If you’re lucky enough to have a job that lets you shelter in place while you work, here are some ways to stay productive in your downtime.
Written By, Lauren Goode, Wired, Apple News, 3.25.20
So you’re stuck at home. Let’s assume, for a brief moment of Best Case Scenario, that’s the worst of your problems—that you’re otherwise healthy, just in self-imposed isolation for the foreseeable future while the world tries to stop the spread of Covid-19. You or your family are somehow holding it together; occasionally you have a short reprieve from keeping your kids occupied; and you’ve already cleaned your home or apartment top to bottom.
Now might be a good time to reset and address some of the personal-life projects you’ve been putting off. It’s one of a few ways to stave off anxiety, feel less stressed about your personal affairs, build community, and maybe even learn a thing or two.
This doesn’t mean you have to develop new methods of mathematics or pen Shakespearean masterpieces; it’s annoying, truly, that a modern society so intent on maximizing human output would default to these suggestions during a pandemic. And a little mental break in the form of Netflix or TikTok is justified when the lines between work and personal life have become so blurred and the news is mostly bad. But there are some small things you can do that might help temporarily void feelings of existential despair.
Do Your Taxes
Just kidding, it’s miserable to lead with that one. But we’ll come back to that. You’re going to have to do it eventually, even if the US deadline for federal tax filings has been pushed.
Smash That Unsubscribe Button
Back when life was normal, you opted into emails from barre studios, your kindergarten alma mater, custom woodworking shops, and every newsletter known to man. Now your inbox is a dumpster fire, only made more evident by the many letters of notice being sent out about how businesses are responding to coronavirus. Time to unsubscribe.
There are apps that offer to unsubscribe you from emails in bulk, but I’ve found the best way to tackle this is to just do it one by one. Look for the Unsubscribe option that often appears in minuscule text near the footer of an email. Frequently, clicking on that will kick you out to another web page and require you to check “Unsubscribe” again. Gmail and Outlook also offer List-Unsubscribe options in the header of emails; Google says it does some “extra stuff” when you use this option, including automatically moving emails from that sender to spam for 30 days, since it may take time for the sender to remove you from their list.
What’s frustrating is that, even with those measures, you might still get unwanted marketing emails for a while. Some businesses, like clothing retailer Reformation, have continued to send me emails weeks after I first clicked Unsubscribe. But doing this should eventually put you on the path to a more organized inbox, one that prioritizes personal emails, important news alerts, and updates from services you care about.
Organize Your Photos
The coronavirus generation might not have boxes of physical photos to sort through someday, but a lot of us still have photographic relics from a previous era. Now’s a good time to open those boxes, scan your photos, and store them in the cloud.
The WIRED Gear writers are fans of PhotoScan by Google Photos, a free app from Google that works on both iPhones and Android phones. The app does a remarkable job of helping you line up and frame photos and eliminating glare from glossy printouts. And it auto-shares the resulting image to both your phone’s camera roll and the Google Photos app. Bonus: If your child is old enough to play games or snap their own selfies with your phone, they might be fantastic little helpers with this project.
Wear Out Your Kindle
We all have those friends who post their end-of-year reading lists, comprised of the dozen (or 15!) books they’ve managed to read that year. This is your chance to join the club, and also, to get off Twitter for a short period. WIRED writers and editors have compiled several great book lists for you to consider, including this list of 13 must-read books for spring and 12 science books you should read right now. (Along with my colleague Megan Molteni, I can personally recommend the top item on the list, Inheritance, by Dani Shapiro.). If you’re not able to browse the shelves of your local bookstore—and many of us are not right now—you can download these to your Kindle or Kindle app.
Of course, you might not want to spend more money than you need to on Amazon at this moment. That’s why it’s worth looking into free digital copies through your local library; WIRED has a helpful guide for that here. You can also check out markets for secondhand books, like Thriftbooks, though customers have complained in the past that shipping can take a while and that the inventory shown on the website isn’t always what’s unavailable.
