4 Tips For Staying Sane And Productive While Unemployed

2010 January 18

Today, kids, we’re going to talk about being unemployed. You’ve all heard the conventional wisdom about the need to get dressed every day, not sleep in until noon and to apply to positions as if it were your job (which it kinda is). And while I’m not going to dispute the idea that watching Judge Judy in your pajamas with a wine cooler (or three) in hand is a less than stellar choice, I assume you already know this. And you can assume that I already know that unemployment is an absolutely dire state for many people, especially for those with heavy debt loads, mortgages, mouths to feed, etc. Pith isn’t what these folks need. No, my advice is aimed squarely at those of you who have the relative luxury (and it is, even if it doesn’t feel like one) of being able to go without a job for a month or two and not start panicking about having to live in a refrigerator box under the Brooklyn Bridge. Maybe you received a severance package, maybe you’re getting employment insurance, maybe you have a partner who can shoulder the full load in the interim or maybe you’ve just been very careful about your savings until this point and know that you can squeak by until your next gig. This isn’t advice on how to find said gig, but how to use the time that you have at your disposal in the most constructive (or least anxiety-inducing) manner possible.

Photo by John McNab

Get a routine going

Unstructured days that just blur together will seem like an energy-sapping eternity. Impose some order and focus, even if it feels artificial. Get up and go to bed at a consistent hour. Determine a specific period of the day when you’ll conduct your job search. And when that time is up? Back away from the computer and call it quits until tomorrow. Don’t let job hunting be a 24/7 albatross around your neck. Devote a defined period of time to it, buckle down and ignore all distractions and then shelve it until next time. Get outside once a day (even if it’s a walk around the block). Give yourself an hour or two for email, IMing with friends or catching up on football scores. Etc, etc. The point is to structure/fill your time and cut down on the possibility of staring off into space for hours on end thinking about the worst case scenario (What’s the going black market rate for a kidney these days?) or berating yourself for not having landed a new opportunity within hours of being pink-slipped.

Start checking items off your bucket list

Use this time to work on projects that you’ve always wanted to tackle, but have never had the time to address. Unless you win the lottery or retire early, free time is going to be a very precious commodity during your working life (especially if you have a family), so use this block of it to your best advantage. Sure, backpacking across Europe might not be in the financial cards, but what about teaching yourself Photoshop, learning how to make sushi, brushing up on your high school Spanish? In this case, there’s no time like your unoccupied present.

Take stock and focus on course corrections as necessary

Maybe you’re totally happy with your particular field and it’s just a matter of looking for a replacement job for your former position. But if you’re questioning your career choices or have realized that you want to make a change, use this time to figure out your options. Research industries or alternate careers of interest to you, think about your most and least favorite aspects of previous jobs, get professional input (look into whether hiring a resume writer would be a worthy investment, for example) as needed, with the goal of figuring out where you want to go and what it would take to get there. Does it require going back to school, moving to another city with more opportunities or simply reframing your resume for a new industry? Do this now when you have little to nothing to lose, because I guarantee that once you’re re-employed, making a big shake-up will once again seem like a risk you don’t think you can afford.

Do not feel guilty

You did not lose your job because you’re a bad person* and you shouldn’t treat being unemployed as some deserved punitive state in which you live in self-imposed misery as a means of reprimanding yourself for having the gall to have been downsized. You are not a loser and taking up permanent residence on your couch, refusing to venture out to see friends and family and telling yourself that you’re never going to find meaningful work isn’t productive, helpful or remotely compassionate. You shouldn’t feel guilty for focusing on yourself while you’re unemployed, for taking time to learn new skills, read more books, get out in the fresh air and/or re-evaluate your career path. Self loathing and guilt are terrible motivators and aren’t going to get you back into the labor force any faster. In fact, wallowing in ’em will just make the days seem even longer and more empty.

*Unless you were fired for harassing your coworkers or embezzling, in which case, you probably are a bad person.

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