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Your coronavirus sabbatical starts now. Don't let it go to waste | Opinion

All over the world those who care about their health are hunkering down at home. In other circumstances, this might be a boon, an unexpected opportunity to chill-out rather than set off for yet another day in the frantically-paced 21st century. But when you are looking at weeks, maybe months of this, you do start to ask: how on earth am I going to fill my time? I have a few ideas …

Set goals

Start by thinking of the range of things you would like to do: from tidying out the junk drawer in your kitchen to repainting your dining chairs to reading À la Recherche du Temps Perdu or starting to write your own novel. Put each idea on a spreadsheet, scoring them 1 to 5 by such factors as practicality, seriousness of intent, length of time needed, possibility of completing the task alone and so on. You might have 30 possible projects but once you’ve put them through your filter, about five would be a good total. Goals should be achievable, maybe not easily, but you don’t want to set out for something so gargantuan that failure is inevitable.

For while it’s good to come up with self-improving ideas for your coronavirus sabbatical, you need to keep in mind self-compassion too. Don’t beat yourself up over this. It’s not a competition. This is a difficult time for everyone; don’t make it any harder.

Use a schedule

If you are continuing to do your job from home, be up and showered at your usual time; don’t stay in pyjamas or work from bed. You want to stay sharp and focused. If your time is your own, you have more flexibility, but most people find that they get much more done if they set themselves a timetable with breaks every 45 minutes or so. It’s also a good idea to shuffle your tasks. After all, you have plenty of time, so you don’t have to finish everything before starting something new..

Get social

Some projects could entail working with others remotely. Learning a language for example. A friend or tutor might agree to have language lessons with you by phone. You could move your book group online, or you could start a new, smaller one with the specific aim of reading positive, encouraging texts; no more Handmaid’s Tale for you.

You might even come up with a new business idea. One friend of mine Suzanne Noble has a hit with her Corona Concerts on Facebook, which she started when her London gigs as a blues singer were cancelled.

Staying in contact with others is key. As therapist Mark Bailey wrote on welldoing.org, “We are social beings and we need interaction to be psychologically healthy. Facetime and Skype are frankly godsends in these times so use them – not just for work but for friends, acquaintances and family. Focus conversation on other things in life, not just coronavirus!”

Move our body

If you are able to get out of your home and safely go for a walk or run, do just that. But, increasingly, that’s not encouraged. Use YouTube videos for exercise tips or yoga classes; haul out your skipping rope, run up your stairs. If you’ve got a standing desk, use that for some of the time.

If you can’t move about much, don’t spend too much time in your kitchen or you risk something less dangerous than coronavirus, but unpalatable all the same: packing on the pounds. Drinking lots of alcohol may also seem like a good idea at the outset, but it will soon have the same effect as the food.

Tidy up

All the irritating things in your life? Your messy desktop, unfiled documents, ancient bank statements, photos, schoolbooks: this is the time to deep clean your administrative life. Be brutal, go for the clean slate.

Your wardrobe too would probably benefit from the sort of critical analysis that large tranches of free time will afford. Follow the time-honoured advice of separate piles: throw out, recycle or charity, mend or clean, keep and wear.

Use your imagination

Spend some of your time creatively. What better time to get Harriet Griffey’s Write Every Day to kickstart creative writing? Or dare yourself to draw, even if you haven’t since you were 12. Or sew, or knit? Or write poetry?

Your might also imagine that this almost unbelievable health crisis is the beginning of something new. A kind of re-set, where we all give ourselves more time to reflect and ponder what life is all about, and how happy we are to actually be alive.

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