3 Productive Activities for Quarantine…

…and what you should actually be doing instead


Helpful Productivity Suggestions for Quarantine

As always, the internet is full of “helpful” suggestions. Well-meaning, Instagram-able and seemingly sound advice intended to help get you through the rough patches and adapt to our new situation. But while many of tips and suggestions on the internet can be incredibly helpful, they can also be unrealistic, either in their results or in their practice, and thus set individuals up for failure.

During the past few weeks, I have seen scores of activities, challenges, and productivity ‘hacks’ suggested by the world wide web and, while most are well-meaning, more than a few are a bit problematic. I have taken the top three most common suggestions and broken them down below.

Marie Kondo Your Entire House

The Internet

You have endless amounts of free time!  Now is the perfect opportunity to completely clean out and reorganize the entire house.  You have been meaning to do this for months anyways, now is the perfect opportunity.  You can even get the kids involved and make it fun!

Reality

When I first heard that Netflix greenlight a series based on a book about tidying up, I wondered who was going to lose their job over that decision… right up until I binged the entire first season in one afternoon.  The KonMarie method became a New York Times Bestseller and a Netflix hit not because it is revolutionary, but because it makes sense. The organizational steps are all clear and effective but the process is tempered with adjustments to our emotional relationships with our stuff.

  • Don’t hold onto things you do not need if they do not add to your life in a positive way. 
  • Value the things you have but respect the things you no longer need. 
  • Keep your things so that you can always see what you have.

The process itself is mildly chaotic because it involves pulling out everything that you own that you can see what is really there.  It is not something you would do on your average weekday afternoon.  As we are all hopefully remaining at home as much as possible right now, it makes sense to want to tidy up, get organized and do a little spring cleaning. 

The problem is that the KonMarie method is not just ‘a little spring cleaning’.  It involves completely taking apart your house one section at a time (Clothes, Books, Paper, Miscellaneous and Sentimental).  While dealing with these sections independently can help make the process a little less daunting, there will still be entire days, if you are lucky, where it looks as though your house has thrown up. 

To make that problem even worse, the KonMarie method usually results in a large number of things destined for either the trash or the donation pile or both.  Most donation centers, salvation army’s and secondhand stores are currently closed and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.  Which means that, unless you are prepared to throw out multiple trash bags of clothes, toys and (gasp!) books, you will be living with a small mountain of stuff that you have already decided that you do not want or need living somewhere in your front hall or living room or garage for at least the next few weeks. 

Instead

Marie Kondo your bathroom and your bathroom only.  Go through your medicine cabinet and double-check the dates on everything.  Clear out your drawers along with the remains of that shattered bath bomb down at the bottom and that soap that someone gave you but you are never going to use.  Find all those stray hair ties and put them all in a little cubby.  Go through your makeup and your random loofahs and your face creams.  In most houses, the bathroom is plenty to take on all at once.

The KonMarie method goes category by category.  Instead, take all of your organizing and purging energy and put it to use in one specific place.  I suggest the bathroom because it is small, contained, probably messy, and most of the things you are getting rid of are bound for the trash can rather than the donation bin.  If you have more than one bathroom, do them one at a time.  If you still have organizational energy when your bathrooms are tidy, move onto the spice cabinet -we both know that paprika is not supposed to be that color.  Want to keep going?  Try the pantry, the laundry room, your desk.  Work in areas that are small, contained, and probably won’t lead to a lot of donations.  Go one at a time.  If you really want to keep going, try organizing your digital files too.  By the time Goodwill is open again you will be further along then you are now.

Work Out Every Day

The Internet

This is great!  You’ll have plenty of time now to really push yourself and get SWOL!  Push it to the MAX!  Don’t forget the cardio!

Reality

As the quarantine and stay-at-home advisories continue even those of us who lead largely sedentary lives eventually start going a little stir crazy.  I have seen more people walking around my neighborhood in the evening than I do even in Resolutions Week (beginning of January). 

I own almost zero workout equipment, do not know many exercises, and have zero interest in needing to seek medical attention if I manage to hurt myself.  If you have no history of working out, it is unlikely that you will suddenly become super fit given unlimited access to Netflix and snacks.   While being active can be crucial to not just your physical health but also your mental health, trying to throw yourself into an intense exercise routine with no experience or supervision is an excellent way to get hurt.

Instead

Try new ways to stay active.

