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How to Keep Occupied During Lockdown

‘Keep Busy! Learn a new language! Take up a new hobby! Be productive!’ All these messages surround us while we have a lot of unexpected free time. Yet we feel guilty about ignoring them and not making the most of every second. Well, it’s time to throw that guilt aside and realise why, in no uncertain terms, it’s absolutely OK to do nothing.

How can I use my time wisely?

You certainly don’t need me to tell you how everyday life has changed for everyone around the world right now. Some people are working harder than ever as they devote every ounce of their energy into trying to protect and care for the rest of us. I say to each and every one of those people: Thank You. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

There are folks who are stuck in unfavourable circumstances, swept away from familiarity and are holed up in an unfamiliar, possibly a dangerous place, or stuck in an awful situation with little chance of escape until all this is over. I say to each and every one of those people: I see you. We all see you. And we feel more than a little bit helpless that we cannot come and get out of that situation.

Meanwhile, a huge swathe of the global population finds itself safely at home with time on our hands, yet we are all staring into an intimidating well of uncertainty. Hope and fear alternate in varying measures.

Take a look at mass media, and it’s full of ‘helpful’ suggestions as to how to fill all this newly acquired time productively. Learn a new language! Enroll on an online course! Take up a new exercise regime! Sort out all your old photos! Clear out the garage! We MUST be productive; we MUST use this time wisely.

I’ve been home in ‘self-isolation’ for just over a week now, waiting out the 14 days to check I don’t develop symptoms before I can exercise the liberty of going to the supermarket all by myself and not relying on my amazing friends and neighbours. I live in one of the very few places in the UK with — currently — ‘no confirmed cases.’

What you should do. Or should you?

Having just moved in to a new (to me) house, there are plenty of jobs to do. My ‘should do’ list contains enough ‘shoulds’ to keep me going for many weeks:

I should make the three videos that I have already filmed

I should make some entertaining videos out of archive footage

I should work on diversifying my business

I should sort out those boxes in the study that I’ve not unpacked

I should get on with my model railway

I should do some daily Gaelic study

I should get up every day at 7.30am

I should use the opportunity to embrace daily meditation practice

I should decorate the porch area with the limited amount of paint I have

I should get my finance ledger up to date

I should sort out the garden

I should fix up Glynnis, my vintage caravan…

…and so on. There are plenty more on my list. Take a moment and consider all those ‘shoulds’ that are on your list.

We have all this unexpected time at home, we have all these ‘shoulds’ that could easily fill our time and make us better people (apparently), yet if you’re anything like me you’re spending way longer than usual in bed, and watching an inordinate amount of YouTube videos interspersed with long phone calls with friends and family. Entire days are whittled away doing ‘nothing.’

For that, we feel guilty. Guilty at wasting time doing ‘nothing’ when there are so many ways we should be being productive. If popular culture is to be believed, being productive is GOOD, and not being productive is BAD. But… wait a second. Why? Why do we always have to be productive? What’s wrong with letting ourselves ‘just be?’

Let’s just take a step back and look at this another way, shall we? Forget your own list of ‘shoulds’, flick away that guilt for just a moment, and take that huge step back.

There are two main factors I’d like you to consider before we start reconsidering those feelings of guilt about ‘wasting’ this unexpected free time doing ‘nothing.’ These two factors lead into one good solid reason that you are, in fact, NOT wasting your time, and it is more than OK to be doing ‘nothing.’

Who are you? No, really, who are you?

First off, many of us are guilty of identifying ourselves, to a greater or lesser extent, by what it is we do for a living: Joe the bus driver, Samantha the lawyer, Mustapha the artist, Anita the web designer. Quite often, we settle into that identity and wear it like a cloak. It protects us from having to dig too deep and do the work required to find out who we REALLY are, and what we really want to achieve; stuff we don’t even dare to dream about as we just couldn’t hack the disappointment if it didn’t work out. Or, possibly, it’s easier to stay hidden under that cloak than it is to do the work  necessary in order to attain that dream. Remove that label, remove that cloak, and suddenly we are naked to the world; we are left wondering who on earth we really are and what it is that we really want from life. For some, it is utterly terrifying to face up to the realisation that a life lived on the consumerist conveyorbelt is in fact an empty life; a life devoid of true meaning and intent.

In addition to the above, we are living in uncertain times. Every day there are new statistics and directives to process. We don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Uncertainty abounds.

Without going to work, or having had our work taken from us, we cannot use ‘throwing ourselves into our work’ as a coping strategy. It’s a coping strategy that can dull the pain and confusion until we are finally ready to process it. A bit like ‘flattening the curve’ I guess. This coping strategy has, without prior warning, been taken away from many of us. We are therefore left with no option but to deal with it and process it NOW.

We are living with uncertainty, and that is exhausting.

Having lived on the road for eight years, I know first hand how utterly exhausting it can be to live with uncertainty. The energy it saps from your body is phenomenal, and there is no comfortable routine to settle in to and let the brain coast on auto-pilot for a while. Our brains are now ‘always on,’ coming to terms with who we really are and what we really want in life.

Is it any wonder that we need a nap?

Is it any wonder that we need to spend time sat doing nothing, that we need to give our tired minds a rest as we try and distract ourselves with funny memes or a hilarious classic Muppets sketch?

Quite simply, I think it’s amazing that some of us manage to get up, get dressed, feed ourselves, and keep ourselves clean at the moment. If you are managing that, you’re winning this game. And if you’re not, aim low and see if you can get those basics nailed before moving on to the bigger stuff.

If you’re one of those people who is springing out of bed every morning, doing your meditation regularly, learning a new language, cooking up a storm in the kitchen, decorating the spare room, and have all your admin done and up to date, then I salute you. I’m also rather envious of you.

If you’re one of those people who intends to get up at 7.00am but slept in this morning till 9.30, spends way too long on YouTube watching gardening, cookery, and model railway videos, finds yourself talking on the phone for the best part of two hours a day, and gets to the end of each day realising that the only thing you did on your ‘to-do’ list was the washing up, I see you.

I see you, because that’s me.

With everything that’s going on right now, on a personal scale and on a global scale, let me tell you this straight:

It’s OK to do nothing.