Productivity: 7 Things To Help You Plan For A New Month

Any one else not quite believe that we’re half way through the year already? It’s so easy for the months to blend into one another without feeling like you’ve achieved anything that you wanted to at the start of the year. So what’s the best way to prepare for a new month so that you can get the most out of it?

At the start of this month, I was feeling like I lacked a bit of purpose – 3 months not working will do that to you! I’m also very much of the mindset that if you declare something on paper, the more likely it is that you’ll achieve it. There’s studies to back up that way of thinking too. So I decided to create a mind map of everything I would like to do this month. I intend on doing the same for the rest of the year too.

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It doesn’t matter if I don’t manage to do them all, but just writing them down has already got me feeling more motivated and intentional with my actions. It’s a technique I’ve used before with planning out my goals for the year ahead, and it can work for you too.

So grab a pen and paper, and use these 7 areas as a monthly planning template for everything that you want to happen in the weeks ahead.

Mental Well-Being

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A great question to ask yourself in relation to this is; how do I want to feel this month?

More than likely that will then guide you to the kind of activities you’ll want to be doing on a daily and weekly basis to keep you’re mental well-being in check. If you’re not sure what mental well-being is, I’ve got you covered in my easy guide here.

This month, I want to maintain my feelings of calm and being in line with the universe. (I bit woo I know, but that’s just me) Bearing that in mind, I’ve written on my monthly plan that I want to incorporate affirmations into my morning rituals, and to keep up with the daily meditation practice that I started last month. If you’re intrigued as to what affirmations are, and want to give them ago yourself, check out my blog post here.

Physical Well-Being

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Physical well-being doesn’t just cover moving your body, it’s what you put into it too, so it’s important that you consider both when you’re putting your plan for the month together.

Do you want to build strength with your workouts? Or feel like you need to stretch more and focus on your breathing? Or do you just want to drink more water?

Figure out what apps or equipment you’ll need in order to do what you have planned. Write these down too so that there’s no nasty surprises and you don’t end up feeling defeated before you start.

The likelihood is that your plans for your physical well-being will link in with what you want to do to aid your mental well-being. For me, I’ve really been reaping the mental benefits of exercising pretty much on a daily basis, and as part of my plan for the month I’m making sure I get in 5 short workouts a week. I’m a sucker for the endorphin high and just feel so much more motivated for the day ahead after I’ve worked up a sweat.

I have realised though that my body needs the time to recover more than I’m allowing it, so I’ll be making sure I fit in at least one session of yoga or stretching a week so that I’m not pushing things too hard.

Budget

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First of all, if you’ve not already got a basic budget of your monthly bills, other out goings, and how much you want to put away to save, I would definitely recommend that you get one sorted ASAP. This blog post should help with that.

There’s so much power to be had from knowing exactly what’s going in and out of your bank account on a monthly basis. Trust me, this comes from a girl who used to ignore her statements for months on end before she pulled her head out of the sand and started working to pay off her debt.

Once you’ve got your basic budget sorted out, you can plan what you want to spend your money on that’s fun. Have you got a Zoom murder mystery with you pals that means you’ll have to buy an outfit for your character? Or do you have date nights with your other half on the cards?

I’ve got my boyfriend’s birthday coming up, so I’ve taken the time to figure out how much I want to spend on gifts as well as topping up my skincare and book addictions.

Work Life

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Again, you can link this back to your mental well-being.

If you wanted to feel calmer, perhaps this means that you make time at the end of each week to plan out everything you need for the following week. This could be making sure you write a to-do list before you leave your desk on a Friday, or spending an hour on Sunday prepping your lunches for the week ahead.

On the other hand, if you’re after a sense of achievement, it could be that your plans for the month involve figuring out the steps you’ll need to go through in order to complete an important work project or goal.

As my work life is looking uncertain after my time on furlough ends, I’m going to spend time updating my CV and scoping out the jobs market in my local area.

Relationships

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Relationships don’t just mean your significant other. (if you have one) It’s your friends and family too. Take time to think about how you want to nurture each in the month ahead.

The likelihood is that your plans will link back to your budget too – so make sure they’re factored in. Now that we can go to pubs, are you planning a few drinks with friends? Or maybe a picnic in the park?

