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NYT bestselling author Gretchen Rubin: 9 ways to use the time at home to invest in yourself

Gretchen Rubin
Gretchen Rubin.
Photo by James Merrell

For years, I've been studying happiness, good habits, and human nature. In my books such as "The Happiness Project" and "Better Than Before," and on my podcast "Happier with Gretchen Rubin," I've explored solutions we can use to help ourselves become happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative.

But these days, we're facing unprecedented difficulties. The whole world is struggling to meet the twofold challenge of the pandemic: It's both a health crisis and an economic crisis. Many people have lost their jobs or are worried that further job cuts are coming. Amid layoffs and uncertainty, it's hard to know what to expect.

When times are tough, remember that action is an antidote for anxiety. Here are some steps we can take to make the most of our time, invest in ourselves, and be as strong as possible when the world starts up again. 

1. Take certification programs, online courses, or classes. Perhaps you can use this time to gain new skills that will position you to be a better job candidate in the future or will make you more valuable in your current position. You could also think about pursuing a skill that has always interested you or that could be a creative outlet. 

2. Learn how to expand or present your work in new ways. Depending on the kind of work you do, and your areas of expertise, you might be able to diversify your income. Learn how to give webinars, write an e-book, offer to consult, start a newsletter or podcast. 

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3. Explore a side hustle. If you've had an idea for making money in addition to your day job, as a way to create more income or security, and especially if you can do it remotely, now could be the right time to take the steps to get it launched.  

4. Familiarize yourself with tools that will allow you to work more efficiently in the future. Does your industry use software, apps, or other tools that could boost your productivity? If you're working from home, you have new pressures, but you might also have new pockets of time to learn — say, when you'd usually be commuting.

5. Update your resume and online presence. Especially if you are now looking for work, as you revise your resume, LinkedIn profile, your bio, your website, or cover letter, be sure to note any notable achievements, new responsibilities, or skills you've learned. You want to claim your accomplishments and present yourself in the most positive light possible.

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6. Assess your monthly budget. Right now, we're all deciding what's really essential. Are there memberships or subscriptions you can cancel? What spending categories can you reduce or cut altogether? Do you need to rethink some purchases you'd intended to make?

With finances, knowledge is power. When you know where and how you're spending your money, you'll feel calmer and better equipped to make a plan.

7. Consider a lifestyle change. We don't yet know what the economic consequences of this period will be, but they will be massive. If you've been considering making a change, or even if you haven't, you might work through some of the possibilities now. 

If you moved to a less expensive city or a new neighborhood, or moved back home, what kind of work might you find? We're living in very uncertain times, but this period could also be an opportunity for you to identify what you want from your life and how to pursue your long-term goals.

Remember that action is an antidote for anxiety.
Gretchen Rubin
Author of "The Happiness Project"

8. Create order. Many of us have accumulated a lot of work-related clutter at home. Unpack those boxes, sort through those files, organize those shelves, and clear off those surfaces. Shred and recycle as much paper as possible. You'll give yourself more clarity, as well as more elbow room.

Bonus: You're making your space feel more roomy and comfortable at a time when you're spending a lot of time at home. For other practical, manageable ideas about how to tackle clutter, you can check out my book "Outer Order, Inner Calm."

9. Create opportunities for others. If you can recommend someone for work, make useful introductions or referrals, or take other steps to help others find work and opportunities, do it.

If you are finding it tough to be productive right now, go easy on yourself. We're all trying to make good use of this time, but uncertainty, anxiety, and grief make it hard. Hang in there and do what you can. We'll all get through this together.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of several books, including the blockbuster New York Times bestsellers, "Outer Order," "Inner Calm," "Better Than Before," "The Happiness Project," "Happier at Home," and "The Four Tendencies." Her books have sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide, in more than 30 languages. On her weekly podcast "Happier with Gretchen Rubin," she discusses good habits and happiness with her sister Elizabeth Craft. She lives in New York City with her husband and two daughters.

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