Coping with COVID-19: The Plan of Action that I Unleashed on My Family to Help Us Stay Happier While Housebound.

Gretchen family meeting notes

My sister Elizabeth calls me a “happiness bully,” and it’s true: If I think there’s an opportunity for you to get happier, I can get pretty insistent.

I’m also an Upholder, which means that I find comfort in structure, planning, and execution.

So my response to being stuck at home for COVID-19 was to come up with a multi-part plan for my family. I warned my family that I was doing it, and at the right time, we sat down to talk it over.

In writing this plan, I was aware of many things, for which I am intensely grateful.

First, my husband and I can work from home, and my daughters will be able to do school work from home. That’s huge.

Also, my daughters are old enough to look after themselves. I don’t have to watch them every second to make sure they don’t climb a bookshelf; I don’t have to feed, dress, diaper, or bathe them. They put themselves to bed, they manage their time, they do chores, errands (though not many of those these days), and walk Barnaby, and when the time comes (they’re both on “spring break” now), they’ll mange their own school assignments. When I think of my friend who has five children under the age of twelve, or my friend who’s the single mother of two children under the age of seven, or my friend who has a special-needs child with health issues, I realize how fortunate I am.

We’re all still healthy. Not even the slightest symptom. Last night, I thought I might be getting a sore throat, but I think I psyched myself into it by repeatedly asking myself, “What does my throat feel like when I swallow?” Usually, I don’t pay any attention to how my throat feels when I swallow, so I think I just didn’t realize that it felt the same as always.

And the list goes on and on. I realize how fortunate I am.

That said, we’re in an extraordinary situation, with all four of us (plus Barnaby) in the apartment non-stop. So, in order to approach this time with a thoughtful, hopeful, and productive spirit, I decided to make a plan. And here it is.

My family emphasizes that they haven’t yet agreed to this plan; they’ve take it under advisement.

My plan has many elements:

The Three-Tiered Plan for Projects

I propose that we each have projects in three tiers, and I provided individual possible suggestions:

Ambitious project: I’d work on my book about the body and the senses; Eliza would work on her proposal for her senior thesis; Eleanor would launch her podcast; Jamie would work on his French language skills.

Medium project: I’d work on my aphorism book; Eliza, on calligraphy; Eleanor, on crafts; Jamie, on juggling.

Fun project: Eleanor would watch Gray’s Anatomy; Eliza would re-read the Harry Potter books; I don’t know what Jamie and I would do. I should watch Mad Men (it was on my “19 for 2019” list) but somehow I can’t face it.

For a family fun project: I suggested that we all watch Netflix’s The Stranger or maybe re-watch HBO’s Game of Thrones (Eleanor has never seen it; we’d skip the dirty parts).

As part of school-at-home, I want to find some great history documentaries for us to watch together.

My family is taking this proposal under consideration.

The Journal

Because we’re living through such an extraordinary experience, I proposed that every family member should keep a journal of some kind—handwritten, typed, a one-sentence journal, a photo journal…but some record. Keeping a journal will help us make sense of what’s happening, and will be an important record, later.

My family seemed to embrace this proposal, but I’m not sure they’ll actually follow through. We’ll see. I’m typing my journal. Allegedly Eliza is going to keep a one-sentence journal; Eleanor is pondering; Jamie’s going to makes notes on his phone.


As part of my plan, I also emphasized that we also need time for:

  • Going outdoors to get sunlight and to fight claustrophobia
  • Exercise: this will be tough because all usual habits must be replaced
  • Reading: yay!
  • Bedtime: I wasn’t sure about this one. I’m a sleep zealot, and am a “lark” or morning person. My daughters, at ages 15 and 20, are in the developmentally appropriate “owl” stage, and they want to stay up and wake up late. Right now, they’re both on spring break, so distance learning hasn’t started. I could see advantages for making them go to bed and wake up at (what I consider) a reasonable hour; I could also see the benefits of allowing them to follow their body clocks more naturally. Who knows, maybe all this extra sleep will lead to cognitive gains for teens! I couldn’t figure out which course to take, so I asked during one of my daily Instagram Live conversations with my sister Elizabeth. A viewer answered, “Do what will be best for your relationship.” This is obviously the right response.

Two-Strike Habit-Change Policy

Here’s the post I wrote about this policy.

My family’s proposals:

Meditation. Jamie wants us to meditate together as a family. In the past, I’ve twice tried and abandoned meditation, but hey, I’m up for anything right now. So we’ve agreed to do that, and have done it twice.

Chores. Eliza is very focused on chores (gold star for her, I’m so lucky to have a child who is ordering us all to do chores!) She gets very low when things aren’t ship-shape. So we divvied up the major chores and put her in charge of managing when we should tackle them.

Eleanor is pondering.

Eliza took notes during the meeting (see image). You’ll see her priorities reflected on what she wrote down. My elaborate “three-tiered plan for projects” warranted a single line, with a question mark, while her points are written in red bullets with an exclamation point.

Gretchen family meeting notes

We spent a lot of time discussing screen time. We decided we would monitor, and leave it to everyone’s best judgment, and see how it went. Eliza said, “I think this is a problem that we would Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle our way out of.” Meaning, using screens for too long is like keeping your room too messy or never taking a bath: eventually, it becomes its own punishment. (Points if you recognize the Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle references.)

A friend told me that she also unleashed a plan on her family. They’re approaching it as a checklist, with the aim that most of the items on the list will be checked off about five times each week. So you can do what you want when you want, as long as you’re checking off some of the boxes.


If you want to hear me talk about the three-tier plan for projects, and about keeping a journal, Elizabeth and I discuss both ideas in the Happier with Gretchen Rubin bonus episode “Coping During COVID-19: How to Stay Happier and Calmer in Difficult Times.” Want to check out the other resources I’ve created for coping during COVID-19? Click here.

If you want to join our daily Instagram Live conversations at 4pm ET/1pm PT, where we talk about how to be happier, healthier, more productive and more calm during this unprecedented situation, follow me on Instagram @gretchenrubin. Or for highlights, you can sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

What solutions have you found for managing this time at home? Do you like a schedule and a plan, like me, or do you like a checklist approach, or do you prefer to keep things more loose?

Hang in there. We will get through this together. Let’s keep our hands clean and our minds clear



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