Laid Off or Just In Lockdown? How to Fill Your Days to Make the Most of this Crisis
…and the Rest or Your Life!
After years of building a solid audience for my free online training videos – an audience that grew month-over-month – I saw a gigantic drop in traffic this week (March 15-21, 2020).
Why? My search visibility didn’t change (that is, I wasn’t punished by Google). My subscriber base was still growing at a great rate in the weeks prior (and even grew during this past week).
The reason for the drop is simple: Fear over COVID-19 and/or the economy caused most people to think of survival over self-improvement. It’s human nature – see Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs if you need to understand how this happens.
When you’re feeling good about your life, self-improvement is more important to you. Learning, in fact, becomes a fun activity. When you’re worried about feeding your family… then, not so much.
While I’m not concerned about the decrease in traffic to my videos (the ad revenue is truly minuscule), I am concerned for the well-being of those who will use their forced time off to sulk, eat like crap, drink to excess, spend hours in front of the television, or worse. If they don’t make the most of this time off, they’ll come out the other side much worse off than they ever were.
So… I wrote a plan.
The Four-Step Plan
While I wrote this simple Four-Step Plan to Come Out of This Crisis Better Prepared for the World for my three Millennial sons, I encourage you to share it with the Millennials, Gen Z’s, Gen Xers, and even the Baby Boomers in your life who are (or could be) temporarily displaced by the Coronavirus pandemic.
They just might thank you when this is all behind us.
(I’m not holding my breath for a thank you – I’ve been a dad for more than a quarter century, and I’ve learned my advice often comes across as less than helpful to the ears of teens and twenty-somethings.)
First: Declutter Your Life
Think of this as a Super Spring Cleaning. Your first best use of this extra free time is to go through everything you own and start chucking. (By “chucking” I mean throw away the trash and donate everything else.)
Find some clothes (especially shoes) you haven’t worn in a year? Chuck ‘em!
Dig through those drawers in your desk, kitchen, and garage, and chuck anything you no longer see yourself needing. Find something you want to keep? Great, get organized!
In other words: No more junk drawers! If you discover something you think you should keep, but it cannot be organized into a proper place (a place where you’ll remember when you do need it), then chuck it!
Got some stuff in storage? You can likely chuck it all.
For example, if you’ve lived in your current place at least a year, and you’re still paying for a storage facility somewhere else, then you have too much stuff. Chuck everything in storage that’s not a family heirloom or personal memento. At the very least, chuck enough of what you own to cancel the storage unit.
For the storage in your garage, shed, attic, closets, and crawl spaces: Chuck everything you haven’t used in a year – especially anything decorative. Despite what you keep telling yourself, you won’t need these things “someday.”
There are terrific benefits to truly decluttering your life; here are six from a good article you can find on PsychologyToday.com:
- Creates a sense of confidence and self-efficacy (You feel better!)
- It’s energizing (You need this right now!)
- Reduces anxiety (You really need this right now!)
- Allows your mind to wander (You really, really need this right now!)
- Reduces relationship tension (I’m hopeful you don’t need this right now!)
- You’ll find lost treasures (These provide you nice links to better times!)
Missing from this list, though likely more important in the long run, is that decluttering your life helps you save money. Once you declutter, throw away the trash, donate the rest, and free up your living space, you are much less likely to allow new clutter to enter your home. (Hint: You’ll stop wasting money on useless crap.)
Plus, you’ll discover items you likely would’ve purchased again had you not found and organized them during this Super Spring Cleaning.
Second: Separate Wants from Needs
Your whole life you’ve probably said you needed something when you really just wanted it. There’s a difference. You need water and food. You want Evian and filet mignon.
Beginning today, buy only what you really need; and think hard about what you really want.
For your wants, separate these into two categories based on their price.
Relatively low cost wants, like a $5 latte, may seem insignificant to your overall plan of saving money (see the next step), but these add up to a tremendous amount over time. Buying this latte just four times each week becomes more than $1,000 at the end of a year.
If over the last two years you’d lived without these lattes, you’d have $2,000 more in your bank account right now. How much better would you feel about your future if this was the case?
