With an average of 20,000 pink slips issued every day during January, and 7.6 percent unemployment - and we know in our heart of hearts that this number understates things big time - there are going to be a lot more people with time on their hands for a while.
Having on a couple of occasions been unemployed-and-looking, I know that it is psychologically, emotionally, logically, and almost physically impossible to look for a job full time. (Although in the age of the Internet it is certainly possible to pretend that you're looking for a job full time.)
So, what to do with those spare hours when you're no longer working and commuting, but just can't muster up the whatever for your job search?
Other than the general and obvious things: play with your kids, hang with your equally unemployed friends, go to the library, pick up some skills for yourself, and stare at the television, I can offer a few things that I've done to ward off, or more or less cope with, recession worries - even though (knock on wood) I am still gainfully self-employed doing product marketing consulting.
- Calculate when you'll be able to retire. At first, I thought it would be far too depressing to look at my 401 K. But having taken that first painful and shocking glance, I thought I'd do some re-calibrating of my retirement age. Contrary to what you might think, it is actually quite liberating to find out that, if you save 80% of your projected pre-tax income, you'll be able to retire at the age of 83, if you're willing to pick up a few supplemental hours as a Walmart greeter. No more worrying about when you'll be able to retire. Give in to the fact that you won't.
- Pretend you're going to move and clean out your house. I'm mortgage-less and, much as I'd like another 200 square feet of lebensraum and more closet space, we're not going anywhere. Still, if you go through your drawers and cabinets, your storage nooks (behind the chair, under the bed), and your paltry closets, you will find that you have a lot of stuff you don't need. My rough rule of thumb: multiple your square footage by 2, and that's the approximate weight of the crap you could easily part with. Personally, most of my stuff is not worth selling on eBay or Craigslist. What's decent will get donated somewhere. What's not, well, that's what those big, black plastic construction rubbish bags are for. Just don't put them all out with the trash at once. Those garbage collectors - those lucky stiffs still fortunate enough to have real work - will not be happy to see three bags full of your moldering high school AP course paperbacks. (Clarissa, any one?)
- Try every pen to see if it still works. This is actually a subtask to cleaning out your house, but it has a rigor and a fabulously mesmerizing quality to it that you can't beat. First, you go through every drawer, mug-as-penholder, pocketbook, briefcase, coat pocket, and every other thing that could possibly be used as a pen receptacle and gather up all your pens. Give me your tired, your poor: corporate logo pens, by-them-by-the-dozen Bics, weird colored Sharpies, cheapo hotel ink-sticks. Then sit down with some scrappaper and try ever last one. Divide them into three piles: dried out, still working, and dried out but with replaceable ink cartridge. This final category is the one you'll really struggle with. You will need to decide, on a case by case basis, whether it's worth trying to hunt down and pay for a refill for it. This is hard but, as in playing Trivial Pursuit, go with your gut instinct on what's a keeper. And, yes, I did hang on to the silver and blue swag pen from Inktomi, but dumped the blah one from Microsoft.
- Use up the back sides of your yellow pads. I like to make notes and my "to do" lists on those swell, 5" x 7" yellow legal pads. But it occurred to me that I was using only half of them up. There's a recession on! Plus we're killing the world with over-consumption. So, now I'm writing on both sides. Which makes me feel frugal and pious - now there's a combination. It also makes me feel sneaky and sordid - as when I deliberate scrawl something large on the back page so that I can pretend I've used it up.
- Google everyone you went to grammar school - high school - college - grad school with - or ever worked with. You're probably already doing this on a piece-meal basis when you can't sleep at 2 a.m., and you find yourself wondering whatever happened to that miserable bastard who never called you back for a second date. However, if you really get organized around it, you can spend solid blocks of time at it. Start with your kindergarten picture. (You'll be surprised by how many names you still remember.) Now, the older you are the more of a problem you'll have with the girls, because most of them will have jettisoned their maiden names. (This is a particular problem if you went to an all girls high school, say, or a woman's college. You may have to spring for an alumnae directory, but you can start with the list of those who donated to the most recent annual campaign.) It's also a problem if you grew up in an area where everyone's name was Kathleen Ryan or Kevin Murphy. You might as well google John Doe. Still, with a little creativity, you might find that the kid who pushed you down on the ice at Henderson's Pond when you were in first grade is now a judge.
- Extract square roots. This is more fun than it sounds - plus it's a good little mind-sharpener that you can do anytime, anywhere you have pencil and paper. (No Sudoku book required.) Write down every phone number you can think of. Your license plate number. Your SS#. Credit card numbers. Draw one of those funky little divider things on top of them and start calculating. If you forget how to extract a square root, start with numbers where you know the answer - like 169 and 2500 - and it will all come rushing back to you. (Alpha variation on this theme: write out your full name and list all the 4 and 5 letter words you can make out of the letters in it. First, middle, last should work. If you have a lot of time, throw in your Confirmation name. Mine's MAGDALENA, which gives me the treasured letter "D" I would otherwise be lacking.)
All of the above are absolutely no cost. Other than the cost of the pen refills.
As The Recession drags on, I will be augmenting this list with other ideas, both practical and truly, brilliantly, stunningly time-wasting. But I can guarantee that you will feel like you're doing something better than staring out into space waiting for aliens to attack.
Reader suggestions are most welcome.