30 ideas to help the hours fly by during a disaster

(or how to survive without video games) 

Not everything about a disaster is exciting. At some point you may be stuck at home, or on the road, just waiting for something to change. When you’re tired or stressed it’s hard to do anything productive. Play is one of the best ways to help your mind recover. 

When boredom sets in, or the family needs to blow off some steam, come here for ideas. There's something here for someone of just about every age.

1 Play checkers

I know you have a bunch of board games under a couch somewhere. If by some chance you’re in a house, or cabin, or boat without a checkers board, you’re not out of luck. Draw a grid onto anything and use whatever you find lying around, from bottle caps to rocks. 

2 Play Mancala

If you think the game of checkers has been around a while, try your hand at Mancala. This may possibly be the first game played by humans. There are actually many different ways to play the game, but essentially the game is played by moving small stones or beans across a surface with small holes. The goal is to capture all the pieces from your opponent. 

3 Create an obstacle course

When it comes down to it, what is a game? It’s playing, with rules, and that’s what brings the element of challenge into playing. You can create an obstacle course out of anything, inside your home or outside. All you need to do is decide the order from beginning to end. Maybe add a little additional challenge by adding additional rules, like you have to hop on one foot from the couch to the door.

4 Build a group story

With two or more people, take turns and build a story together. The first person says a few lines of the story to set the theme. Each person then takes turns adding a few more lines. Every story teller gets to decide if the story becomes comedic, scary, or dramatic during their turn.

5 Wink murder

This is a game designed for larger groups. One person is chosen to be the detective. The detective must leave the circle while the rest of the group selects a murderer. The detective is called back and stands in the middle of the circle. The murderer murders one person at a time by winking at them; without letting the detective catch them in the act. Once someone has been murdered they should dramatically fall to the ground to act out their demise. Continue the game until everyone has been murdered, or the detective solves the case.

6 Practice knot tying

Even though knots are incredibly useful, we tend to use the same knots over and over. There are actually some really clever knots that are perfect, if you only know how to tie them. Guess what, you’ve got time now. I strongly recommend buying a book of knot tying for just such an occasion. Or maybe you know these knots and it’s time to teach someone else.

Here’s ten knots everyone should know.
  1. Bowline A secure way to add a loop to the end of a rope. It won’t come undone while there’s pressure on it. 
  2. Clove Hitch A quick way to hang something from a pole that is easy to undo. 
  3. Figure Eight A simple way to add a stopper to the end of a rope. Does not stress the rope, and the stopper can be made bigger by making a double figure eight knot. 
  4. Fisherman’s Knot Used to tie two ropes of equal diameter together. Works especially well with synthetic rope, or fishing line. 
  5. Improved Clinch Knot This may not be the strongest knot for fishing line, but it’s super easy and quick to tie on a hook. 
  6. Sheet Bend A great knot for tying to ropes together, especially if one is of a different diameter. 
  7. Square Knot The most basic knot for trying the ends of a rope together. 
  8. Taut Line This movable knot is for tying a rope to something that you can then pull tight. A perfect solution for tying guy lines to tent stakes. 
  9. Trucker’s Hitch A handy knot for tying something heavy up in a tree, or tying something down on your car. This knot creates a secure loop that you can then use to hoist up your gear with the end of the rope, and tie back on itself. 
  10. Two Half Hitches A simple way to tie a rope to a tree branch or pole. 
Visit www.animatedknots.com to see easy to follow animations on how to make these knots, and many more.

7 Get your life in order

Have you been looking for an excuse to organize old photos, the garage, the spice rack in the kitchen? Now you have time, make the most of it. Clean and organize your gear or home

8 Pass the ball

You know you played this game as a kid. I play this game with my kids now all the time. Any time a ball is played with it eventually turns into “Count how many times you can pass the ball.” Make it a little trickier by including a bounce, a double bounce, or throw it high in the air. Younger kids can do this with easier things to catch like stuffed animals.

9 Camp out in the living room

Build a pillow or blanket fort. Get creative with cushions, chairs, and brooms to increase the height of the blanket tent. Once built, you can set up a picnic, a coloring book station, movie viewing with an iPad, or a reading nook. Throw in a flashlight and the giggles are good for another 15 minutes. Don’t forget you also use your dome tent in the living room or backyard. Not just for kids; the backyard tent is not a bad way for teenagers, or you, to get a little alone time.

10 Put on a play

The elements of putting on a play are really quite simple, the beginning, middle and end. Then layer in conflict in the beginning, overcoming obstacles in the middle, and a new reality in the end. Now go ahead and put on your own Star Wars or Romeo and Juliet. 

Check out 30 powerful elements of drama from the Drama Teacher. 

11 Play cards

Pull out your deck of cards and start a game. Want to get physical? Play a game of Spoons and see who has the fastest hands in the West. Crazy Eights, Go Fish, or Black Jack, are also great games for a group, or play a couple games of Solitaire to enjoy some alone time. 