It could simply be factoring in time each week to catch up with loved ones over the phone, Face Time or Zoom.

My boyfriend is a key worker, so although I’m spending pretty much all my time at home, he isn’t. We’re getting to see each other pretty much the same amount as before lock down kicked in. I therefore make it a mission each month to make sure we get some quality time together.

This used to be a classic date night out for dinner, but we’ve had to get more creative recently. Last week we spent a lovely afternoon out in the sun drinking gin. We do also love a good Scrabble tournament. If you’re stuck for date night ideas at home this blog post has you covered.

Home

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If you have home improvements planned, or a DIY project on the cards, this is another area that you’ll want to link back to your budget. Making sure you have the money set aside for all the supplies you’ll need will hopefully stop there being any road blocks further down the line.

Are there cupboards or drawers that are annoying you so much that you really want to get them organised this month? I find that when there’s a task that I’ve been putting off for ages, it’s best if I break it down into a few steps so that it doesn’t feel so overwhelming. I also put my favourite music on whilst I do it!

Even though we’ve lived in our new flat for over a year now, there are still some walls that are looking a little bare, so my plan this month is to source some posters and frames to make our place seem that bit more homely.

Passions/Hobbies

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For the benefit of your mental well-being, I would personally recommend that you try to factor in time each day to do something that you enjoy.

One of the big lessons that I’ve learnt in lock down was that before the pandemic I wasn’t getting enough time to do the things I loved because I was too ‘busy’. I think that making time for ourselves is actually key to our overall happiness. I know I have a much better day when I’ve done something I’ve loved.

This could be as simple as reading each night for 15 minutes, or making a new recipe from scratch a couple of times a week. Or, it could be a bigger project that you’re working on such as embroidery or crochet.

As you’ll have gathered, I’m passionate about writing and helping others, so a big thing for me is making sure I have time each week to work on my blog content and the social media channels I use to promote it.

Have you ever made a plan for the month before? Do you think they help? Let me know what you want to achieve this month in the comments.

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The Lessons I’ve Learnt In Lock Down

It’s been a strange old time hasn’t it? The last 3 months or so of staying at home for the majority of our time have been trying to say the least.

Having shared with you my honest thoughts about lock down already, as we start to get some normality back, I wanted to take some time to pause and reflect. Just what have we learnt during lock down?

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I’ve seen several of my favourite influencers and bloggers taking the time to consider the parts of lock down that they unexpectedly enjoyed, what they’ve learnt about themselves, the habits they want to keep, and different mindset they’ll have moving forwards.

I think one thing is for sure for all of us; we won’t be taking things for granted any more, because it can, and has, been snatched away from us so quickly.

Here’s the 4 lessons that I’ve learnt in lock down:

Life Isn’t All About Being Busy

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I think that being forced to slow down has definitely been one of the biggest silver linings to take away from this whole experience. Not working (I’m on furlough) for such a long period of time has for sure put into perspective just how busy I was before. How exhausted it was making me, and to be honest, how it was affecting my happiness.

As an introvert, I replenish my energy by spending time on my own being quiet. In hindsight, I can see that I wasn’t getting any where near enough quiet time to recharge on a daily basis.

I always felt guilty for not doing anything, when I could be doing something productive instead. I know there has been a lot of discussion about this on social media too. It’s clear a lot of us having been feeling it, even during lock down.

I now realise that taking the time to slow down isn’t selfish; it’s actually key to keeping my mental well-being in check. When I eventually go back to work (I’m still not exactly sure when that will be yet) I’ll 100% be making it a priority to block out pockets of time to recharge each day.

The Simple Life Is Better Than I Thought

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I never thought I would enjoy the simple things in life just as much as I have. This comes back to the point about being busy.

When we’re rushing through life at break-neck speed, we literally don’t have chance to smell the roses. Or, look in wonder at gorgeous blossom trees, appreciate the way the sunlight dapples through the branches of trees above, or reflects off the water like tiny specs of gold. To hear birds tweeting rather than traffic, and to just be content with what we already have. I’ve found myself really savouring these kinds of moments, and taking away the small joys that they offer.

Lock down has definitely forced me into thinking about about everything I’m grateful for having, rather than focusing on what I don’t have. Being faced with the devastating reality of the number of lives lost to this virus has jolted me into changing my perspective of just what’s important. It turns out the little things actually mean the most.

