10 things to do while quarantined (during a pandemic)

by David Hartsough (2020-03-21)

Acknowledgement: I stole this idea from Spencer Greenberg's post on ClearerThinking.org. More on why I did this below.

  1. Stay informed. Listen to scientists and officials, such as the CDC, the WHO, and the local health authorities of your region. Focus on the applicable knowledge they offer, rather than the sensational drama of news. (And I'm sorry, but unless your friends and the people you follow are credible scientists, don't use their hearsay or social media posts as advice.) Look for valuable, credible resources. Ask friends and family if they have any resources that helped them learn more and better understand this pandemic.

    • Example: Watch a recent TED Talk by a global health expert (who has spent more than 20 years leading epidemiology efforts) to learn about effective ways of addressing this pandemic.
  2. Think. There are few things as powerful and as mind-altering as reflection and introspection. As you think about yourself (your life, your decisions, your future, etc.), strive to ask yourself questions you may have never thoroughly answered. Write down your questions and answers to see if you can gain new insights into yourself and your perspective, principles, and values. Ask friends and family if they've ever had a life-changing moment through introspection; ask them if they have any deep questions they love to ask or have been pondering themselves. Open a deep conversation with friends and ask them to explore answers to big questions about themselves. (If you do any of this, please share and discuss it with me. This is my favorite of all things in life.)

  3. Talk. Call, video chat, email, or write friends and family. Maybe there's someone you haven't reached out to in awhile but they still mean a lot to you. Let the people you love in life know that you're thinking of them. Ask them good questions to learn more about their current lives. What are they focused on lately? What are their main concerns? What goals have they recently set? (Pro tip: While you're on a phone or video call, you can still hold discussions over dinner, drinks, or whatever you might normally do while having your best conversations with friends.)

    • Example: Schedule weekly virtual hangouts with your friends.
  4. Cook. Try exploring new meals, cuisines, and culinary experiences. Now that you probably have more time to make and eat a meal, take the extra time to truly enjoy a special dish. Have you ever made sushi, enchiladas, paneer tikka masala, lasagne, pho, kapsa, coq au vin, æbleskiver, nyama choma with pilau kuku, hot pot, empanadas, aloo gobi, paella, okonomiyaki, …? Since you can't go to your go-to restaurant right now, try to see if you can recreate your favorite dish (and get a newfound sense of appreciation for it in the process). Ask friends and family what meals they love to cook and if they have any secret recipes.

    • Example: Try inventing an entirely new meal with whatever ingredients you can find in your kitchen.
  5. Move. I'm talking yoga, stretches, dancing in your socks on the kitchen floor and down the hallway, push-ups, squats, lunges, step-ups, pull-ups, dips, planks, throwing balls at people and pets, burpees, kicks, jacks, raises, swings, jumps, running, and definitely shake weights. (Oh, I meant to say "throwing soft balls to people and pets".) Ask friends and family what they're doing to stay physically active. Maybe ask them to go on virtual walks with you.

    • Example: Create a fitness or exercise routine for home.
  6. Read. You know you have a book you've always wanted to read. Or, if you actually don't, see if any of these acclaimed non-fiction books strike your fancy. Ask your friends and family what they're reading and if they have any recommendations. (Start a book club?) Also, consider the fact that reading doesn't necessarily mean picking up a book. There are amazing writers with free "novellas", so to say, that are all online. (I'm not talking about clickbait articles.)

  7. Learn. Life has an unlimited supply of things to learn! Learn how to write and speak a new language, how to play an instrument, how to play a game or sport, how to create in a visual, written, or audio artform, how to code and program, how to cook, how to garden, how to meditate, how to do sick tricks on a pogostick… Learn the theory of physics, music, logic, economics, biology, film, chemistry, culinary, psychology, etc. Dive deeper into a topic you already feel knowledgeable in. Ask your friends and family what new things they've been learning about lately.