Plyo, Ballet, Pilates, Tai Chi, Dance – none of them require any equipment, there are plenty of free videos online by certified instructors, and they can all be scaled up or down depending on your comfort level.   A variety of gyms are even offering free streaming of certain classes to try and maintain a following.  So often in my endless internet scrolling, I see exercise or fitness videos, think “oh, that looks like fun!” and then never do them.  Human beings are creatures of undeniable habit.  But if you were ever curious about trying Zumba, or Pilates or strength workouts now would be a good time to give them a try.

Because you are exercising at home and trying something new, it is important to take it slow and ease your way in.  Make sure to stretch fully before and after, drink plenty of water, and have at least a full day of rest between workouts so if you have any excessive soreness or discomfort you will be able to tell which activity caused it.

Start a New Hobby

The Internet

We have always wanted to try scrapbooking!  Now is be the perfect opportunity to collect up all our family photos and arrange them in this adorable binder with lots of little decorations.  Or maybe I can finally try some of those gourmet recipes from my Pinterest board!

The Reality

I don’t have a binder or any of the cute decorations or even print outs of all our family photos (most of them are on Facebook).  As continued employment is an unnervingly uncertain thing these days, it might not be a great time to indulge in a potentially expensive round of online shopping.  And many of the recipes that wind up on Pinterest boards include ingredients that you may not have access to right now.  Some even include special tools or pans to get them right.

Hobbies are expensive.  Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something… usually, something craft related.  Whether they are worth it or not depends on a delicate balance of cost, disposable income, and personal gains.  If you have a lot of disposable income and you want to take up an expensive hobby that you kind of enjoy, go for it! For those of us on a tighter budget, if you want to take up the same hobby, but you really love it, you can still do that. But you have to be willing to forgo a few creature comforts to make it happen if it does not work within your budget.  Some hobbies can even add value to your life, if it is a necessary skill or if it saves you from needing to pay someone else for service.

I am fond of the occasional bit of knitting.  As I go through around $3-4 of yarn per month, it is a hobby I can idly enjoy.  Gardening is something I care more deeply about, but that, unfortunately, does not equate to being very good at it.  With my garden having a tragically high mortality rate, it can be a very expensive past time that, unfortunately, I just can’t afford to indulge in beyond my little kitchen window box garden. 

When you are looking to start a new hobby, doing so when you have a large amount of free time on your hands is tempting, but sets you up for a false expectation.  Maybe you can do this five days a week now but what happens when work and life start pulling at you from all directions?  Starting a new hobby can be exciting, but it is also easy to overinvest or overcommit yourself to an activity that does not fit into your day to day life.

Instead

Examine your hobbies, old and new, for cost, value and, most importantly, how much joy they bring into your life.

Most people have multiple hobbies over the course of their lifetimes.  These often leave remnants in our lives, some more subtle than others.  Sometimes these hobbies are left behind, not as a conscious decision, but because life simply got in the way.

Maybe you were once an amateur chef but cooking was traded in for the drive-thru when double shifts or work and kids got piled on top of each other. Now would be a good time to learn new knife skills, try out different recipes, and explore your culinary imagination with what you have left in the pantry. Being able to cook a delicious meal for yourself or the ones you love will never be something not worth knowing.

Maybe you were really into film making for a while but lost focus because other things in your life took priority. If you have a smartphone and a laptop, play around with them. Create a short film, or a silly montage, or a family video album. Most computers come with free editing software and, if this is something you decide to get more involved with later, you can always make the decision about investing in a better camera then.

Or maybe you always wanted to write a book but just never had the time… well, we’ve got time now.

So go for it. Look at your passions in life, the things that once inspired you, and revisit them. Explore subjects and creative passions that you have been interested in for a long time but never took the plunge. Just, maybe hold off on buying that $80 worth of scrapbooking stickers for now?


The Internet is always full of suggestions.  Usually inspiring, helpful, and well-meaning. But this advice can sometimes do more harm than good. 

Too often we try to compare our own realities to another’s narrative.  By holding ourselves to an immeasurable standard, we set ourselves up for failure and can be unnecessarily stressed or upset for being unable to achieve similar results.  

Whether you choose to do one of the three activities above, or more than one, or none at all, just remember to be kind to yourself right now. We are all adjusting to our new ‘normal’. There is no universal mandate to use each spare minute we have productively. Some days will be filled with workouts and duo lingo and learning the guitar. Other days will be filled with pajamas, animal crossing, and baking pound cake while binge-watching Nailed It.

No one knows how long this may continue. The best we can do is be patient, stay safe and continue to be kind to each other and ourselves.


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