As humans, we’re creatures of habit. Our bodies crave routine. For most of us, that routine is determined by our work. Most of us wake up, go to work, get home from work, eat our meals and go to bed roughly at a set time everyday. And that’s all well and good, but what happens when that’s suddenly taken away from you, mostly through unemployment? Pandemonium. (cue Kevin from Home Alone). Sadly, that’s often the first thing to catch us completely off guard when we become unemployed, but the last thing you’ll hear anyone talk about.
When Pavi quit her job back in 2012 to move to another country with her husband, she had no plan. She felt refreshed just by the idea of being in a new place thinking that it would be this new adventure. Kinda like Eat.Pray.Love … except it ended up being more Eat.Sleep.Die. The fact that she couldn’t find a job really pushed her to such a negative place where she questioned herself and her abilities and she went into depression. She had no routine, ate badly, lost a lot of weight, didn’t exercise, slept in and stayed in bed, hoping the day would be over and didn’t care to meet people.
I knew that scenario all too well myself. The last time I was unemployed was when I’d quit my corporate job because I wanted to do something more meaningful with my career. But I had no idea how the sudden lack of routine and human contact would affect me. It got bad, like “watching Netflix all day on the couch for weeks on end” bad. And you best believe no amount of Titus Andromedon can get you out of that funk!
I felt paralyzed for a while because I knew I had so much to do, but I just couldn’t get started. When I met people, they’d commend me on how brave I’d been to be able to just quit my job and they’d expect me to be doing all these fabulous things with my time, but inside I was just one big lump of self-loathing. I felt like a fraud because I knew I wasn’t actually handling this phase all that well.
Eventually, though, we did learn from our mistakes and implemented a few things that helped us cope. These are a few lessons we learned.
Hack #1: Structure your day like a work day
This is applicable to anyone who doesn’t have a traditional 9-5 job, whether you’re unemployed, an entrepreneur, or a freelancer. Because a lack of structure can wreak so much havoc, the first thing you have to do is train yourself to conform to an almost robotic routine like you would if you were going into an office. This includes waking up early, taking a shower, and getting ready like you’re going to work. Even if you have nowhere to go, the practice of getting out of your PJ’s will put you in a completely different mindset. Make yourself a good breakfast and a cup of coffee or your beverage of choice and plan out your day before you actually sit down to work. Think about 3 things you want to accomplish that day and write them down. Do this before you check your email, because once you log on to your computer, you will go down a rabbit hole, so it’s important to first have a plan.
Of course, it’s not always easy to stick to a routine, but be brutally honest with yourself and know your tendencies. If turning on the TV, going on social media, or setting foot in the kitchen is a death sentence for your productivity, get out now! Sit at a cafe, library, or any sort of distraction-free space where you can regain your focus. For a more permanent solution, you can even find a coworking space.
Hack #2: Plan out your meals ahead of time
Everyone needs to eat, and chances are if you’re unemployed and saving money, you’re not eating all your meals outside. If you love food and you’re anything like me, you’ll likely spend all day in the kitchen, so bye bye productivity. Even if you’re not a foodie, just having to think about what to eat a few times a day can waste a lot of time. One way to get around that? Meal prep!
Whether you’re cooking big batches of food over the weekend to last you the entire week or cooking a few times a week, it helps to plan out your meals a few days or the night before. This way, you avoid paralysis by analysis as you stare into the abyss that is your refrigerator.
Hack #3: Human contact
Whether you like your coworkers or not, people are a part of your daily routine at the workplace. Going from that environment to becoming unemployed and seeing no one at all during the day can suddenly feel very isolating and is a shock to the system. What’s worse - when you’re unemployed, you tend to feel a lot of negative emotion like shame, guilt, or anger, and you tend to further isolate yourself. But that can get depressing and even counterproductive.
Getting out and having some human contact helps elevate your mood and instills a sense of normalcy. Whether it’s seeing people at the gym, taking a class, or going to happy hour, reward yourself with some human interaction after a productive day of working on your job search or career development goals.
The first few days/weeks after becoming unemployed are crucial - this is when you need to formulate your job search strategy. Structuring your day the right way will help boost your productivity and keep you in the right state of mind … after that, success is inevitable.