Productivity in the Covid-Times

Lifestyle posts on this blog have always given me trouble. I never know what topic is appropriate or acceptable or on-brand, and Googling lifestyle trends always fills me with a huge sense of alienation and self-consciousness. Is a new treadmill or fitness watch or sofa really popular in terms of people’s lifestyles? Seriously

This goes double for the Covid-Times, particularly now that we’re months into the pandemic. Writing this post back in April would have included adventures in sourdough or that closet in my house I finally decluttered. November has seen my lifestyle return to a slightly skewered normal. I’m back in the classroom. I go to work, I come home; I go grocery shopping; I go for walks (with a dog, now!) The major differences come in the form of mask-wearing, hand sanitizing, and maintaining six feet of distance from people wherever possible, all things that have become routine on their own. 

I thought it would be easier, honestly. I thought I could rely on my old habits to see me through. But I didn’t read a single book from March to September of this year. My creative endeavours dissolved. Writing these most recent blog posts, short as they are, has required a Herculean effort. I put together a watch list, but I keep returning to old favourites. And don’t get me started on Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which was exactly the kind of no-stakes, no-mistakes simulation I needed to make it through the year. 

Productivity is a fraught subject. I remember people sharing platitudes in March about how if you hadn’t finished your novel by the time Covid ended (what does that even mean anyways? How can a virus end?), then the problem was you all along. I think this is supposed to be inspirational, but man, that’s an oversimplification, not to mention a hugely privileged position. Takes a special kind of existence to see a global pandemic as the time a person needs to live and pursue their dreams. 

However, I also know that productivity provides direction. Completing tasks and meeting milestones gave structure to my days and kept me from feeling listless or directionless. The key seems to be, as always, finding a proper balance, and recognizing that balance has shifted because of [literally everything that’s happened in 2020].

(Going to take a moment here to acknowledge that all hyperbole aside, not everything that has happened in 2020 has been a bad thing. I think a lot of people have gained an awareness that things have been bad for a long time and that 2020 merely exacerbated social systems that were already unfair, unsustainable, and deadly. A huge thanks needs to go out to grassroots organizations, protesters, and activists who have been fighting and are still fighting to protect people.) 

Seems a little underwhelming to compile a list of the ways that I’ve made productivity manageable this year, not to mention the ways I’ve made productivity meaningful. But I get the sense that I’m not alone in this, that there are a lot of people who feel that they’re drained of their creativity, of their energy, and that these methods might help. Finally – the lifestyle post I was meant to write!

  1. Set small goals. 

Make them almost too easy to accomplish BUT make them something with real, immediate impacts on your self or space. Committing to make the bed in the morning is a good place to start. A load of laundry or washing a few dishes also helps. Putting on make-up before a Zoom meeting (back in the times of working from home) was small but meaningful, and it gave the day a sense of purpose without draining my reserves.

The other trick? Look for things you’ve already done with your day and consider those your goals. Ate breakfast, washed your hair; hey, look, you’re not wearing sweatpants right now! Good job, you!

I’ve got a strawman version of my reader going off in my head about how these are false senses of accomplishment, but I counter with, why? Is it because putting make-up on my face doesn’t serve a greater good? That its impacts have no reach beyond my home office (or the dining table that was serving as one)? One of the biggest problems with perceptions around productivity is the discrediting of anything that doesn’t have enough of an impact. But putting make-up on my face woke me up in the morning. A made bed was a nice thing to come to at the end of the day. Writing short blog posts got me contributing to this project! Those things had an impact, small as it may be, on the way I came into Zoom meetings, the way I now get to the classroom in the morning, and how prepared I feel throughout the day.

  1. Make checklists and use them.

I’m biased about checklists, I know. The level of satisfaction I get from putting an X through a box that I drew for a thing that matters only to me lends strength to that argument about false sense of accomplishment.

But technically it’s not really false, because that sense of accomplishment is there. I did do the laundry today, thanks very much. And I unloaded the dishwasher. And being able to cross those things off a list feels good. It reminds me the hours of the day mattered, even if they only matter to me.

So make a checklist – on a post-it note or in a bullet journal or on the phones that people keep telling me do everything my bullet journal does. Check things off the list as you go. Just make sure to keep it manageable! If you end up with too much on the list and migrate too many tasks at a time, that sense of accomplishment goes away.

3. Keep this time in perspective.

We’re in the midst of a global pandemic.

That’s kind of hard to wrap one’s head around. Like, the word ‘global’ already implies a vastness impossible to fully comprehend, let alone a pandemic, which isn’t something I’ve ever experienced, have you?

Look, it’s very well and good to see time at home, sheltering in place, as full of potential and opportunity. It’s certainly better than framing the world in terms of I can’ts or I shouldn’ts. But engaging with anything right now – work or play – comes with the added mental and emotional labour of this not being a normal time. We’re under duress whether we know it or not, and it’s always better to err on the side of caution and go easy on yourself. If you’re not finishing your novel or whipping up sourdough bread or, hell, binging that new series on Netflix; if you’re chilling out when you get home and taking a nap, that’s enough. That is plenty. The series will still be there. The novel can get finished later. Is anyone using their sourdough starters anymore, because I’m pretty sure mine has died?

4. Make use of mental health resources.

There’s another reason why productivity might be difficult right now, and it goes beyond a feeling of exhaustion or stress or unstructured time. Loss of enjoyment in things you previously did can be an indicator of depression.

Most counsellors and psychologists have taken their services online or over the phone right now, making them possibly even more accessible than they were pre-Covid. Which is immensely helpful, given that – surprise – the global pandemic and social distancing seem to be having some significant impacts on people’s mental and emotional well-being. I joke, but this really isn’t a joking matter: if you’re not feeling like yourself, please seek help. If that’s local counselling through SIGN or via a hotline; if that’s a psychologist that you’ve found online or been referred to, please make use of these services.

If you’re not getting your novel written or successfully Konmari-ing every room in your house or becoming the best darn hobbyist you can right now, that’s fine. Seriously, it is. Those things will all still be here when restrictions have been lifted. The problem isn’t you. Staying productive is important, but so is managing your expectations about what that productivity looks like right now.

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