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You Do Not Have to Strive

These are not normal times. You don’t have to act like they are. You do not have to try to do everything the way you always do it right now. And you definitely don’t have to strive to do even more--start a business, learn a language, start lifting weights (you don’t have to do those things in more normal times, either, if you aren’t really into them). Right now, you do not have to push yourself. Now is not the time for extreme productivity. It’s a time for caring for yourself and your family and friends and the world around us. It is a time for listening to your body, seeing how you feel, going with the flow of what you need.

This is also not a great time to do nothing. Great swathes of unfilled time can really amp up anxiety and depression, and no one needs that any time, especially now. I know my first two weeks of being unemployed during all of this I was awash in all the hard feelings. So I made some changes to help myself. I’ve talked about them with a few friends, and everyone seemed to find it helpful, so I thought I’d write about it.

What did I do? I gave myself some structure. I’m not talking about rigid schedules and pages of to-do lists. For me, that’s just more stress, and if I miss one of my tasks I end up feeling worse. What’s working for me is a looser sort of schedule.

I figured out things I wanted to do with my time, and then I broke my day into blocks that work for me. You might need to experiment to figure out what works for you. For example, in the below schedule I started out with having a scheduled activity at the end of my 2 - 4 p.m. block, and that was not working at all, so I changed things up.

Here’s what my weekday schedule looks like right now (my blocks are very loose--sometimes I don’t start on Block 2 until 10:30, etc., and I recommend doing something different on the weekends):

  • Get up around 8 a.m.
  • Block 1 8-10: Clean up, get dressed, feed cats, make coffee. During this time I have breakfast, check email, goof off online, read articles.
  • Block 2 10-12: I do something hands-on*. So far I’ve reorganized my linens and moved them to a new location, cleared some old clothes out of the closet, emptied a bookcase that’s getting moved. Sometimes I vacuum or clean out the fridge. And lately I’m working on learning to sew. I find something that has me away from computers and phones and actually, actively doing something or making something is really good for my brain. I recommend trying it out. 
  • Block 3 12 - 1: I take a break before doing a quick Spanish lesson at 12:30. 
  • Block 4 2-4 (ish): Right now I use this time to work on my license renewal classes for my teaching license. When I finish those around the end of May I plan to work on the MasterClass classes I signed up for.
  • Block 5 4-6: I take a break, then do something hands-on again (this is when I exercise and sometimes do some painting in my art journal). 
  • Evening: I make dinner around 6, visit with friends online, then spend my evenings working on art projects, playing online, and watching TV.

I worked out these blocks based on what I noticed about how I perceive time. I tend to think about it as morning, late morning, noon, afternoon, late afternoon, evening. I don’t know why, but it did make it easy for me to block my time out. Some things to think about if you want to try this:

  • Figure out the things you both want and need to do in a day
  • Don’t fill every minute with “productive” things; schedule in plenty of downtime and relaxation
  • Let yourself skip the schedule if you’re having a really hard day
  • Check in with yourself and see how you feel and change the schedule if you feel like it’s not working
  • Do something every day that makes you laugh or at least smile

*Why something hands-on? Because our bodies need to do things. Our brains feel better when we give them different sorts of tasks to work on throughout the day. The sense of accomplishment from clearing a shelf, cleaning out the fridge, painting a page is a mood booster. 

I hope this gives you some ideas of how to make your days a little smoother. If you’re struggling (really, even if you’re not feeling that) give yourself a break. Give yourself some love. Take care of yourself out there!

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