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How to reset your routine, keep your energy up, and stay motivated while social distancing

The world may have come to a stop, but our need to live a productive life hasn’t.

A woman journals in bed.  Cropped at woman's neck.
A woman journals in bed. Cropped at woman's neck.Read moreGetty Images/iStockphoto

My first week of coronavirus social distancing was all over the place.

With no early-morning yoga, I slept in. When I finally shuffled into the living room — still wearing my pjs, — I plopped onto my couch and turned on the news. Within seconds my heart was racing as I caught up on how bad things really were. So I changed the channel (Hello, Netflix), nestled into my couch, answered emails, chatted with editors, banged out a few stories on the laptop, and snacked.

Somewhere around Thursday morning, I realized that my life couldn’t continue like this indefinitely. I had to make changes.

The world may have come to a stop, but our need to live a productive life hasn’t. “The game of life is on pause right now,” said Heather Coletti, an adjunct professor of philosophy at Villanova University. Let’s face it: Many of us were overbooked and overtaxed pre-pandemic. “Now that the marathon has been suspended, it would be a mistake if we didn’t take advantage of this global reset."

Experts say with our newfound focus, there is a good chance we will be productive through what promises to be a long haul. And who knows, we may end this time better than we started it. Here are some strategies to get you started:

Marie Kondo your activities

It’s a good time to reflect on what you have to do, want to do, and why, and drop those things that no longer bring you joy. Patrick Porter, author of Thrive in Overdrive: How To Navigate Your Overloaded Lifestyle and CEO of BrainTap, a North Carolina-based company that marries technology with wellness, suggests we start our days in quarantine getting crystal clear on what we need to live a fulfilling life. “It’s a great time to meditate or journal,” Porter said.

Use your extra time to start something new

Without the work commute and the weekend play dates, we all have more hours in our lives right now. Think about the things that you always wanted to do, like start a meditation practice, learn a new language, or start a business. “Use this time to live in the moment,” said Suzann Pileggi Pawelski, a Philadelphia-based wellness expert and author of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. Think about all the things you can start doing, instead of everything that you have to stop doing.

Be mindful about how you structure your day

Take the time to be the architect of your day. Write down a schedule and stick to it, says Natalie Nixon, a Philadelphia creativity strategist, president of Figure 8 Thinking, and author of Strategic Design Thinking: Innovation in Products Services and Beyond. The key, Nixon says, is to prioritize. If you work best in the morning, schedule your most important tasks then and power through them. Try to work at a clutter-free desk. (That means no logging in on the couch.)

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Don’t just take breaks, schedule them

It’s important to take breaks. “This is a time for us to create new work rituals,” Nixon said. Maybe you stop and do 20 jumping jacks. Perhaps you walk to the kitchen for a snack. Or skim a magazine you have yet to get to. Nixon likes to work in 40-minute spurts, followed by a 5 to 10 minute break. The key, Nixon says, is to walk away from the work area and stretch those legs. And give yourself permission to let your mind wander. “Our most creative ideas come when we let our minds go," Nixon said. Also, Porter added, make sure you exercise 20 to 30 minutes a day.

Be consistent with your sleep

If you stay in bed longer and stay up later, you are wreaking havoc on your body clock, Porter said. And when we do return to our offices, it can take days or even weeks to readjust. To stay productive, be deliberate about getting a full 6 to 8 hours of sleep. Don’t stare at your devices before you go to bed or as soon as you get up. If you have trouble dozing off because of anxiety, try a relaxation app like Calm or BrainTap. And when the alarm goes off, don’t hit snooze. Shower, get dressed — as in lose the pjs — and start your day.

Maintain your social life

You might not want to go to virtual happy hour every day — although all bets are off on Fridays — but it’s important to stay in touch with friends and work buds. “Not only is it important to bounce ideas off each other, but in these uncertain times, we need support," Pawelski said. Our relationships are an important part of keeping our lives normal right now. Our friends can also serve as accountability partners, Nixon says. They will help you socialize, but also help you make sure you do what you need to get done.

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Try to limit screen time

Television can raise stress levels and dull the senses, Coletti said. It’s important now to try to turn off the TV, computers and smartphones and just listen to your thoughts. And, Pawelski added, use the time to get creative. (I like to color.) Pawelski suggests activities like baking cookies with the kids, putting together puzzles or working on science projects. “This is a good time to find out what your kids interests are and let those interests fill your free time.”

Be kind to yourself

Remember, Coletti said, we’ve never seen a pandemic of this proportion in modern times. It is stressful. There are going to be days when we’re going to sleep in, work straight through without breaks, and stay up until 3 a.m. Netflixin’. And that’s OK. “The best thing we can do is forgive ourselves when we stumble, accept this as our new normal, and treat each other — and ourselves — with grace.”