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What to do When You've Been Furloughed: Tips to Stay Productive and Positive

If you’ve been furloughed, I’m sorry. It’s brutal. It’s demoralizing. It means a real loss in wages. It disrupts the work flow. It sends an unwelcome message that our jobs are not secure. And it’s just not fair.

I know that it’s really easy—and understandable— to mope or gripe about being furloughed, but while venting might be a much-needed release in the short-run, it just isn’t helpful over the longer term. It is imperative to stay active, to stay focused, and to stay positive.

Now, this is not necessarily one of those “make lemons out of lemonade” situations, but there are some productive things you can and should do if you’ve been furloughed. Similarly, there are some things you should definitely not do because they might make an unfortunate situation even worse.

Here are eight dos and dont’s for the furloughed:

  1. Don’t spend your furlough couch surfing. Even though it’s tempting to be glued to the news searching for clues about when you will go back to work, don’t put your life on hold trying to read the tea leaves. Unplug from the news (and the TV) for two reasons. First, sitting is the new smoking. Spending four hours in front the television will wreck you physically. Second, the news cycle is an exhausting emotional roller coaster of dashed hopes, frustration, etc. Being glued to the news can wreck you emotionally. So…
  1. Do something productive. Benjamin Franklin said, “Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful.” Distract yourself from the furlough with small, productive projects, ones that can be done in an hour or a day. For example, instead of trying to declutter the entire house, pick a closet or one room. Start small, and choose projects you can finish in a short time.
  1. Do keep a schedule. This is not the time to start a bunch of bad habits that will make it harder for you to be productive when you go back to work. Stick to your regular schedule. Go to bed at the same time, get up at the same time, get dressed, etc. Practice your regular routine every day. 
  1. Do try something new. Speaking of schedule, this could be a good time to incorporate something new into your schedule. For example, if you fell down on your New Year’s resolution to exercise, make time each day to go for a walk after lunch. That might even be a habit you can keep up when you’re back at work.
  1. Do stay connected. Don’t be a furlough hermit. If you valued the human connection of your co-workers, make sure you stay connected to other humans during the furlough. Have a brown bag lunch with your co-workers. Catch up with relatives and friends you haven’t spoken with in a while; let them know how you are doing and feeling. Go out and about. Don’t add insult to injury by isolating yourself.
  1. Do enjoy the time. I know it’s hard because this wasn’t planned, and you might not be the kind of person who likes down time, but a lot of very successful people have deliberately given themselves sabbaticals where they unplugged themselves from email and their Blackberrys. They read a book. They went for walks. They gardened. They just enjoyed having more unprogrammed timed. And this is actually refreshing for the brain! Try to treat your furlough like a sabbatical.
  1. Do be ready to hit the ground running. This situation will end and you will go back to work. You may not get much notice, so be ready. There’s going to be real opportunity to distinguish yourself when you’re back in the office. A lot of folks will have trouble getting back into the swing of things. Others may be so busy bitch-bonding over how horrible the furlough was that they may not be getting a lot of work done. You can really stand out if you simply are productive and have a positive attitude. People will notice.
  1. Update your resume. I’m guessing you knew this was coming! Keeping an updated resume is something that every working person should do on an annual basis. You’ve got some time—so why not take advantage of it right now?

It’s hard to see the upside of being furloughed, but that’s exactly what you need to do here. Make use of this time wisely. Try to be productive and positive, and you’ll come out on top.

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