• Spencer Greenberg

40 meaningful things to do when stuck at home in a pandemic.


In the coming weeks and months, the COVID-19 pandemic may cause you to spend a lot more time at home than you are used to. It can be challenging to spend so much time at home, and to avoid being physically close to others, especially if you’re experiencing more anxiety than usual or if you can’t stick to your regular work routine. So what meaningful things can you do during that time? Here's our list of 40 meaningful activities you can do (that are free or only of modest cost) when you’re self-isolating at home or stuck in quarantine. This could be your chance to revisit old friendships online, focus on important things you don't usually think about, or finish a project that you’ve been putting off for too long!

  1. Follow the advice of the CDC and the WHO (and the local health authority in your region) on how to stay safe and how to keep others safe in a pandemic. Make sure your friends and family members have this information as well.

  2. Read one of the great classics of literature that you've never gotten around to reading for free on Project Gutenberg. Alternately, find a book you own that you’ve never read, reread a novel that influenced you a lot earlier in your life, or read an acclaimed non-fiction book, to learn more about the world or about what makes humans tick. You can also suggest to friends that they read it as well, and set up a virtual book club.

  3. Answer "Life-Changing Questions" to gain new insights about yourself and your goals (you can do these solo, with people you live with, or using the built-in "pen-pal" mode where you do it with others asynchronously and get to see each other's answers).

  4. Text, email, or call someone you haven't talked to in months or years to see how they are doing, and tell them you are thinking of them. If there’s someone who did something you are particularly grateful for, you could even write them a "gratitude letter" expressing heartfelt thanks using this template.

  5. Watch one of the greatest films of all time (based on average watcher ratings) that you never got around to seeing, or rewatch one of your favorite movies of all time. You can stream movies on Amazon, Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, and other services.

  6. Order extra of any medications you use, and stock up on long-lasting food and supplies that you use regularly. You could also use this as an opportunity to practice your cooking skills using simple ingredients. Get inspiration from survival cookbooks like this one.

  7. Schedule a regular video call (e.g., once per week or once per month) with one or more of your best friends using Google Hangouts, Skype, or Facetime. That way you stay in close contact through what might be a very socially isolating time.

  8. Make a timeline of the most important events in your life (i.e., create a history of your life) using this template. Or make a list of the most amazing or memorable or surprising things that happened to you in your life, jotting down a few key elements from each story so you never forget them. You could also use this time to make a photo album of your life over the last few years, and get it printed as a book to keep on your bookshelf.

  9. Use our free tool, Daily Ritual: A Habit Creation System, to start a new productive habit, perhaps practising one of the activities on this list every day!

  10. Call your family members and friends that are older or at greater risk (e.g., due to being immunocompromised or having health conditions). Ask how they are doing, make sure they have items and medications they need, and confirm that they know how to prepare to stay safe during the pandemic.

  11. Create a fitness or exercise routine that you can do at home without any equipment, and set a weekly schedule for when you plan on working out using it. You can find workout routines here and here, try the hundred push-ups challenge, or search on YouTube for specific tutorials in disciplines like yoga. Remember that it's important to begin slowly with any new type of exercise (and gradually build up difficulty) so as to avoid injury.

  12. Use our free tool, Design Your Own Self-Experiment, to conduct an experiment on a specific area of your life to see if you can make an improvement. Alternatively, you can try to “program” yourself to follow simple “if-then” rules designed to improve your relationships, health, and thinking.

  13. If you’re feeling creative, write a short story, a poem, or a graphic novel, and share it with someone you know. Use it as an exercise to identify what you enjoy about these mediums, or to express a memory or story that’s meaningful to you, or just to let your imagination run wild.

  14. If you're feeling anxious, depressed, or upset (whether in response to the pandemic, or other factors in your life), address those feelings proactively by telling a friend about them, or using an online therapy service to find a remote therapist. You could also try UpLift for depression (works best on iPhone) or MindEase for anxiety (works well on both Android and iPhone), made by our sister organizations.

  15. Take some time to set goals and intentions for the rest of the year. You could use our free programs Lifetime Aspirations and the Goal Trainer to do this, or download the free booklet by YearCompass which walks you through your previous year and helps you plan the next.

  16. Start paying more attention to subtle things about yourself and your behavior that you don't normally notice, like what things prompt pleasant or unpleasant feelings, or what patterns you fall into with your interactions with others. You can use the prompts in this blog post to get you started and note down any conclusions you come to.

  17. Listen to an intellectual podcast that you can learn a lot from. If you find one you really like, go download all the back episodes. Here are some idea filled podcasts that some members of our team particularly enjoy: Rationally Speaking, Planet Money, Mindscape, The Portal, This American Life, 80,000 Hours, By the Book, Econ Talk, The Dream, Hardcore History, Oh No Ross & Carrie.

  18. Pick a situation or problem in your life that has been making you unhappy for a long time, and work on it using the EARR framework for harmful situations or by following the 6 steps outlined in this blog post.

