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How to use your time well during the Coronavirus crisis

Many people are finding they have more time on their hands during the Coronavirus pandemic. Here are 7 tips for how to make the best use of your time while life feels so different and uncertain.

We are all aware of the vast impact Coronavirus has had on all our lives as the pandemic has spread in recent weeks.

For some people, it has meant either fighting the disease personally or helping others to do so, such as the amazing work done by medical staff and other key workers

However, for the vast majority, it has led to us feeling like we have more time available to us, especially for the millions of people who are now working from home and who may have less work to do. Others are now having to fit in home-schooling their children while they try to do their own work.

This brings challenges as our normal daily routines have been turned upside down. People generally operate best when they have routine. Therefore, this level of disruption can have a massive impact on your mental health, with increased levels of anxiety and depression, plus feelings of isolation and a lack of meaning becoming more prevalent.

Pleasure and Purpose

Our happiness and overall mental wellbeing is a product of time spent doing things pleasure and purpose, as described by Professor Paul Dolan in his excellent book Happiness by Design. Pleasure comes from time spent doing things we enjoy, which vary between people and could include walking your dog in the park, watching an old film or eating your favourite meal. Purpose comes when we do things that we feel matter, regardless of whether or not we find them especially enjoyable. This may include some of the work you do, taking care of a sick child or doing the housework. For us to be happy, our days need to be filled with activities that provide us with either pleasure or purpose at varying ratios.

Sometimes, the things we do will feel both pleasurable and purposeful; as a general rule, we should try to increase the time we invest doing these. As an opposite, reducing things that feel pointless and painful to do will only contribute to unhappiness.

So – what does this mean for us during Coronavirus? As life feels very different right now, it’s really important to be more conscious of how you are using your time to take care of your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, during a period of great uncertainty and worry for ourselves and people we care about.

The flip side is that having more spare time means we have opportunities to expand the range of things we do, which has the potential to enrich our lives in the short and longer terms.

To help you manage this, here are my 7 tips for how to make best use of your time during Coronavirus.

1. Establish a new routine

We typically work best and feel happiest when we have a routine. This is because we make sense of the world by predicting what will happen next, based on past experience. If you’re not used to working from home, at first it will feel very strange because you don’t have the usual markers in your day. These include the time you need to wake up to get to work, scheduled breaks, meetings and other activities, before finishing at a regular time.

The way to combat this is to set yourself a schedule and stick to it each day, maintaining the things from your working day at the office which make you feel grounded. For example, getting up at a regular time and keeping a pattern throughout the day. Your life working from home will feel much easier and more comfortable to navigate.

Man working from home using a computer

2. Create a specific space for working

This is one for people who normally go out to work and who are now adjusting to working remotely.

People who work from home most of the time normally create a workspace for themselves that for them feels like ‘going to the office.’ This helps to separate your working life from the other things you do.

If you have a spare room, try converting this into a temporary office and make it feel like a space you enjoy spending time in, but with as few distractions as you can engineer. If this isn’t an option for you, pick a regular space in your home that you set up for work each morning, and then clear everything away when you’ve finished work. This will give you the same benefits of demarcating your work and home life.

3. Explore new opportunities

Many people will find themselves with more time on their hands than normal. It’s easy to fill this with the sort of things you may do when you have a reduced amount of downtime, like watching TV and surfing the internet or social media. However, the best thing to do is to treat this time as an opportunity to do things you wouldn’t normally find time for.

This could include things like cooking more nice, healthy meals, gardening, DIY projects, reading books that have been on your shelves for ages or doing an online course.

We may never get this amount of ‘extra’ time available to us during our working lives, so make the most of it.

4. Make time for things that bring you pleasure

It’s very easy to get sucked into all the negative aspects of what is going on right now. Especially through watching the news on TV or reading social media. We are experiencing unprecedented world events and it’s good to maintain awareness of what’s happening, but without being drawn into it to such an extent that it makes us feel bad.

Put simply, if you spend time focusing on all the bad things, you will feel unhappy. This something to be mindful of, particularly at a time when your routine has been so disrupted by social distancing.

The antidote to this is to invest time doing things that give you a sense of joy, whatever that means for you. For me, this might be listening to music or snuggling up with my dogs and watching one of my favourite films. Whatever brings you pleasure, make some time for it.

Close up of a slice of rainbow cake

5. Make time for things that feel purposeful

The complement to feeling pleasure is feeling purposeful. This is something we often overlook. Remember the sense of satisfaction you got when you re-decorated your bedroom, passed your course at college or ran 10k on a cold and rainy day? These things might not have felt pleasurable all the time whilst you were doing them, but they made you feel good afterwards through what you’d accomplished.

Creating new purpose is especially important if some of the things that normally make you feel good are not in your life at the moment. This might include work – for those of you who can’t work from home. The solution is to create new purpose, whether this is volunteering to help people in your community, undertaking a new fitness programme at home or doing a spring clean.

Think about things that will give you that sense of satisfaction and incorporate them into your days.

6. Connect with other people

This is especially important if you are self isolating at home by yourself. We can take for granted all the social interactions with people that happen as part of everyday life. We may only miss them when they are no longer there. Humans are social animals and we need contact with other people to feel happy and safe.

Although all connection is good, face to face is especially valuable. Robin Dunbar, a psychologist at Oxford University compared communication by face to face, telephone and text. The research found that face to face contact has the greatest positive impact on our wellbeing, because we talk longer, laugh more and feel happier afterwards. Especially striking was that you don’t need to be in the same room, it was even true remotely, by video call. The next best was telephone followed by text.

Fortunately, these events have happened at a time when communication with people remotely is easy and can take many forms. Through messaging, phone calls and video calls utilising a range of technology, most of us have a number of choices available. If coronavirus had hit 30 years ago, life would have felt a lot different.

Make time for whatever communication with other people you are able to do, whether this means trying video calling with one person for the first time or a ‘party’ call using FaceTime, Messenger or House Party apps on your smart phone. You could find this is a great opportunity to reconnect with people you don’t speak to very often and who are feeling the same way as you.

Man taking time to speak to woman by video call

7. Exercise for your body and mind

Doing all of the above will help you manage your mental and emotional wellbeing. Each of the previous steps contributes to feeling better. Other things that are good for you mind at times of stress include meditation (which is really accessible nowadays through apps such as Headspace); writing you thoughts, goals and reflections in a journal. Also, going out for a walk, especially in a park where you are surrounded by nature.

The latter is also great for your physical wellbeing, which can be more of a challenge to maintain when we are spending more time at home. Walking, running or cycling may be the only forms of exercise we can do outside right now. Thankfully, there are also lots of things we can do at home.

Set some time aside each day to focus on physical activity, which could be doing a yoga session or exercise class online. You will find many available for free on YouTube. You could also adapt other exercises you might normally do at the gym, especially those based on resisting your own body weight, such as push ups. Gardening and doing intensive housework also help – in addition to making your home look great while you’re spending more time in it!

Remember, life as it is right now is temporary. Once Coronavirus is under control, life will return to normality – or hopefully better through what we have learnt during this time. Keep yourself, your friends, family and community safe.

Are you looking for support to make changes in your life? Speak to Chris to find out more about how coaching can help you.

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