    • Example: Set a goal to learn something new through daily research, experience, or practice.
  8. Create. Do a project. (Got one you've thought through but never got around to?) Projects give us a sense of meaning, engagement, and accomplishment in life. (That's 3 of the 5 ingredients of "flourishing" according to Martin E. P. Seligman's theory of well-being.) By projects, I just mean the "creations" we work on. This could mean nearly anything: a song, comic, short story, poem, photograph, video, garden, dance, drawing, website, illustration, recipe, graphic novel, etc. Perhaps you want to deliberately practice and improve a skill you are proficient with in order to gain more expertise and mastery. Hone your craft. Create something new! Ask friends and family if you can share it with them.

    • Example: Create a terrarium ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  9. Play. Games are arguably one of the best bonding experiences for people, and besides boosting social connection and encouraging positive social interaction, games are great for our psychological well-being. Clinical studies show that "online games can outperform pharmaceuticals for treating clinical anxiety and depression. Just 30 minutes of online game play a day is enough to create dramatic boosts in mood and long-term increases in happiness." [Source] When done well, playing games can improve our collaboration, cooperation, confidence, grit, urgent optimism, self-motivation, logic, and rational problem solving. Not to mention that it's also just hella fun to experience the wild world of online, virtual realities with your mates. So ask your friends and family to play a game with you online, either in a video game or on a video call.

    • Example: Play your favorite card or board game over a video call or in a tabletop simulator.
  10. Listen to music. Psychologically speaking, music has a profound effect on your mood and mind in general. Explore music and all that you can feel with it: nostalgia, longing, wanderlust, wishfulness, excitement, positivity, frustration, empowerment, contentment, etc. Ask friends and family to send you their favorite artists, albums, and songs. Aren't you kinda bummed out by the fact that you can never listen to all the music that's ever been made (or ever will be made)? (This goes for all art forms and mediums and for information and knowledge — it's impossible to experience it all.) Might as well take this time to experience a fraction of some of the beautiful things humans have created. Please, play some phat, phunky tunes and jams; bump some big bangers and beats.

    • Example: Exchange "quarantine mixtapes", CDs, and playlists with friends.

Why did you write this?

Great question. You know I don't like that the internet is polluted with "lists", so I am almost ashamed that I have now contributed to that. But I feel my reasons are genuine.

I realized that by creating my own list of ideas for what to do while quarantined at home, I was actually exploring ideas on what I believe are reasonable and useful ways to spend our time in general. One of my biggest fears in life is "untapped potential" — to not fully achieve, realize, and actualize one's potential. Day-to-day, this means that I constantly assess the way I spend my time with opportunity-cost evaluations. I see the worst case scenario of "untapped potential" as the person who goes to work every day to a job that they don't love, care about, or feel engaged in only to then come home and just watch TV until falling asleep. That life seems like the ultimate slap in the face of human potential.

So while I was imagining the majority of humanity being stuck at home and trying to decide what to do with themselves, I felt my fears and my hopes for humanity a-burnin'. I want to help humanity embrace its potential, instead of neglecting it. And as for my friends and family: I just don't want you all to just shut your brains off and consume unavailing content — whether that's watching trendy videos, streaming shows, or "reading" social media and clickbait articles. Please don't waste your time, your life, and your amazing mind. If an activity can be described as mindless (*cough cough* binging TV), then we ought to consider how much of our time (life/lifetime) we should spend doing it and not using the incredible potential of our minds. (If you wanna see a breakdown of how you spend your lifetime, check out this lil' Lifetime Calculator I made.)

We shouldn't take our own personal potential for granted; instead we should take it rather seriously and should do the best we can with what we have. (And boyo do we have something special! Have you seen what humans and their minds are capable of?!) Let's not let our tremendous potential go to waste.

Together, these ideas shape my motivations to write this and talk about how we all should spend our time. I want to explore and evaluate our options and understand how we can actively achieve actualization.

Soon I'll write another think-piece on this and follow up these thoughts with something broader and more universal in scope than just a list of things to do during this pandemic.

Stay tuned. Stay sweet.