That Self-Reflection Is Underrated

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Not working has been the pause I’ve needed to step back and evaluate where I’m at right now, and the vision I have for my life moving forward. Big stuff.

It’s allowed me to actually do the activities that I didn’t have the time to do before because I was so busy. Those activities have brought me so much clarity; journaling, reading inspiring books, and getting outside for long(ish) walks.

As my partner is a key worker, who at times has worked back to back night shifts, I’ve ended up spending a lot of time alone in our flat. It’s perhaps the introvert in me, but I’ve not found the alone time lonely. Peace gives you strength. The strength to get to know yourself better, work through difficult emotions, and trust your instincts.

One of the conclusions that I’ve come to through self-reflection and embracing the simple life, is that I don’t want a career, I just want a job. By this I mean that I’m not craving the thrill of pushing my career forwards any more. (and the long hours that inevitably come with it) I would rather do a job that, although less challenging, I enjoy, and gives me the mental head space to spend time on the things I’m really passionate about outside of work. Basically I don’t want to live to work, I want to work to live.

Boundaries Are Everything

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Living off 80% of my wage throughout my time on furlough has forced me to re-evaluate what I spend my money on; what I really ‘need’. It turns out that a lot of my money was being spent on the social activities that were draining me.

It’s put into perspective just what I will be saying yes to in future. My close circle of friends will always get my time, but I will be more careful with other commitments. If I feel like it’s an event I ‘should’ be at to show face, then that’s a signal that I shouldn’t be wasting my time or energy going to it.

Through lock down I’ve come to value preserving my energy for the things that only make me feel good; my mental well-being deserves it.

Do you agree with any of these lessons? What have you learnt that you’ll be taking forwards after lock down properly ends?

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A Beginners Guide to Meditation

I’ll be honest, before I really understood what meditation was, I thought it was a bit woo woo. I thought that to do it you would have to light incense, sit on a special cushion, and start chanting.

That can be part of it if you want it to, but really isn’t what it’s all about. My first impressions couldn’t have been more wrong.

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What is Meditation?

I think Headspace (more on them later) describe what meditation is perfectly:

Meditation isn’t about becoming a different person, a new person, or even a better person. It’s about training in awareness and getting a healthy sense of perspective. You’re not trying to turn off your thoughts or feelings. You’re learning to observe them without judgement. And eventually, you may start to better understand them as well.

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My Experience

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you’ll know that I’m divorced. [read Everything I’ve Learnt From Getting Divorced here] I was first introduced to meditation when the relationship with my ex was falling apart and my mental health was starting to suffer as a result. I definitely needed a healthy sense of perspective.

My friend recommended an app to me (more on those in a sec) at the time, and suggested that I give guided meditations a try.

I knew that I needed to get a handle on my thoughts, so it giving it a try seemed worth a shot. I struggled with the guided meditations initially though – maybe it was the voices on the app that I was using that I just couldn’t get on board with, or that I was finding it hard to let go into it, I don’t know.

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After that first introduction I’ve then dipped in and out of meditation over the years when I’ve felt I’ve needed it. (which I know isn’t how you’re meant to approach these things)

When lock down started, I knew that meditation needed to be a solid part of my daily routine again. In the first few weeks I found just focusing on my breathing really helped.

That was working fine for a while, but at the start of last week, I felt like I needed to get back into meditation ‘properly’. As well as the mental exhaustion that comes from navigating lock down, I now have the possibility of redundancy thrown into the mix.

I’ve just finished a guided meditation series to help with the anxiety I’ve been feeling, and it’s really helping. Some days it’s easier than others to get in to, but the clarity of mind that comes afterwards is like a fog being lifted.

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What Are The Benefits?

Many people, myself included, start meditation for reducing stress and anxiety and cultivating a more peaceful state of mind.

There’s further benefits though that aren’t quite so obvious. Such as growing a greater sense of compassion, awareness, clarity, focus, and increased mental resilience. All, I think are extremely underrated, but deeply needed in our current society.

I’ve certainly been feeling the effects of the less obvious benefits, and once you get over the mental hurdle required to start any new habit, the results are definitely worth it.