Become a Master Chef (in Your Own Kitchen)
Learn how to poach an egg. Bake some bread (if you can find flour and yeast). Create a signature drink. Start a family Chopped challenge with five ingredients or less. Make a stock bag and store it in your freezer. Use those food containers you received as a housewarming gift. Sharpen your knives. Clean up after yourself while you’re cooking, then clean again when you’re done. If you must, Instagram about it, and slap that “Stay Home” sticker on your story. After all, if you didn’t Instagram it, did it really happen?
… Then Make a Cookbook
If you’re really ambitious, you can take it a step further. Instead of sharing your coronavirus diet on social media, collaborate with friends (remotely) on an actual cookbook. Now is also a good time to reach out to family and ask for recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation—the meals you took for granted when we could all eat together, in person—and craft a family cookbook. Photobook platform Blurb offers a variety of photobook and trade book templates that are ideal for cookbooks, starting at $23 for a 24-page, 8- by 10-inch hardcover, and going up in price by page or template style from there. The company is also discounting orders by 35 percent through this Friday, March 27.
Call Your Friends and Family
That’s all I have to say about that.
Update Your Will
Yes, this is dark. But drafting a will or updating an existing one doesn’t have to be a morbid process, if you look at it as just another form of personal organization. That’s according to Allison Tait, a law professor who studies trusts, estates, and family law at the University of Richmond. “It’s a good idea for everybody to have a plan, and a good time to think about it,” Tait says. “There’s more free time in the day for many people, and the contextual circumstances of a global pandemic might certainly lead people to think about these things.”
First, you should know what makes something a legally binding document in your state. “If we’re talking about wills, all states have formalities for what we call traditional wills. But pretty much across the board it has to be in writing, it has to be signed by you, and usually you have to have two witnesses,” Tait says. Some states allow for handwritten wills or holographs, but there are even variations on that: In Virginia, where Tait teaches, the entire will would have to be in your handwriting, whereas other states recognize preprinted documents with a signature.
Online services like LegalZoom can be incredibly helpful for getting an understanding of what you should include in your will or what the standard provisions are, Tait says. (LegalZoom even provides a state-by-state guide for this.) But if you have the resources and the means, or if divvying up your assets might be particularly complicated, it might be worth it to consult a professional estate planner.
Do Your Taxes
The US federal tax-filing deadline has been pushed to July 15, 2020. Hooray! But you still shouldn’t wait. For one thing, your state tax deadline might still be in a couple of weeks. (Intuit has a helpful list of the states that have extended the filing deadline thus far.) Also, wouldn’t it be great to just get it out of the way?
As with estate planning, whether or not you go with brick-and-mortar or boutique tax prep, or use an online tool like TurboTax or H&R Block, likely depends on the complexity of your financials. “Let’s say you’re somebody that has to file in two states, or you have stock options or restricted stock units and you’re not sure how to account for that, or maybe your spouse has a side business,” says George Dimov, who runs an accounting firm in San Francisco. “Most of the clients we have are forced by the burden of the extremely complicated tax code in the US. We’re not doing W2-only returns here.” For millions of other Americans, online services will get the job done.
But don’t accidentally pay more than you have to: An investigative report from ProPublica last month revealed that more than 14 million people were tricked into paying for online tax software last year when they actually qualified for the IRS’s Free File option. TurboTax may be spamming your inbox, as it is certainly doing to mine, but don’t fall for it if you can file for free.
Contribute to Your Community’s Lists of Resources
Alright, enough death-and-taxes talk. You might not be able to attend meetups, host a neighborhood block party, or support local restaurants and cafés in person, but there’s a lot you can do from the comfort of your couch to help your community.
Nextdoor has morphed from an app filled with FUD and ever-present Ring ads to a place where neighbors are exchanging rolls of toilet paper, sharing job resources, and offering to go food shopping for senior citizens. Open-source communities on Facebook and Slack have been sharing design ideas and sourcing materials for masks for medical workers (though it’s important to point out that the efficacy of these designs is unknown in many cases). New Yorker writer Helen Rosner has been sharing links for merchandise from local restaurants, cafés, and bakeries that are in precarious situations right now; while in San Francisco, websites like SaveOurFaves let you buy gift certificates for future use. A pandemic is a terrifying thing, but as Rebecca Solnit wrote in A Paradise Built in Hell, our response to it gives us a glimpse of “who else we ourselves may be and what else our society could become.”