There’s One Key to Not Wasting a Day Off During the Pandemic

updated Oct 27, 2022
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Credit: Steffi Lynn

No matter when or how it occurs, it’s really nice to have a day “off.” In non-pandemic times, there were so many ways to make time off feel special, unique, a true break from your usual day-to-day routine.

Now, though, the options are far more limited. For those lucky enough to work from home, the only real difference between a work day and a non-work day is not having to do any work. Of course, for essential workers who have been reporting for duty through the past few months, time at home is still the ultimate benefit.

And with the unemployment rate skyrocketing, having a job to take a day off from is an unbelievable privilege. As someone who has experienced bouts of unemployment, I know that taking even an hour off from the hustle is stressful and often not even an option.

But it’s hard to shake the instinct of “I have to make the most of it and plan a trip/party/activity!” If you happen to find days or pockets of time to fill and don’t want to worry about how squandering them, hopefully, these ideas will come in handy for you, too. You still can make time off feel rewarding and special — it just requires a slight shift in attitude.

The key to an enjoyable day off during a time of increased social distancing is making a schedule

If you’re not a type-A planner like me, you may roll your eyes at seeing “enjoyable” and “schedule” in the same sentence. But hear me out. Two years ago, Folu Akinkuotu tweeted,

types of vacations I need

– a week to deep clean everything I own, twice

– a week to just sleep, then sleep some more

– a week where I don’t speak to anyone

– a week where I can cook constantly and never have to clean up

– 2-3 days where I don’t have to make any decisions

It’s true, vacations aren’t limited to globetrotting. They’re times away from “normal life” and offer the possibility to do things you wouldn’t “normally” do, things you never make time for, but either really want to or really need to do. They’re an additive, an enhancement to stereotypically “fun” things like picnics and board games, and brunches. Both can exist in the same category and even in the same day! You just need to plan for it.

The Three Main Categories for Day-Off Activities

The three main categories for day-off activities are relaxation, productivity, and pleasure. Depending on what you need from your vacation, you can include all three categories in one day, you can include just two, or you can pick several activities from the same category.

Obviously, if you are a caretaker, your entire day doesn’t belong to you — but the good news is that if you have children or people to take care of, a majority of these are easily done in pairs or as a group. In fact, they’re more fun done that way and give everyone something structured to look forward to.

First, though, you should divide your day into three chunks: morning, afternoon, and evening. They should be about 3-4 hours each, and conform to what your day looks like—for example, mine would be 9 a.m.-noon for the morning (I’m not a morning person, OK?), noon-4 p.m. for the afternoon, and 4 p.m.-9 p.m. for the evening. You can also reserve an hour or two of slush time (mine is from 9 p.m.-11 p.m.).

Back to the categories. Try to pick two (ish) activities from each category, or three total, and assign it to a chunk of your day. Choosing a lot more will make you feel overwhelmed, and choosing fewer is fine, depending on how time-consuming the activities are. Here are some sample activities for each category:

Relaxing activities

This is anything often coded as “lazy” or indulgent, which is what makes them so crucial to a good day off. Whichever you choose, spend a few hours doing it, and tell yourself that it’s your main focus and nothing else. If none of these appeal to you, then close your eyes and imagine what brings you peace or calm or just turns off the noise in your head for awhile.

  • Sleep in late
  • Nap
  • Listen to nature sounds or soothing music
  • People watch from your window or doorstep
  • Take a bath (this could also fall under the pleasure category)
  • Do something repetitive and relatively mindless, like drawing/doodling or knitting or painting with watercolors

Productive activities

If there’s something you need to do but never make the time to do it, this is your chance. Sandwich it between your relaxing and pleasure activity, and try to complete it as much as possible. If you already know the chore or task you’ve been avoiding, congratulations! You’re about to complete it. If not, here are a few thoughts.

  • Make any phone calls you’ve needed to, whether it’s catching up with friends or family, or making doctor’s appointments
  • Declutter a closet or area that needs your attention
  • Deep-clean an entire room of your home
  • Do laundry or iron/steam items (including hand-washing anything that needs it)
  • Rearrange your bookshelves/garage/junk drawer
  • Mend any rips or holes in clothing or items you’ve been meaning to
  • Get to inbox zero
  • Start or tend to a garden/plants

Pleasure activities

These are typically pretty straightforward, but the added wrinkle of social distancing makes them a little harder (or, at least, harder to feel fresh and exciting). But it’s not impossible! Just ask yourself, “What is it that I really want to do right now?” and it might surprise you how doable the answer is. Video chatting during any of these is optional, depending on how you feel about that whole thing.

  • Play or (learn how to play) a board game
  • Bake something delicious
  • Watch a movie you’ve been wanting to see, but dim the lights and make popcorn like you’re in a theater
  • Binge a new TV show (or rewatch one you love)
  • Read a book
  • Do a crossword or jigsaw puzzle
  • Build a pillow fort
  • Make a meal (or order takeout) and re-create the feel of your favorite restaurant

Stitch together the chunks and activities for your day, and you’ll be surprised at how much you’re looking forward to it. And if you care for other people full-time, imagine how much of a relief it will be to say, “This is what we’ll do” instead of facing down a whole day of ???. The picture of your day off is a lot clearer and more certain, and isn’t that what everyone needs right now?

Of course, many three-day weekends, including Memorial Day, are built around a holiday that is meant to be honored or observed versus filling it with fun diversions. Though visiting a cemetery or grave of a fallen soldier is likely not an option this Memorial Day, you can still fly a flag at half-mast at home, view a religious or memorial ceremony online, donate to an organization like the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, or virtually tour a battlefield. And perhaps, after that, you can fill your “pleasure” part of your day with a barbecue, if that’s a tradition you’re used to doing.

When you actively choose to make time for a thing, you’re designating it as something special and important. It might not be the day off you imagined it’d be three months ago, but it’s different from any other day—and that’s exactly how it should feel.