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Where To Start

Find a time of day that works for you

There’s no use meditating at night if you’re just going to fall asleep 2 minutes after closing your eyes. Equally, there’s no point doing it in the morning if you’re rushing around trying to get sorted for the day.

It doesn’t matter what time it is, just so long as you will have the mental capacity to focus for 5-10 minutes

Designate a quiet spot

Ear mark a quiet corner in your house or flat that’s comfortable and you know you won’t get disturbed. Hopefully you’ll have already picked a time of day that means you’re less likely to be interrupted any way. (one thing that used to stop me from meditating was paranoia that my flat mate would walk in!)

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Let go

This is often easier said than done, but in my experience, completely letting go into either guided meditation you’re listening to, or focusing on your breathing, is likely to be the only way you’ll feel like meditation is ‘working’.

If you feel yourself getting frustrated, or like you’re fighting the thoughts that you have, rather than just observing them, try to loosen your grip. This takes patience and practice, (trust me!) but it’s worth persevering for the benefits that I mentioned earlier.

Top Apps To Use

The two apps I hear about most in relation to meditation are Headspace and Calm. Both have similar offerings, so it’s really down to personal preference.

Both also include free trial periods. However, I would recommend making the investment in yourself and paying so that you can access the full library of resources that both of them provide. Such as meditation series for relieving stress, anxiety, mindfulness in daily life, improving self esteem, and feeling more peaceful.

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Calm even has a series based on the Winnie-the-Pooh characters. As I discussed in my very first blog post, the characters relate to common mental health issues, and each character has their own dedicated meditation.

I personally use Calm because I prefer the voices they use for the guided meditations, that, and their sleep stories. Narrated by the likes of Stephen Fry, Matthew McConaughey and Leona Lewis, 9 times out of 10 they send me drifting off to sleep quickly and easily – so much so that I have know idea how any of the stories end!

Have you given meditation a try? If not, what’s holding you back?

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Aromatherapy: 3 Smells That Will Bring You a Scent of Calm

With the future still looking so uncertain, I find myself (and I don’t think I’m the only one here) looking for more and more ways to calm the anxiety, which even though it ebbs and flows, I am still very aware of being part of my life.

There are a multitude of ways we all have the power to reach an inner sense of calm – more of which I’m sure I’ll explore with you in future blog posts. After reading a paragraph from Calm by Fearne Cotton, I was inspired by the idea of us tuning into one of our senses to bring about a feeling of calm.

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Are there smells that makes you feel happy? Remind you of a great holiday? Make you feel comforted? Certain scents have a way of making us feel happier and uplifted.

This is because the part of the brain that manages our emotions and memories is stimulated. This then produces the response of ‘feel good’ chemicals being released, which in turn lifts our mood.

It got me thinking exactly what my go-to uplifting scents are….

Body Lotion

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Not just any old body lotion though, it has to be Nivea. This is because when I was a young child I used to watch my Mum get out of the shower and apply body lotion. You guessed it, that body lotion was Nivea. The smell of it instantly takes me back to a time when a big hug from my Mum was all I needed to feel safe in the world.

Sun Cream

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I like the smell of pretty much every sun cream, but the one that sparks the most joy is Nivea. (this post is not an ad for Nivea, but clearly my house as a child was filled with the stuff)

It reminds me of fun family holidays dipping in and out of pools and building sandcastles on beaches. Then, in my teenage years, even more fun filled holidays with my girls. For me, it’s the nostalgic smell of being absolutely care free.

Mediterranean Summer

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To be specific, just one Mediterranean country – Portugal. I was lucky enough to spend the majority of my childhood summers going on holiday to The Algarve.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, I remember a distinct smell hitting me – a combination of native plants and heat that’s almost indescribable. It was the background to so many happy memories I have of those summers. When I smell it I immediately have the feeling that I’m at home.

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I have already started to incorporate some of these smells into my weekly routine so that I can get the uplifting hit and sense of calm that my body craves.

Every time I have a bath, I slather myself in Nivea lotion when I get out. Now that the weather actually feels like summer, I’ve been applying sun cream more regularly (you can guess the brand) before I head out on my walks in the sunshine.

Obviously getting that Mediterranean summer smell will be a little tricker considering travelling abroad is off the cards, but for now I’ll be content with making the most of the sunny days the UK has to offer – at a safe social distance of course.

