Tips For Staying Sane When You’re Unemployed

For the nomadic among us, we’ve all been there–immediately following, or perhaps before, a long furlough overseas, it’s not uncommon to spend at least a short period of time unemployed.  It may be a welcome and necessary part of your transition to or from the “real world,” but if you’re anything like me, it can get old pretty quickly, especially if your bank account is still smarting from your trip or you like to be kept busy and feel like a productive member of society.

Now, I’m not technically unemployed; I have my tutoring side-hustle and I’m still contracted through a temp agency, although the soul-crushing assignment I was on previously has thankfully ended.

But working for a temp agency comes with a caveat.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept (I know some of my non-American friends had never even heard of this before), it often means you’ll have stretches of time in which you are not actively employed.  There is no guarantee of consistent work, nor is there any guarantee that your particular skill set will be a perfect match for the opportunities that do arise.

My last assignment lasted approximately two months, and I’m planning to only take shorter-term assignments from this point on so I have the freedom to set my own teaching schedule and to leave a little wiggle room for travel in July and August.

I’m perfectly content with this arrangement,  but it does leave me with an excess of free time, which can be both a blessing and a curse.  On the one hand, the possibilities are endless!  I can achieve so much!  On the other hand, just like having too many options to choose from at the grocery store, this abundance of time can be paralyzing.  I can do literally anything I choose with my day, but what if I don’t choose wisely?  There’s nothing worse than the guilt of wasting a perfectly good day that anyone stuck in their soul-crushing corporate cubicle would have killed to have.

Luckily, I’ve come up with a number of strategies to deal with abundance-of-time paralysis and feel like I’m finally on my way to perfecting the art of pseudo-employment.

1. Wake up early.

It’s easy for someone who’s unemployed to feel less-than-compelled to roll out of bed any earlier than 10am, but I find that maintaining a more natural sleep schedule (going to bed early and waking up when it gets light) helps me to stay productive throughout the day.  I have a morning routine that I follow religiously and during that time I prioritize the tasks I want to accomplish.  It’s also immensely gratifying to be able to tick things off my to-do list before 8am.

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2. Plan your day.

If I wake up in the morning and don’t have a clear picture of how my day will go, there’s a good chance I’ll quickly lose all motivation and get half as much done as I could have if I’d had even a loose plan.  I’m also quite forgetful, so it helps to have a written list of what I want to accomplish that day that I can refer to often.

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3. Learn new skills.

This is not to imply that the reason you’re unemployed (or working for a temp agency) is because you lack skills–perhaps, like myself, you’re just a commitment-phobe who prefers the freedom that temp work can offer, or you’ve made the honorable decision to leave a job that made you supremely unhappy (if that’s the case, I commend you!).  Whatever the situation may be, it’s never a bad idea to bolster your resume in your downtime by learning new things on your own.  I’m a huge proponent of lifelong learning and in the age of the internet, it’s easier than ever to access classes and tutorials online, many of them free or at very low cost.  Skillshare is a fantastic place to start for a variety of classes from photography to entrepreneurship, or if you want to try your hand at coding, Treehouse is the shit.  The variety of resources and support they offer is astounding, and if you’re not 100% ready to commit, they also offer a two-week free trial–if you do sign up and you use my link below, however, you can get 50% off your first month (more on Treehouse later).

4. Pick up a hobby or five.

You know all those things you wish you had time for while you were putting in ridiculous over-time hours at the office?  They can now be a part of your daily life!  Unemployment rocks!  Learn photography, learn how to knit, join an ultimate frisbee league, write that novel you’ve been thinking about for years, improve your cooking skills, volunteer at the local shelter, read SO many books.  It really doesn’t matter what your hobbies are, just do SOMETHING that stimulates you.  Your sanity will thank you, and you’ll probably create new social circles in the process (yay, friends!).  Just remember to keep up these newfound interests once you start working again–your work should accommodate your lifestyle, not the other way around.

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5. Exercise.

Make exercise a staple of your routine.  There’s really no excuse not to when you’ve got all the free time in the world, and taking care of yourself is so, so important.  Do it first thing in the morning and you’ll have more energy and motivation for the rest of the day’s tasks; an added bonus is that it can help you develop a normal sleeping pattern if you’re someone who typically has trouble falling asleep at night.

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6. Don’t settle.

If you’re really struggling financially and running the risk of defaulting on payments, then maybe you’re the right candidate for taking the first job you can find.  But if you can help it at all, don’t dive back into work until you find a position that you can really get excited about.  Take the time to think about what you want, know your worth, and wait for a job that really makes you happy.  You don’t want to end up in a cycle of wake up-hate self-eat-sleep-repeat by settling for the first job that comes along just because you want to buy the newest iPhone.  And if money is your main motivation for taking ANY job, you and I need to sit down and have a serious heart-to-heart.

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Unemployment can be rough, and the prospect of getting a job even worse, especially if you’re coming down off of a traveling high (and haven’t yet remembered how to mind your Ps and Qs in the workplace), but it can be an enjoyable and productive time if you don’t let it go to waste (by, I don’t know, watching Netflix all day or something).

Whatever your situation, I hope you found something useful in here, or at the very least, a little bit of motivation to live each day like you mean it.

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About Leah Davis

Hey! I'm Leah. I'm a solo traveler letting my heart lead me around the world, one country at a time. I've taught English in Thailand, climbed the Sydney Harbor Bridge, gone skydiving in Argentina, and marveled at the ruins at Machu Picchu (twice!). I love maps, strong coffee, good wine and warm climates. For even more travel talk and inspiration, you can follow my adventures on Twitter or Instagram.
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4 Responses to Tips For Staying Sane When You’re Unemployed

  1. Great article. I’m currently unemployed (by choice) and traveling. And I’m in that awkward phase of planning on returning to the “real world.” For me unemployment can be so freeing and so nerve-racking. And I experience waves of both every day. But you’re so right. There’s no point in getting depressed and wasting your precious time when you’re unemployed. It’s so much better to spend your time doing things you love and learning new skills. Which is what I’m currently doing. Wonderful advice 🙂

    • LaMochilera says:

      Yes, it goes back and forth for me too! Lately I’ve got a better grip on it though and am managing my time better, and it sounds like you’re doing the same! Happy to hear it 🙂

  2. Jason says:

    This is well-written, phenomenal advice with no fluff and awesome photos. I think you should use some of your free time trying to sell it to lifestyle/advice publications.

    Also, I think it is time for me to start planning my days…

    • LaMochilera says:

      Thank you! Hah yes planning definitely helps! Although I’ll admit it’s not always easy for me to follow my own advice…still working on it!

      Off to be productive now… 😉

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