Ten Things to Do When You’re Self-Isolating (Forget Netflix)

Len Epp
8 min readMar 17, 2020

Well, actually, Netflix is a pretty good way to stay stimulated and entertained when you’re stuck at home, but there are way too many hot takes out there right now, that are treating self-isolation like it’s a snow day.

The reality is that COVID-19 might be around for a lot longer than you may think, and the practice of semi-self-isolating or even full self-isolating might become a routine part of our day-to-day lives for some time.

For that reason, it’s important to think about ways you can still live a productive and creative life, until things return to normal (and yes, I just knocked wood).

Here are ten suggestions. I’m not an expert on self-isolation or anything, but all of these are things that already form a pretty big part of my own day-to-day life.

1. Work Out Every Day, and Keep It Interesting

When your workout involves going to a class or a gym, working out from home can seem pretty boring, and it can be difficult to keep up your motivation.

I’ve been working out at home pretty much every day for over a decade. Here are some tips for making sure you do your workout regularly, and well.

  • Make your workout a part of your daily routine. That doesn’t mean doing it at the same exact time every day, but rather, tying it in to the typical flow of your day. Personally, I work out when I finish work for the day, but before I prepare my evening meal.
  • Take your time. By this I mean, don’t push it, and you’ll do better at avoiding injury, which means you can work out more overall. If you’re not training for a competition or something like that, you don’t need to take the injury risk that comes from heavy training.
  • Watch or listen to something interesting or instructive when you work out. This gives you extra motivation to do your workout, and might even make you look forward to longer workouts.
  • Give structure to your workout. Let it evolve over time, but you should always have a structure to your workout.

2. Cook Every Day, and Keep It Interesting

I see a lot of people talking about getting food delivered. If you do this by default, you’re missing out on an opportunity to be healthy and stay busy while you’re stuck at home, by taking the time to cook all your own meals. (I feel strongly about this, but recognize of course that it is also important to show support for local restaurants by making the occasional order.)

Cooking is not only fun, it’s also a wonderful skill to have, that enriches not only your own life, but the lives of the friends and family you cook for, as well.

Also, the range of things to learn and to perfect is pretty much endless. Every day you’re self-isolating, you can set yourself a brand new challenge, or carry out a brand new experiment. Better still, the whole family can pitch in, and feel like they’ve done something productive.

3. Integrate Learning New Things Into Your Day (and, Yes, Keep It Interesting)

The web has any number of incredible platforms for learning new things that can help you enrich your life and even advance your career or your business.

Set aside a couple of hours every day for learning. This can mean learning a new language, or watching or listening to lectures on some topic, or reading books, or listening to informative podcasts.

If you search around you’ll find some really serious learning you can do with free resources online, from some of the world’s top researchers and research institutions. iTunes U and MIT OpenCourseWare come to mind, but you can also find amazing resources on sites like Coursera and more obscure places like Leanpub, including a course set on learning data science from Johns Hopkins (I’m a Leanpub cofounder, and I don’t feel too gross mentioning it here, because I care about our mission).

4. Limit Your Daily News Time, and If You Can’t, at Least Try to Focus on the Big Picture

I’m one of those people who finds it really hard to keep from clicking on the news all the time. These days, I even find myself refreshing the page, because something might have happened in the couple of minutes I was scanning headlines.

Now, it is super important to keep up with the news. This is true for what I think (hope?) are pretty obvious reasons.

But the fact is, if you’ve got a good stable of news sources you check out every day, you should be able to learn all you need to know, without being on them all day long.

I totally can’t do this myself yet, but it seems to me that checking the news for half an hour when you get up, and half an hour before you go to sleep, is probably all you need. Here’s a list of (I know, pretty vanilla) daily news sites I read, and shout at, regularly:

As far as podcasts go, for an absolutely excellent roundup of the week‘s events in the US, I highly recommend the Slate Political Gabfest. Also, no matter what your political persuasion is, I think everybody really should listen to Trumpcast. The host, Virginia Heffernan, is one of the few voices in the everyday media who naturally brings the perspective of someone who has read a lot of philosophy into her discussions of things, both high and low, funny and sad.