13 Enjoy a little quiet time

Remember that you don’t need to do something at all times. Asking everyone to do something can be just as aggravating as not having anything to do. You normally never get enough time to sleep, well, time to catch up.

13 Find your mantra

Meditation is an approach to training your mind, similar to the way that fitness is an approach to training your body. The nice thing about meditation is the repetition teaches your mind and body to relax. When you’re not meditating and you are feeling stressed out you can repeat your mantra and your body will recall the act of meditation and begin to relax immediately.

The trick to meditation is to repeat a word or phrase over and over, and practice bringing your attention back whenever your brain starts to think of other things. This word or phrase is called your mantra, and over time you’ll improve your ability to focus on only that word or phrase. 

Here's a few steps to get started in minutes.

14 Practice yoga

What is yoga? It’s a stretching exercise. It’s meditating with your eyes open. It’s a way to find out that simply touching your toes can be way harder than you ever thought. If you hadn’t already noticed, there’s an endless number of books, videos, yoga studios and exotic retreats all devoted to yoga. In short, it’s a deliberate process for connecting your mind, body, and spirit.

If you already practice yoga, then you know you don’t even need a mat, you just need a little room to stretch out and you can practice any time. Like meditation, doing yoga instantly lets your body go into autopilot and you’ll relax.

If you don’t know your Cobra Pose from your Seated Half-Spinal Twist Pose, fear not. Yoga is designed for slowly getting started. Prepare in advance by at least going out and buying a book or magazine on yoga. When you find a little downtime, like you’re stuck at home in an emergency, now is your chance to start. You can also download an app on your phone, watch a video on the internet, or ask someone who knows yoga to teach you this 10,000 year old practice. Namaste. 

During the Covid lockdown we discovered an awesome way for us to exercise in our living room with Cosmic Kids Yoga. Or you can check out 10 yoga poses you need to learn from the New York Times. 

15 Get some exercise

All great action movies have a scene where the star is getting ready for the moment of truth. What do they do? They make a home gym; they exercise with whatever they have around them. Besides they great action shots, why do the writers write this into the script? Because people can’t sit around doing nothing. Exercise helps the body remove stress, it makes us stronger, it helps us focus on improving ourselves instead of our other challenges.

Start right now with a couple jumping jacks. Or get on the ground and do some pushups until you’re exhausted. Do more pushups the next day, or maybe some burpees. Then do a couple bicep curls with jugs of water or a propane canister. Go for a jog, or at least a very brisk walk.

16 Start an exercise challenge

You’ve started to exercise, now it’s time to start your 30 day challenge. Can you do 100 pushups or 50 sit-ups a day for a month? It may take a few days or weeks to get up to your target number, but consistency is the key.

17 Try out a new recipe

Cooking is one of the best things to do when you’ve got a kitchen and lots of time. Instead of turning to the recipes you’re familiar with, time to experiment with the ingredients you have. Try a recipe you’ve never made before, or create a twist one something you know with unexpected ingredients. Here's some easy recipes to get you started

18 Take a walk, explore

Walking is one of the things you can always do. It’s physically healthy to walk every day, but it also clears your head and gives you time to think, or, try a new route to think differently. In fact, when I travel, walking is my favorite way to get around. You don’t truly discover new things until you slow down to a pace that is slower than the things going on around you.

19 Make a plan

What are you going to do when things go back to normal? Or maybe a fun plan like your next vacation. Instead of a famous destination, how about a tour of BBQ joints, waterfalls, or pinball museums? Have you always wanted to learn to cook or learn to sail, where should you go to do that?

20 Clean out your email inbox

Admit it, you’ve always wanted to have a zero inbox, now’s your chance. Where do you start? I usually start at the end. I find it’s easier to make decisions about the older emails that I obviously have no plan to respond to because the task is well over. As you get closer to current emails you could come up with an exotic strategy to organize your email into folders, or maybe, just maybe, you could start responding to some of those emails.

21 Read a book

There has to be a ton of books in your home you’ve been meaning to read but haven’t started yet. If you’re caught up, or not in the mood for what you have available, reread one of your children’s books to experience that story again.

When I was traveling by rail through Europe I went through a book every few days. It was critical to find someone to trade books with whenever I checked into a hostel. I think I read the most diverse collection of books in my life during that period, often because my choices were limited, and I discovered some incredible stories that way.

22 Learn to juggle

When I was at a Boy Scout I was outside a store raising funds by selling Christmas wreaths. A few jugglers set up in front of us and wowed the crowd with their entertaining skills. No one even noticed we were selling wreaths. I vowed that day that I would learn to juggle - and I did. It’s a skill that always surprises and entertains.

Pick three things to juggle of equal weight. It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it doesn’t shatter when it falls. Three oranges are perfect.

