Rules for Unemployment

unemploymentSurely the hardest part about being unemployed or underemployed is managing your constrained finances-fretting over making the rent or mortgage payments and scraping together health insurance premiums. But waking up and dealing with the empty day stretching before you can be an unexpectedly difficult challenge in its own way.

"It is depressingly possible to just mope in the house for days at a time if you're not careful," says Ellen, who works in television production in Los Angeles but hasn't been employed for more than a couple of weeks at a time since last March, when the show she was working on was canceled. Like Ellen, the smartest unemployed and underemployed folks develop their own "rules" that keep them productive and positive despite their challenges hunting for work.

Here are a few of the best:

Ellen's first rule: "Get the hell out of the house. Go to a park or go for a walk or do something free (or already paid for, like the gym) every single day," she says.

Erin, a single mom of four in Sacramento, CA, who was laid off last July from a bookkeeping job, says she keeps these words of Dr. Phil McGraw running loops in her head: "Life rewards action." She started her own cleaning business, Fairy Dusters, for extra income. Her rules include, "get up at a decent time, don't do anything mindless until I've done something very productive, and make my job search/life planning my priority," She says. Additionally, "I dedicate a majority of my work day into growing a fledgling business, whether I have any actual work that day or not."

Lauren, a writer in Brooklyn, NY, who was laid off in November, seconds getting up early. "I set my alarm as if I'm getting up to go to a job. I get dressed," she says. "I don't turn on the television until after 6:00-unless I've been very productive, in which case I treat myself to an episode of Gilmore Girls at 5:00."

For Briana, a New Yorker who recently left a job in online media, television isn't the only distraction to be wary of. "Online chatting and Facebook are a very easy way to erase several productive daylight hours, so I try to limit them," she says. Instead, she favors exercise for a more worthwhile distraction. "There's no excuse for me to not work out five times a week."

What are your own rules for keeping positive and productive while unemployed?

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