At the height of shelter-in-place this past spring, I was only leaving my home about once a week to go grocery shopping, get exercise through hikes, or carry out other essential activities.
During one point of quarantine, it crossed my mind that any source of excitement—no matter how dangerous or out-of-character—would be a welcome respite. Sound familiar? When deprived of healthy activities that feed our brain’s dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and other “happy” chemicals we receive from excitement, variety, and connection, our mental circuits can malfunction.
When brains struggle to confront constant monotony, you slide into uncommon habits. For instance, you might have found yourself taking on addictive behavior around social media, gaming, gambling, or any other activity that would help give you a slight mental boost. Maybe, you’ve gone in the other direction and find yourself struggling to even find a way to get out of bed in the morning.
Through my work as a time management coach as well as my connections with people, I was hearing of individuals, who were typically early-risers, getting out of bed around 10 or 11 a.m. due to low mood and negativity.
If you fall into any of these categories or simply have a more mild level of boredom with the sameness of each day, there are still things that you can do to break up the tedium of your workweek. Keep in mind, what is permitted will vary by your local restrictions and what you choose to do will be dependent on your comfort level with venturing out.
Work space transitions
Even though you probably never thought about it much before, the “rat race” offered a lot of variety. You woke up, dressed for work, commuted, attended meetings, went to lunch, and headed home.
By nature of the workday’s structure, there’s quite a few different things you do and people you interact with. And although commuting across the hall to your home office is convenient, it can get boring.
To mix things up, consider changing your location throughout your workday. For example, you may start in your office, do some work at the dining room table, and then finish the day on the front porch. If you get easily distracted by your home environment or the people within it, consider constraining yourself to a smaller area, such as the basement.
Further, try to make small physical shifts, such as sitting down in an armchair for brainstorming or standing up for phone meetings.
Another workday transition: punctuate the same ole, same ole by changing up your thinking. Extend a meeting to someone at your company you don’t regularly work with and with whom you can have a fun conversation. Other ideas: Attend a training in something you’re interested in learning or take on a special project you feel extra motivated around.
Finally, there are small ways where you can introduce some flair such as changing up your Zoom background, having flowers on your desk, or sharing something funny with your colleagues. At times, the little things can count for a lot.
Before businesses and venues shut down, I was at my gym at least five days a week. In its absence, I’ve had to get creative on how to add challenge and variety to working out and staying healthy. If you’re struggling in this area, here are some ideas of what worked for me.
When the days were cold, dark, and short, YouTube was my go-to for workouts that got me up and moving in the morning. For my own preferences, I would choose videos featuring groups of people working out, ideally on the beach. I quickly became bored of my favorite YouTube channel, after which I sought out newer videos as well as Facebook Live videos with local fitness instructors.
Once the weather started to get much better, hiking, bike riding, running, and swimming became possibilities. I scoured Google maps for new state parks and metro parks in my area; fortunately, there were many options.
Once Memorial Day hit, swimming outside in lakes with a wet suit was a possibility. So now Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning, I swim across a .4-mile wide lake at a state park with a few of the members of my swim and triathlon team for safety. Tuesday, I lift weights. And Thursday and Sunday, I do shorter distance sprint and stroke work in front of a smaller beach near me.
Goes to show, you can still be active each day in a variety of ways. And you can find things you like to do—whether it’s different workout videos, walking in different places, paddle boarding, or doing some other variety of activities that bring you joy and a fitness challenge.
Diverse socializing opportunities
Different types of interactions with people create unique experiences. A deep one-on-one conversation is different than a small-group discussion; hanging out drinking refreshing beverages is different than running together.
As you can, seek out this variety. Have a heart-to-heart with a close friend, but then get with a group to just laugh and shoot the breeze. In my week, I purposely try to make sure that I have a mix of different ways that I’m interacting with people, so I’m not solely having serious discussions or solely keeping things shallow.
Also, think about different activities you can do with your family during this time. Maybe it’s exploring a town you’ve never visited, playing new games, or even working together on a home project.
Learning and growth add excitement to our lives. So another way you can break up the monotony of your workweek is to invest time in a hobby.
For instance, you can learn a new skill, practice an instrument, read a few new books, or make something for your home. I heard stories of people using their reduced work hours to develop artwork or break out of a mental funk by practicing piano during 15-minute breaks.
Another benefit of these types of activities is that not only do they offer change, but also they give you something tangible to work on where you can see progress and have some level of control. It’s so satisfying to know you can plan to do something and complete it without worrying about what new rules and restrictions will pop.
Once everything calms down, there won’t be the entire bouquet of choices we’re used to. In the interim, turn to these varied options to add flavor to a bland workweek.