If “social distancing” is this year’s buzzword, then “productivity” is its runner up. Scrolling through social media, it seems everyone is trying to learn a new quarantine skill. Some people are crocheting couches for their cat. Others have picked up a push-up challenge. Most everyone is baking bread.
Someone, somewhere decided that we’re supposed to use this pandemic as a time to learn a language, renovate the house or write a novel because, as many memes have told us, Shakespeare managed to crank out “King Lear” during the bubonic plague.
This need to be extremely productive may help some people manage stress. But for others, it’s adding insult to injury during an anxiety-inducing time. How are you supposed to learn how to make sourdough from scratch when it’s tough enough to make it through the day without having an emotional breakdown?
“There’s a huge push of people thinking that because we are home right now, we can be productive and that we’re all going to be able to stay as focused as we were a month or so ago,” productivity expert Racheal Cook told The Washington Post. “But that’s just not the case.”
Hear this loud and clear: You are not failing if you are not being “productive” right now. And if the list of things you feel like you’re supposed to be doing is starting to stress you out, then it’s time to re-evaluate what this self-imposed pressure is doing to your mental health.
Here are some things to keep in mind if you are feeling under pressure to be productive with your newfound “free time.”
Do what you can
Whenever you start feeling down about not doing “enough,” remind yourself that getting yourself through the day right now is enough. You’ll have some days during quarantine where you feel like trying a new recipe or going on a run. Other days, you’ll have little motivation to do anything but watch Netflix and lay on the couch. And that’s okay. Haven’t you been meaning to finish “Mad Men” for a few years now, anyways? Now’s the perfect time to do that.
You don’t need to strive to do something new or innovative every single day. Take each morning as it comes, understand that some days will be harder than others and be okay with doing nothing if nothing is what you need.
Be kind to yourself
When it comes to being productive, we often set expectations too high for ourselves. And when we don’t complete every single item on the unrealistic to-do list that we create, it’s easy for us to get bogged down. That’s especially true right now when we’re told that we have “more time” to be getting things done.
Remember that there are no rules on how much you should or shouldn’t do during a worldwide pandemic. Accept that you are doing your best, and recognize that practicing self-compassion is more important than mastering banana bread.
That said, having a little bit of structure every day can help.
Create a (realistic) list of goals
If you’re struggling with feeling as though you’re not being as productive as you’d like, or are having a hard time accomplishing work that needs to get done, start setting a manageable to-do list for yourself. Set daily and weekly goals of tasks you want to get done – but don’t set your standards too high. If you want to pick up running, start with three 20 minute runs a week rather than an hour every day.
Also keep in mind that these tasks can be things that you already do everyday, such as making breakfast, walking the dog or checking in with your family or friends. Being able to “check” things off of a list often feels like a reward; that you’ve completed a job well-done. And if you start giving yourself gratification for small accomplishments, it could help you find the motivation or desire to pick up bigger goals, as well.
If all else fails, do nothing
This may seem counterintuitive if you’re trying to have a productive day. But sometimes stressing about everything you want to accomplish makes it more difficult to get anything done.
Give yourself time and space to breathe and just be. Let yourself feel the reality and stress of today. Remember that it’s okay to do nothing if that’s all you can manage to do.
I’m pretty sure Shakespeare didn’t write all of his own stuff, anyways.