertainment when you’re just sitting around the house. Rather than simply gobbling up whatever’s featured on Netflix or whatever you find while channel surfing, instead choose to read a book.
There’s probably no better time than this to go through the books in your home, find one or two that you’ve been meaning to read, and finally read them. It could be anything — a big, fat, intimidating novel, perhaps, a huge how-to book, or a biography of someone you admire. Maybe there’s a book a friend has loaned you that you haven’t gotten around to reading.
If you don’t have anything at home, check out the website of your local library and see if they use any services like Overdrive to allow electronic lending of books. You may be able to check out a book of interest and start reading it on your phone or tablet or computer without even leaving your home.
Watch a movie or series you’ve been thinking about watching.
Similarly, this is a great time to watch some movies or binge-watch a series that you’ve been putting off because you’ve been so busy lately.
We simply don’t watch much television, so Sarah and I have a long queue of series that we would really enjoy watching together but simply don’t find the time for it. Many people and couples I know are in a similar situation, with a big backlog of stuff they want to watch but haven’t had time to watch.
Now’s the perfect time to start digging through that queue. Don’t spend your time just channel surfing. Rather, spend your screen time watching meaningful programming.
Make your phone less distracting.
Many of us have a smartphone in our pocket, and we’ve all learned over the years that a smartphone is simultaneously a powerful tool and a powerful distraction. One of the best things you can do for your time and focus going forward is to lean into what makes your phone a powerful tool and lean away from what makes it a distraction.
Spend some time turning your smartphone into a useful and non-distracting tool by simply implementing a lot of smart simple steps. Turn off a ton of notifications. Delete distracting social media apps. Turn off “raise to wake.” Optimize your home screen. Set up a charging station away from your bedside.
Little steps like this go a long way toward making your phone a lot less distracting and a lot more useful to you going forward. It takes some time to go through all of those settings, so take advantage of the time you have right now to get it done.
Go through all of your bills carefully.
This is a great time to go through every single regular and irregular bill you have. You can start by looking at your bank statements, credit card statements and online payment accounts to identify each and every bill and recurring payment that occurs.
Go through each of those bills, one at a time, and first ask yourself whether you need this bill or recurring expense at all. Do you need this service? Do you need this expense? If you aren’t getting a lot of value from it, cancel that bill. You can always restore things like gym memberships and Netflix service later on. Cutting your cable or satellite bill may be an option — it worked for us. If you decided to cut a bill, go through the steps to close that down immediately.
For those you decide to keep, could you afford to slim down that service a little bit? Maybe you could cut some premium channels from your cable bill, or dial down your data plan on your mobile device. Go through the process for each cut and make sure it’s taken care of.
Now, go through your remaining bills line by line and look for any charges or expenses that are unnecessary or that you didn’t expect. If you find any, contact that service provider and ask about having that item removed from your bill.
This will take quite a bit of time — which is part of why many busy people don’t do this all that often — but it’s a perfect task to do right now.
Learn about a topic that has always interested you.
There’s no better time than right now to dive deep into a topic that has always intrigued you. Not only does such a deep dive scratch natural curiosity, but it also helps you get better at focusing and learning and also may potentially help lead you in a new professional direction, too.
Look for an online class using a service like Coursera or EdX and go through the lectures and lessons available. Check out an e-book from your library on the topic (see their website for how to do this). You can even start with a Wikipedia entry to get a good general overview of the topic before diving into other sources.
I strongly encourage you to give devoted time to this if it’s something that’s interesting to you. Minimize distractions and give yourself a block of time to really dig into your topics of choice.
Build up your cooking skills.
This is a great time to get more used to preparing your own foods from scratch rather than relying on delivery or takeout, a skill that will save you a lot of money going forward.
This doesn’t just mean making complex meals. It means making easier, quick meals that you know you’ll like and could see yourself making on weeknights. The more times you make those staple meals, the more efficient you get with both the preparation and cleanup of those meals.
The key is to master preparing things you already like so that you learn how to make them in a way you love and do it quickly and efficiently, as that will be the best nudge of all towards preparing foods at home more often once you return to a busier cycle.
Make a bunch of meals in advance and freeze them.
Along with learning to cook more efficiently, now’s a great time to make some meals in advance and store them in the freezer.
There are many different casseroles, soups, and stews that can be made almost entirely in advance and put in the freezer for easier thawing and heating at a later date. You can easily store soups in quart and gallon freezer containers, and casseroles can be stored in lidded 9-by-13-inch pans.
When you do get back to a more normal cycle, you can utilize those frozen meals that you have stored up. This will end up being both a substantial money saver and a time saver, too, in the sense that you’re using abundant time now to save time later.
If you have children, lean into activities they want to do.
There is no better time than a period where you and your child are both at home to spend some genuine quality time together, and one great way to do that is to simply lean into an activity that your child is excited about.
Does your child like to draw or color? Get out a ton of crayons, a bunch of paper, and color or draw some pictures together.
Does your child like stories or reading? Choose a couple of books and curl up with your child, reading those books aloud to them.
Does your child like to play Fortnite? Let them teach you how to play Fortnite and laugh off your inevitable mistakes.
Does your child like to cook? Make lots of meals together, letting them do a lot of the work, even if that means it’ll take a lot longer and make a bigger mess.
Whatever you do together, lean into it. Focus on that activity and that moment. Leave your cell phone in another room. Be as patient as you can. Try to see things from your child’s perspective.
It’s activities like this that build a deep relationship with your child.
Do a deep, thorough cleaning of your home and go through the closets.
This is a great opportunity to clean your home thoroughly and take stock of your possessions.
Go through all of your possessions and decide which ones you can sell off or give away and put those downsized items in one area of your home to deal with later.
As you’re doing that, clean your home well. Clean the corners that don’t get cleaned. Put everything back where it belongs. Get caught up on every stitch of laundry. Do maintenance on all of your kitchen appliances and clean them out thoroughly.
There’s no better time to do this than right now. These tasks will extend the life of pretty much everything in your home, make it a nicer place to be, and perhaps make you a little money when you sell off some of those items.
Don’t just let the hours pass by.
It might be frustrating to just be at home all the time right now, but if you lean into some of the things on this list, you’ll find that the time passes in a meaningful way, leaving you feeling as though this period wasn’t just a few lost weeks.