Aromatherapy

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Another way that we can bring the calming power of smell into our days is through Aromatherapy. I’m not going to lie, I did have to Google exactly what aromatherapy was before I started writing this post, but here goes…

Aromatherapy is a holistic healing treatment that uses natural plant extracts to promote health and well-being. Basically it’s the use of essential oils to improve mental and physical health. Sounds (or should I say smells lol) pretty good to me!

Essential oils apparently work best when you inhale them or they’re absorbed into the skin. So you can add a few drops to your bath, massage into your temples, or use in hot water for a facial steam. There’s lots of aromatherapy products like candles and diffusers infused with essential oils available too.

Here are the top 3 scents for promoting calm:

Lavender

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Lavender is thought to calm anxiety by impacting the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions, and is probably the most famous smell for being calming.

There are so many companies that offer lavender essential oil pillow sprays for that reason, [like this one from The Body Shop] and it’s something I’m keen to invest in too, as my sleep has been a little all over the place during lock down – as I’m guessing yours has too.

Citrus

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This smell has been linked to stress relief and a Brazilian study showed that those inhaling a sweet orange essential oil scent found that their anxiety symptoms improved.

I have an aura spray (basically a room spray) that includes a citrus smell, and I spray it just before I get in the bath. It definitely has a soothing affect whilst I soak.

Frankincense

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Probably better known for being one of the gifts from the three wise men, it does actually have therapeutic and healing properties. It’s benefits include relief from stress and anxiety and reduction of inflammation.

This is one that I’ve seen included in candle scents before, so I know it smells gorgeous, and after I’ve sorted out my pillow spray, will be next on my list to invest in.

What are your favourite uplifting smells and why? And do you use essential oils? If so, which ones? I’d love to hear – so share in the comments.

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Top Feel-Good Films to Watch After a Bad Week

When a week has been filled with challenge after challenge and you’re mentally and physically exhausted, there’s very few better feelings than putting your pjs on, cosying up on the couch, eating rubbish, drinking [insert favourite alcoholic beverage here – in case you’re wondering, mines gin] and watching a great feel good film.

To quote and already over-quoted phrase – these are unprecedented times – the bad weeks just keep on rolling into one another at the moment. What better excuse do we need for a pick me up?

In no particular order, here are my top 5 feel good films. Best enjoyed back to back and in the way I described above.

Sex and the City the Movie

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I actually saw the first Sex and the City movie before I watched any of the series. I vividly remember kind of begrudgingly going to see it with one of my best friends. I came out of the cinema absolutely loving it – I was hooked. An addiction to the series then ensued with a purchase of the box set. My love for Cosmopolitans was validated, and I longed to be a writer like Carrie.

This film reminds me just how great the best female friendships are – supportive, honest and hilarious – and, let’s face it, we all want to be part of the dream squad (including their wardrobe) that is Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda and Samantha.

The Greatest Showman

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Hugh Jackman, Zac Efron, singing and dancing – what is there not to love?! Seriously though, the moral of this story – to treat everyone as equals and value their uniqueness – is so touching that it makes me cry. It also helps that the male leads are very easy on the eye, and that the soundtrack has you singing and dancing along every time. A winner of a film if you ask me.

My Best Friend’s Wedding

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In my opinion, Julia Roberts and Rupert Everett are at their absolute finest in this film. The hilarity of the friendship of their characters is something to behold – who can forget the famous ‘Say a Little Prayer’ lunch scene?! Or Cameron and Julia fighting in the toilets? Add to that a tear-jerker of an ending and it’s a classic. One of the finest rom-coms you’ll ever see.

Dirty Dancing

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I’m going to risk saying something that I know is hugely controversial here – when I first watched Dirty Dancing (around age 12) I didn’t really get what the fuss was all about. [cue shocked intake of breath] However, I now know that I was simply too young to appreciate its greatness. I don’t think I really need to describe why I like this film so much, we all know about the iconic cast, dance routines and one liners. What clinches it for me though, is that whenever I watch it, it reminds me of my old flat mate – an amazing gal and great friend – which instantly puts a smile on my face. We used to watch it together a lot.

Legally Blonde

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This film never fails to make me feel good. What a character Elle Woods is! She reminds us all that if you want something enough, and you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything – the cheerleader (literally) that every girl needs. Plus ALL her outfits are super cute – and hello, who can forget the bend and snap?!