Beginning today, find cheaper alternatives or learn to do without your lower cost wants. That is, until you’ve saved enough money to never have to worry about being unemployed for an extended period. Then, decide if that latte is worth $1,000 a year. (Until you have a comfortable nest egg saved, it’s not worth it.)
You should only consider buying relatively higher cost wants (like the newest iPhone) after you’ve deliberately saved for them; regardless of how much room you have on your credit card or how much you have in your bank account. For example, let’s say you have $1,500 in your account, and the gadget you want is priced at $1,400.
You cannot afford it!
However, you can save for it. Starting today, you scrimp a little here and there until you have $2,900 in your account. Now you can afford it! (Oh, and if you think there’s no way to save for it, then you really can’t afford it.)
But, guess what? Deliberately saving for something you want – instead of buying it on impulse – allows you to truly evaluate whether this $1,400 “want” will provide you with $1,400 worth of pleasure or utility. Often, you’ll discover it does not.
Congratulations! You now have $2,900 saved!
Most of those reading this are probably too young to have lived through a recession from beginning to end as an adult. (By adult, I mean fully living on your own paying 100% of your own bills.) If you’re like most Millennials and Gen Z’s, you’ve probably also never learned how to really do without.
The amazing advances in technology, record low unemployment, and a growing economy made it easy to think you’d never need to do without. Conversely, earlier generations – having been forced to live without, but also knowing that recessions will end – are better equipped to handle this current crisis.
Make no mistake: We are going to get through this, so make a plan – one you’ll stick to – to start saving when we come out the other side. This means doing without (even when you really, really want something), this means eating beans and rice (even when you think you can afford steak), this means shopping at Goodwill (even when Macy’s is having a sale), and this means accepting the ordinary, the good, and the imperfect.
I call it eating a shit sandwich. (In fact, I wrote a book with that title meant to be read by high schoolers and college students everywhere: Sh*t Sandwich: Quick & Practical Success Lessons for Practically Anyone.) And, the more you learn to eat shit sandwiches, the better and faster you’ll be saving your money (instead of wasting it on wants).
Incidentally, don’t worry about the economy if you actually start saving your money. For every one of you who commits to living below your means, there will be 10,000 others who go back to racking up debt. You’ll benefit from a robust economy, while you work to have a year’s worth of financial security.
That should be your initial plan, by the way: To have one year’s worth of financial security in the bank.
Yes, you can watch Netflix and chill for the next few weeks. You can spend a dozen hours each day gaming. Or… and here’s where your life on the other side can be radically different – you can spend a few hours each day learning; sharpening your saw, if you will.
Understanding that you won’t feel like learning is critical. As I’m hopeful you learned earlier in this post, it’s human nature not to value self-improvement during times like this. You must fight these feelings and resolve to put the controller down and start improving your life.
Read. Preferably non-fiction. Preferably books. However, since money will be tight, find free online resources you can trust and start learning. (Yes, this blog is filled with lots of business and leadership lessons, but so are thousands of others. Find five favorites and work through their archives.) Oh, and if you haven’t visited a thrift shop lately, most have dozens of great non-fiction books available on the cheap.
Learn to cook. When you run out of pasta (this includes macaroni & cheese, spaghetti, and ramen), you’ll be forced to learn how to cook real food from scratch. Learn to cook this other stuff – nothing complicated, not culinary delights – just force yourself (via online tips/recipes and some trial and error) to prepare a home salad bar or make chili in a crock pot. Both (and thousands of similar preparations) are dishes that are super simple to make and can provide great meals for several days. (Knowing how to cook more than Kraft Macaroni & Cheese will help you save money and eat better after the crisis has passed.)
Watch educational videos and documentaries. I’ve always made my training videos free to watch for anyone… and guess what? So have thousands of others who’ve created great content! Spend your online hours finding, bookmarking, and watching great content from smart, forward-thinking creators.
Spend just a few hours each day with some of these great resources, and you’ll be shocked at how quickly you grow your skills, your business acumen, and your value to a future employer. Having these when the recession ends will be key to landing a great gig.
Just four simple steps; all designed to put you in the best position possible when we come out on the other side of this thing. Oh, and when we do, you’ll thank me. (Unless, of course, we’re related.)