Mind Cafe
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Mind Cafe

The Tasklist That’s Getting Me Through Quarantine

It’s simple, it’s clear, and it’s totally optional.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

At this point, we’re all pretty familiar with the ups and downs of sheltering in place. Whether we’re with kids, spouses, roommates, or nobody at all, there are good days and bad days.

And the arrangement of those good days and bad days is completely unpredictable.

A Path Forward

I’m unemployed, but I had already been offered a scholarship to go back to school in the fall, so while I’m struggling, I can see a new path.

I’m alone in my apartment, but also I don’t have a child or a parent depending on me for their care and safety.

I’m grieving the loss of my partner, but I’m also not tethered to an abuser or an addict.

I don’t have a backyard or a balcony to sit out on, but I live in a walkable city with paved sidewalks and tree-lined streets.

Keeping Active With A Tasklist

On good days, I can use my tasklist as a guideline. On those days, life comes naturally, and I find myself checking off boxes without having to convince myself to do so.

On bad days, when I can feel myself spiraling, my tasklist gives me something to hold onto. As the panic rises, as my heart speeds up and I lose my breath, I can meditate on my list: What have I completed? What’s next that’s easy to accomplish?

I can pick an activity and pass some time trying to complete it. Sometimes I begin a task and never complete it. Other times, I can’t even get started. But the list still gives me something to ground myself. Something to work toward.

Most days, those in-between days, it’s a reliable guide. Sometimes I find myself simply waking up and waiting for bedtime. My tasklist helps me fill the space between. Check, check, check.

My Tasklist Is Basic

Work out

I have two workouts on my list. Usually, I do one, but having it on my list twice reminds me that I have the option to exercise a second time if it will be helpful. Most days, I work out once.


I have two meals listed: Meal #1 and Meal #2. It doesn’t matter when I eat them. Of course, I can eat more than two meals, and often do. But Meal #1 and Meal #2 are the minimum requirement. And they have to have vegetables, because:


They appear on my list three times. I have to have at least three servings of vegetables between my two (or more) meals. Usually, as long as I eat twice, I fulfill this requirement easily, because I meal prep and most of the meals I prepare involve protein and a couple of servings of vegetables.

To-do list

This is a single item on my daily task list. I have a different piece of paper that keeps a running list of practical things I have to do: rescheduling appointments, dusting the bookshelves, clearing my desktop, emailing so-and-so, sweeping the kitchen. If I cross any one thing off of that to-do list, I can mark this item complete on my daily tasklist.

Something novel

I read a while back that indoor cats (stick with me on this) should have a different activity every day: a puzzle, a toy that’s been put away for a few days, a treat . . . I figured that’s probably good for people, too. So I added “novelty” to my daily list. This is honestly the hardest one to cross off each day.

Sometimes I talk with a friend I haven’t talked with for a while. Sometimes I attend a webinar on something interesting—or, honestly, just to see some new faces. Sometimes I bake a treat I haven’t made before, like pizza crust or pretzel rolls. Sometimes I try a new workout. Last week I put together care packages and dropped them off to a few friends who live within walking distance.

It’s hard to find something new and interesting every day when I’m in an apartment alone (well, with the cat my roommate left here for me when she moved back to Wisconsin in early March). I don’t always succeed. But having it on my list definitely makes me think about my options each day.

Go outside

I’ve been trying to take a long walk every day, rain or shine. Or snow, as it has been within the last couple of weeks here in Chicago (fingers crossed we’re past it now). I’ve put on my headphones and walked for the length of three podcasts (usually, about 90 minutes). The parks are closed, of course, so walking is the only way I can be outside. I walk until my body hurts. And then I head indoors again.


I have a long list of reading I want to accomplish before I begin grad school in August, but I’ve been struggling to focus. So I am aiming for 10 pages a day. Sometimes I set a timer on my phone for 35 or 45 minutes, and I read until it goes off. A lot of days, I can’t manage that. Some days, I can read 45 minutes, take a short break, and read again. Those are good days.


I started doing Duolingo earlier this year, and I’m on a 92-day streak. So I’m trying to keep that up. It keeps my brain engaged. And it can’t hurt to learn a new language, right?


I added this one about three weeks ago. I’ve been doing a 30-day meditation course through the Calm app. I bought the app earlier this year for its sleep stories, which I listen to most nights. But recently I’ve been enjoying learning how to meditate, too. Like all of my tasks, there are days I don’t check this one off my list, so this 30-day course will probably take me more like 40 or 45 days. But I’m getting through it—and it feels nice. If you can take 10 minutes for yourself each day (I know that for a lot of people that’s a big luxury!) I wholly recommend Calm’s 30-day “how to meditate” course.

And that’s it! That’s my list.

My daily tasklist. Not perfect, as you can see. But still helpful.

I may add more as I go. I may remove some. Who knows. But for now, these are the items that work for me.

I encourage you to make your own list, something that can help ground you in each day. It’s brought calm into my life and I hope it will do the same for you.

I’m sending you calm and strength and warmth from my little home in Chicago.



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Cathlyn Melvin

Cathlyn Melvin


Freelance writer, editor, and audio narrator. Passionate about children, learning, food, health, and cats. www.rightcatcreative.com