Productivity During COVID-19

April 10, 2020

I’ve been seeing this tweet float around a lot these past few weeks:

Subsequently, this Tumblr thread gained traction in response to the original Twitter poster:

I’ve been reflecting on this idea of productivity during isolation a lot especially because all the chaos prior to COVID-19 hasn’t halted to make space for this pandemic. In fact, things are just continuing to stack and resources are becoming limited. Sometimes it even feels like our own capacities become bounded as we try to address multiple variables impacting our stress while taking care of our responsibilities.

Our Western definitions of productivity are very rooted in a capitalist system. If we are able to produce an end product by a linear process, the value of the product and the perceived value of ourselves seems to increase. Bonus points if you’re able to “pull yourselves up by the bootstraps” and make yourself into a “success story”. The pressure I’ve seen folks put on themselves to become factories of production whether it means creating a side hustle, immersing yourself in skill-building through online platforms, or spreading yourself so thin you think you’re making more out of yourself during this shelter in place order–it’s overwhelming and it reflects this assumption we place on ourselves that “more time → more done”.

To be frank, I’ve caught myself putting unnecessary pressure to be hyper-productive during my state’s shelter in place order too. I still have the same commitments I had prior to the order, but somehow my expectations of myself have become unhealthy and unrealistic as I try to catch up to the speed at which things are happening around me.

Unemployment applications are surging, businesses are going into foreclosure, school curriculum has moved entirely online, and places of worship have also physically closed. Above all, COVID-19 has taken away lives so abruptly, the process of grieving feels rushed. Things are happening so quickly, it feels like we have to catch up to the rest of these events, but I have to remind myself that COVID-19 isn’t calculated. Governments are planning in response to COVID-19, but the pandemic itself is like a wildfire. We can’t necessarily stop it in its tracks, but if we can all commit to socially distance ourselves, we can flatten the curve which will hopefully buy us more time to be able to create long-term sustainable responses to this pandemic.

In therapy, I’ve learned that if we can’t change what’s happening we have to adjust what we’re doing or change how we perceive what’s happening. It doesn’t mean we’re responsible for what we’re responding to. Also, there’s probably a myriad of other options we can engage in, but in a simple way-these are the main 2 things that have guided me during moments where I feel powerless; just like the powerlessness I’ve been feeling with all that is going on with COVID-19.

I don’t know if people are feeling inclined to be hyper-productive because it feels like an actionable step towards coping, which then as long as it’s within healthy reason-seems fair. But just because we have more time by ourselves, it does not mean we have to make more of ourselves.

We are as good as we are.

That doesn’t mean we can’t push ourselves to improve or try out new things that are exciting, but I’d challenge you to think about what the foundation for those things are? Is it based on a value to improve and challenge yourself towards growth? Or is it rooted in a pressure to come out with a list of accomplishments and supposedly raise your self-worth? If not either of these things, what is it rooted in?

After some reflection, I realized that my pressure towards hyper-productivity is due to the fact that I get angsty when I’m idle-minded. If I’m not actively doing something, it feels like my depression and anxiety move closer in and take up more space. Distraction is a huge coping skill for me, but I realized that giving myself time to rest, practicing self-compassion, and expressing gratitude can be equally meaningful (if not more), as creating a side hustle and learning new skills. I think we tend to place more value on the things that can be actualized into physicality rather than things that are more philosophical or abstract or contained in thought rather than space.

My hope for you is this; whatever you find yourself doing during this shelter in place order, I hope it is something that is meaningful and of value to you. If all you get out of this time is rest I don’t think there’s anything shameful or worthy of guilt in that. I hope you find ways to connect with yourself and others as we are further distanced and that you give yourself permission to grieve. There is a whirlwind of things going on and even if we can’t do anything to directly stop the process, we can do things in service towards the life we want and the peace we hope to experience even amidst this chaos.

Standing with you in solidarity,

Michelle

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