You’ve heard what my top 5, but I want to know how they compare with yours! Are there any you think I’ve missed? Or you don’t agree with? Share your feel good film thoughts in the comments.

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10 Stay At Home Date Night Ideas For Easter Weekend

One of the stipulations I have with my boyfriend about our relationship is that we have at least a couple of date nights a month – ideally once a week. Ordinarily, these date nights mainly consist of dinners and drinks out, a trip to the cinema, or a competitive round or two of crazy golf.

Conventional date nights have clearly gone out of the window at the moment – yet another thing we all have to adjust to because of the c-bomb. However, I’m also very conscious that I’m spending all day every day with my boyfriend at the moment, and he’s already starting to bug me. I want to keep things fresh in the romance department so that I don’t get to the point where I loathe the sight of him!

I’ve been scouring the internet to find some ideas for at-home date ideas that won’t break the bank, and that will hopefully keep the spark alive even when cabin fever seriously sets in for us both. (these tips would also be great if you have young kids and ‘normally’ can’t go out anyway)

Here’s my top 10 for you to give a try this Easter weekend:

1. Movie Night Pot Luck

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I got this idea from the lovely @mrshinchhome on Instagram. In a slight change to a standard movie night, her and her husband wrote down 5 films each that they wanted to watch. They folded each of the films they had written down up and put them in a jar. They then take it in turns to pick a film to watch in the evening. No more fighting over what to watch!

2. Board/Card Games

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I have to admit that when we’ve been skint at the end of the month, me and the boyfriend have done this before. It’s amazing how a game of Scrabble can become so heated – the dictionary has come out on more than one occasion! You could also play The Game of Life, Monopoly, or your favourite card game.

3. Ask Questions

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There are all sorts of conversation starter card decks you can buy online to build a stronger connection with your other half – anything from reminiscing on moments you’ve shared, to pondering the big questions in life, or conversations to get you in the mood. (ahem)

4. Have a Tasting Party

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This could be anything from wine, chocolate, ice-cream or cheese. Set up tasting stations in your living room or kitchen complete with little note pads for each of your tasting notes.

5. At Home Spa Date

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This idea is one I’m keen to try – run a lovely bubble bath for you to both and share a bottle of prosecco while you soak. If you’re feeling especially romantic you could then move on to giving each other massages with essential oils. Or, you could apply face masks to one another.

6. Country Themed Dinner Date

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Cook together to create a meal from your chosen country. To keep on the lock down theme (sorry I had to go there) you could try making home made pizzas, (Italy) paella (Spain) or a sweet and sour curry. (China)

7. Karaoke

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I would definitely be up for this, (I used to play Disney SingStar as part of pre-drinks with certain pals when I went on nights out in my early 20s) however, I’m sadly resigned to the fact that this one won’t be an option for me – my boyfriend just isn’t the type to enjoy this kind of thing. If, on the other hand, you and your other half are up for giving this a go, try searching for karaoke versions of songs on YouTube and google the lyrics to go with them, then sing your hearts out!

8. Picnic

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This suggestion is great if you actually have a back garden or balcony to make things that little bit more authentic – weather permitting of course. Although it could still work just as well on the floor in your living room. Set yourselves up with a blanket, some cushions, and all your favourite picnic style food. To keep things very British I’m thinking quiche, scotch eggs, sandwiches, and strawberries and cream.

9. Video Game Challenge

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It tells you the type of man that I live with that he would be absolutely buzzing if we tried this idea as a date night. Go head to head with your partner at game of your (or lets face it his) choice. I’m pestering my boyfriend to help me re-live my childhood and buy Crash Bandicoot Team Racing so we can battle it out on the track.

10. Build a Den

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I know this one probably sounds the most ridiculous, but bear with me, because I actually think it would make for a cute night together. Use your sofa cushions, blankets, duvets and chairs to make yourselves a little den. Add fairy lights to give it a more romantic touch, then cosy up and make bucket list plans of all the exciting things you’ll do together once things return back to ‘normal’. Bonus – if you have children you can leave this up for them to use as a den/fort the next day.

Which of these lock down date ideas are you keen to try? I’d love to hear if you have ideas of your own too – add them in the comments.