  19. Take the "Stand Against Corona" pledge, and then share it with others. By doing so, you may literally save people's lives!

  20. Start a group chat (e.g., via WhatsApp) with a group of close friends or family members, and use it to share interesting or humorous things with each other, life updates, and important new information about the pandemic

  21. Create or join a virtual world and invite friends to hang out there with you. You can do this on Hubs by Mozilla, Second Life, AltspaceVR (for use with VR headsets), or Meshmoon.

  22. Create an "advanced healthcare directive" or "living will", which specifies very important information about your end-of-life desires (e.g., what medical treatment you would or would not want, and how medical decisions should be made if you are unconscious). Even though it's highly unlikely you will need one any time soon, creating one is still a great idea because it helps ensure that your wishes are met, and it can take a huge burden off your loved ones by removing difficult choices about what your preferences would be. If you create a living will, make sure that your loved ones know that it exists, and where they can find it. Read more about creating one here, here, and here. While you're at it, it may be a good idea to create a "last will and testament" as well (which specifies what you want to happen to your property), which you can read about here, here, and here. As with any legal decision, it's best to consult an experienced lawyer to help you draft an advanced directive or will to satisfy your exact needs. But making your own using an online service is preferable to having none at all, and can be a reasonable interim solution before later hiring a lawyer to help.

  23. Train yourself in the most useful keyboard shortcuts to make your use of your computer faster and more efficient (see this blog post for tips). Similarly, improve your ability to type by competing with others on Typeracer or by using these free lessons (check out these apps if you want to improve your typing speed on your phone).

  24. Discover songs you may love that you haven't heard before using Musicroamer or by making collaborative playlists with friends. If you have a Spotify account, check out the “Made for you” section which creates daily mixes based on the songs you’re already listening to.

  25. Ponder (or write down your thoughts about) what you think is true about some of the deepest mysteries about life, the universe, and everything. Use the prompts from this blog post to get started.

  26. Find a way to volunteer to help the efforts in fighting the pandemic. This could involve tapping into your local mutual aid networks to see how people in your area could use your help (search for them on social media with the hashtag #mutualaid, or call neighbours or friends in your area), or donating to established organizations that need funds. Find out what sorts of support people need, and try to help them get it! If you are in a stable position it's a wonderful thing to start reaching out and helping others. There are new resources popping up all the time, like this handbook of ways you can help with coronavirus and this list of volunteer projects.

  27. Reorganize the objects in your home and optimize your space, whether that’s by discarding things you don’t use or coming up with innovative storage solutions. Check out this blog post on the topic for tips!

  28. Design a plan to sleep better by trying out our new free tool, 40 Winks: Better Sleep Made Easy.

  29. Start a daily meditation practice. Studies suggest that for many people meditation can reduce stress and improve focus. Try starting with this guide or try the Waking Up app.

  30. Order one of the highest rated or most interesting board games of all time from this list and play it with the people you live with. For something more creative and less competitive, check out The Quiet Year, a map game which involves helping a community recover from collapse.

  31. Learn what beliefs, principles, behaviors, and experiences are most deeply valuable to you using our free tool, The Intrinsic Values Test, and think about whether your actions reflect these values. How could you live better by them?

  32. Spend time practising a skill you value that you've dabbled with in the past (or have always wanted to try). This could be playing an instrument, learning a language on Duolingo, painting, singing, drawing, crocheting, or taking a class in an interesting subject. There are numerous online classes from recognised institutions covering hundreds of topics which can be taken on edX, Coursera, or by searching on university websites.

  33. Enhance your critical thinking by using our free tools to learn how to detect weak arguments and rhetorical fallacies, evaluate evidence, and make accurate predictions.

  34. Sit down with one of the people you live with, and work together to come up with a list of 10 ways you are similar, and 10 ways you are different, to deepen your understanding of each other. Now is a great time to deepen your relationships with the people you share a home with!

  35. Pick a big life decision you have coming up (something that you’ll be able to do once the pandemic is over) and take the time to think it through carefully with our free Decision Advisor tool.

  36. Research a topic of interest to you, or spend some time thinking about a topic of interest, and then write a blog post or social media post with the most important information you learned, or the thoughts you had about that topic that you think others might find most valuable.

  37. Pick an academic field you find interesting, and go read some of the most highly cited papers in that field to learn about some of the most important questions that field is grappling with. Use these tips to find out which papers are highly influential in their respective fields.

  38. Learn the basics of computer programming using Code Academy or Code Combat.

  39. Watch a movie or TV show at the same time as a friend and then discuss it after. There are various services that are designed to allow you to watch movies in sync from different locations, including Netflix Party and Watch Together, or you can “screen share” on Skype or Google Hangouts.

  40. Finally, consider what projects you have thought about doing for a long time, but never got around to it. If it doesn't involve leaving your home, maybe now's the time to start!

We hope that you find this list of meaningful activities helpful, and that you and your loved ones are staying safe during these times of uncertainty! If you think others would benefit from this list, feel free to share this blog post with them, or share it on social media.

The Clearer Thinking Team

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