Get the feeling. Start by tossing one item in an arch right in front of your face. Practice looking straight ahead, and not at your hands. Now try with two items. Toss the first item up in an arch like before, but just as it hits the peak, toss the other item in the air. The goal is to alternate the two items from hand to hand.

Finally, three items. The trick is always two items in the air. Hold two items in one hand, the other in your other hand. Throw up the item from the hand holding two, as it reaches the arch, throw up the item in the alternate hand. The first item will now be falling to your one hand still holding an item, throw that item up in an arch so that you can catch the item falling first.

It doesn’t make sense, it’s not easy to do, but if you practice again and again, you’ll juggle through all items, then all items a second time. Once you get the hang of it, you can get fancy by changing the motion, or by using more different items. 

Here's a great video with professional juggler Jack Kalvan that includes multiple videos and animations to help you learn the basics. 

23 Write down the lyrics to a song

When I was bumming around Europe after college I met a guy from Brazil. The two of us spent more than a few hours bored out of our minds as we took trains to the next city. He had an incredible memory for songs and I started writing down the lyrics. It was quite the existential exercise as we tried to interpret the meaning behind some of our favorite songs.

24 Sing a song

Now that you have some great lyrics, it’s time to become a better singer. If you don’t already consider yourself a singer, here’s a few ideas to get you started.
  1. Find your audience. You can’t sing in your head, or in a whisper. Find a place where you can sing out loud. It could be the shower, if you have young kids it could be a good night song, it could be outside to the dogs or a tree. 
  2. Practice breathing. When inhaling fill the air in your diaphragm, around your belly, not your chest. You can practice doing this during the day and you’ll find you can take in more air with every inhale. 
  3. Practice your scales Do you remember Do Re Mi from the Sound of Music? They’re just practicing as they slowly go up and down the scales. Try it yourself with major scales, the same as you’d find on the white keys on a piano, C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. 
  4. How low and high can you sing? Practice singing your lowest note for a few seconds, then your highest note for a few seconds, this is your range. 
  5. Start singing. Pick a short song you know and sing it end to end. After you’ve sung it a few times you’ll start to get creative and hold a note longer, or drop more dramatically between words. Like anything else, you will improve with practice. 

25 Play an instrument like a flute or ukulele

If you already play, you know what to do. If you’ve always wanted to learn an instrument, make sure you plan ahead. Pick up your ukulele, a flute, or an accordion and keep it in the house. Download an app or get a good book on how to learn your instrument of choice. When it comes time to shelter in place you finally have the opportunity you’ve been waiting for.

26 Memorize a poem

Your brain is a muscle. Simply memorizing is a way to strengthen your brain. Find a poem, or ask someone if they know a poem. Start repeating over and over until it’s memorized. This will come in handy someday when you meet someone new, or before giving an impromptu speech. 

Not sure which poem to memorize? Why not write your own Haiku

27 Write an article, book, or journal entry

No time like the present. Pick a topic and keep at it. This may be your chance to start your book, but you can also be extremely creative in shorter bursts. Keep a journal on your experience. Write a review for a restaurant you particularly enjoy, a favorite beach, or the details of a family tradition. When life gets back to normal you could have it published in a magazine, or, just tuck it away as a reminder of something you’d like to do more of in the future.

28 Learn a new language

When I was traveling through Italy I was trying to get a bus up to a castle on the hill, but I couldn’t figure out which bus. I stopped a man on the street and asked for help. He tried in English, when he struggled he asked if I could speak Italian, then French, then German, none of which I could speak. That memory haunted me, and in the year 2000 I took action. I quite my job and moved to Taiwan to learn Mandarin. A little over a year later I moved to Japan to learn Japanese.

There’s no need for you to move to another country, as I did. If you have time on your hands, and your smartphone works, it’s time to download one of many free language apps and start learning. I find learning a new language can be challenging, but it’s also incredibly fascinating. It forces you to think about your own language and culture differently, and there’s nothing more pleasing than to start up a conversation, even for a little bit, with someone in their own language. 

Want a great app to learn a language? I recommend Duolingo

29 Start a new business

Have you ever thought of a great restaurant idea, or shop, an app, or new online business? Who would your ideal customer be? What would be unique? What would it actually look like, down to the tables in your restaurant or the logo on your app? Grab a pen and pencil and start writing down your ideas.

I have a ton of these I’ve written over the years. It’s fun to go back over them periodically to see if they’re still sound, or if there are flaws that can be improved. And I get a sense of validation when I read in the news that someone has launched a real business that sounds like my idea.

30 Get some sleep

In college I met a guy who literally took cat naps. He just laid down, and fifteen twenty minutes later he got up with more energy than before. Hey, you always complain that you never get enough sleep, now’s your chance.

Personally I believe couches were invented for napping. Really, as long as you have something soft for your head, and a near horizontal plane, you can sleep anywhere. Set a timer for 20 or 40 minutes, close your eyes, and wake up refreshed and relaxed.