With the COVID-19 Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives Executive Order creating a forced furlough for so many otherwise busy and productive people–with the notable exception of healthcare workers, first responders, and other essential personnel on the front lines of this health battle–the sudden change of lifestyle could feel energizing.

After all, with weeks of downtime looming, think about the home projects you’ve put off, books you’ve wanted to read, and other initiatives you’ve postponed for lack of time. Some may view this with a sense of serendipity–a chance to make lemonade out of lemons by optimizing every moment of your unplanned home incarceration.

But there’s a catch–a paradox that in my 30+ years as a business owner and student of personal development, I have consistently observed in work and in life.

More free time rarely translates into more productivity.

The 70’s rock band Styx said it well: Too much time on your hands can work against you (“It’s ticking away with my sanity.”)

Faced with abundant time, we tend to squander it, a proclivity that’s exacerbated by the myriad of digital age distractions that Styx never imagined when they wrote their hit song over 40 years ago.

And while most distractions are relatively harmless (have you checked the depleted shelves in the baking section of your local supermarket?), others can be toxic. For example, according to Pornhub.com, the largest internet provider of pornography, traffic has increased an average of 52% in Italy, Spain and France and nearly 30% worldwide since mid-March.

Don’t let this happen to you.

As you consider your activity options during this long runway of downtime in the coming weeks, I want to offer three simple strategies to help optimize your productivity. Here’s the first:

1. Schedule your priorities.

You will never find time for anything. If you want time, you must make it. – Charles Buxton, 19th Century British philosopher

One of the most valuable insights I learned about personal productivity was when I attended a leadership conference by business author and consultant Dave Anderson. In his opening remarks, he reminded us that, as leaders, the most difficult person we will ever lead is ourselves, starting with how we manage our time:

Un-managed time always flows to your weaknesses. To be effective, you need to schedule the important as well as the urgent.

His insight has direct application to managing downtime; that is, make sure everything that’s important to you shows up as a non-negotiable, calendared commitment, even if your calendar is wide open. Without the tyranny of a schedule, we can so easily justify putting off the important and allow distraction to seep in and fill up unused time.

I understand that for those who work in law enforcement, healthcare, groceries, pharmacies, postal delivery, and even manufacturing (hundreds of manufacturing workers around the state and country are producing ventilators and other life-saving products!) this crisis is anything but a slowdown.

But for many of us, the biggest contribution we can make to ending this pandemic is by staying put at home. And navigating this will require an intentional, purposeful and disciplined mindset.

Harness the power of predictability and habit by establishing a renewed routine; try scheduling your priorities and I believe you will be better able to navigate this downtime.

As we begin our second official week of the Stay Home, Stay Safe, Save Lives Executive Order, how are you doing? What are you thinking and feeling as you approach this extended time of isolation and slowdown? How are you managing time? Do you think scheduling your priorities could help you feel like you have more structure and therefore more control over your days? I’d love to hear your feedback.

Stay tuned for Part 2, coming next week!