Now, about that big picture thing I mentioned in the title of this section: there are lots of great news-style resources out there for understanding what is driving the events in the news, but don’t focus on reporting just the succession of events.

Here are some of my favourites, with the CSIS being the most incredible:

  • The Center for Strategic & International Studies. It’s an absolutely amazing resource - check out https://www.csis.org/events to hear panel discussions including influential people, like heads of state and top US military officials, amongst others.
  • Foreign Affairs magazine. The writing is pretty rote because there are so many economists and diplomats and career think-tank people who write for it, and like with the Economist, you probably won’t learn all that much, but by reading this magazine, you will be keeping up with what people in positions of power are saying to each other at the moment.
  • The Great Courses Plus. I watch lectures from this site during my workout, so for years now, for an hour of every day, I’ve had the chance to learn in a stress-free way about everything from the history of the CIA to, well, a whole lecture series on just beer.
  • The Mindscape podcast from physicist Sean Carroll. It’s just fun, and while there’s a lot of physics (which I don’t understand, but enjoy hearing about), Sean just likes to have good conversations with interesting people who know lots of things.
  • The New York Review of Books. The secret to understanding the NYRB is that the books they review are mostly treated as an opportunity for the author of each essay to talk about something important or interesting, at a high level.

Yes, some of the resources above do cost money. But in my opinion, they’re all worth it, if you have the money to spare.

5. Take Up A Challenging Long-Term Hobby

There are a lot of amazing, life-improving long-term hobbies you can do from home while you’re self-isolating, using supplies you can replenish with orders online.

One long-term hobby I have is some light martial arts training, but I also took up painting a few years ago. Here’s a detail from one of my unfinished projects, that I have been working on for years:

If you take up a hobby like painting, or knitting, you can learn a skill with endless room for improvement that actually lets you make new and beautiful things, for the rest of your life.

6. Find Some Work to Do

Even if you can’t do your regular job at home (or if you’ve unfortunately become unemployed), if you have a good computer and a good internet connection, there is a ton of other work you can do from home.

Sites like Fiverr let you market any skills you might have, to people all around the world who might have a need for them.

You can also learn how to set up your own website, and market your skills and offer your services that way.

Work doesn’t just meant paid work, of course. There’s all kinds of volunteer work you can do as well. Reach out!

7. Reach Out to Other People Regularly

With video calling, you can have a face-to-face conversation with anyone, anywhere, anytime.

When I say face-to-face, I mean that. There’s nothing “virtual” about a video call. It’s a real video call, and you’re really seeing the person, live.

Try and schedule an hour day for a social call with someone you know, whether it’s a friend, a family member, or a professional colleague. You’ll make their day better, too!

8. Every Day, Clean the Things You Touch

The well-known injunction to stop touching your face has taught a lot of us about how much we are actually touching things all the time.

So, I’ve added a daily cleanup to my routine. At some point during each day, I’ll go around my place, spot-cleaning everything I can think of that I may have touched that day, including not just the handles of cupboards, but also the edges of the cupboards, which I’ll often touch to open and close them, instead of the handles themselves.

9. Embrace a Harmless Vice

I’m not suggesting we should all drink a box of wine per day, but now might be a good time to go a bit easier on ourselves when it comes to certain things we enjoy.

Do you like cheese? Throw some extra cheese on that sandwich! Do you like bourbon? Maybe be a bit more generous with your pour.

10. Structure Your Days

This is the most important item in this list, but I left it for last because it’s the most boring, and with everything else already said, hopefully this will make more sense.

Pick a rhythm for your day - say, news, work, lunch, learning, more work, hobby hour, workout, evening meal, social call - something like that. It can help make you feel productive, and at the end of the day, you will have gotten things done, and talked to somebody cool.

And then, when you’ve done all this productive stuff, yes, it’s time for some Netflix.

(Note: An earlier version of this post only had eight things to do. But ten is the magic number for lists!)



Len Epp

Startup cofounder. I like to write about tech, publishing, the interwebs, politics, and such.