Unemployment Blues: How to stay productive when you’re jobless

Maybe you’ve just graduated college, maybe you’ve been retrenched, maybe you just couldn’t take it anymore and had to get out of your last job. Whatever it is, you’re now unemployed in one of the worst job markets in recent memory. You’ve been handing out resumes hand over fist and nada. Nothing. You’re losing hope. So what can you do to keep your head up in the long night of unemployment? How will you stay healthy and happy when it seems like every avenue is a dead end filled with raccoon-infested dumpsters of broken dreams?

The obvious first steps are to go over your resume with a fine eye. Add in as much relevant detail as you can, and proof-read like you’ve never proof-read before. Next, look at how you’re writing your cover letters. Yes, they’re annoying, yes, nobody reads them, and yes, they still need to be excellent. If you need further education or experience, figure out ways to obtain it. Go to networking events and glad-hand with others in your industry. That’s advice that’s easy to give and hard to implement, but it needs to be done. But this article is about how to stay positive and mentally healthy during your job search. Remember, upon becoming unemployed you are allowed to feel miserable – even take a day to enjoy wallowing in your own despair. Being unemployed sucks, and it’s okay to feel bad about it. But the important thing is to get up, dust yourself off, and:

1.       Organise your space. Keep your living space tidy. Keep your workspace tidier. Rearrange your furniture to improve your efficiency, or just because you need a change. Your organised mess might work for you, but this isn’t really about being tidy but about getting into the proactive mindset, and doing something productive. The goal is to see a clear delineation between before and after, and know that you’ve achieved something productive and that you have at least some measure of control on your life. Plus, now all your stuff is easy to find (nobody’s mess is that organised).

2.       Make a list of important tasks to achieve, and do one per day. They can be small tasks: go to the bank. Weed the garden. Book a dentist appointment. Clean up your hard drive. Or hey, they could be big, too: do your tax. Book an overseas trip. Cook a nine-course meal for royalty (I don’t know your life). The point is, as above, to keep feeling like a productive member of society.

3.       Stay social, and exercise. Don’t stay home all day writing endless applications to jobs you don’t want, only for the inevitable rejections to come rolling in. Nothing will kill your mental health faster. Try to leave your house at least once every few days, even if it’s just for a walk to the shops. Daily outdoors exercise is proven to make you happier. Catch up with friends face-to-face at least once a week, too. Keeping in contact with a close support network is essential to staying positive in the face of adversity.

4.       Volunteer. Want to feel productive when you have no job? Find opportunities to volunteer in your community. A good idea is to find organisations that work in the industry you’re trying to enter – not only will you contribute to an industry you care about, you’ll also get industry experience and make lots of contacts you can leverage in your job search.

5.       Take control of the things you can control. You can’t control how hiring managers react to your job applications. You can’t control the job market. But you can control how you live during your unemployment. Feeling productive and in control of your life can help you feel healthy and confident during your job search. And confident people are the ones who get the job.


Catherine Moller

Catherine is a bespectacled Aussie with an MA in Writing (and a BA in Linguistics), of which she is highly defensive. She grew up in Australia, where she bravely defied national stereotypes by being pale, awkward, and bookish. Catherine is the poster-child for delayed adulthood, and believes that just because something is serious doesn’t mean you can’t laugh at it. She loves writing, books, travel, food, video games, and comedy, and has a natural skill for assembling flat-pack furniture.