Social media posts and articles all over the internet will have you thinking it’s OK not to be productive right now.
While that was great advice two, maybe three weeks into lockdown, the truth is that there is no definitive answer to when things will return to normal, and you can’t sit around obsessing over the news for months on end. Whether you face financial worries or mental health concerns, it’s time to embrace this new reality and be productive. Here’s the thing: Productivity will not look like it did a few months back. Your children’s schedules will not be filled with after-school and weekend activities.
And you probably won’t be going to the gym or any large gatherings for a while. So now is the time to channel your anxieties into productivity — and redefine what productivity means altogether.
Channeling anxiety into productivity is a coping mechanism society tends to reward. But that’s not always a good thing. For people with addictive personalities, this could mean trading in one addiction for another. That’s simply not a healthy form of productivity, and it can often mean the root of anxiety isn’t being addressed. For people who fell into what is sometimes called hustle culture, working a day job alongside a side hustle or two, stillness can have an unwelcome effect as well.
Whether a personality disorder or a cultural value, work-related productivity just doesn’t look like it did a few short weeks ago. At this point, over 25 million Americans have applied for unemployment. Think about that. If time is money, then what does that mean for all the time we have on our hands right now?
The situation isn’t any easier for people working from home. Working from home may have seemed like the ideal situation for those who were fed up with workplace culture or commuting. But it’s incredibly difficult to maintain the same level of productivity at home when children are involved. The added pressure of homeschooling or trying to work without child care assistance has proven to be a whole new level of performance so many of us just weren’t prepared for. Instead of trying to be more productive, working parents are trying to find a greater sense of balance.
That’s where redefining productivity comes in. Applying old standards to new circumstances simply won’t work. Meaningful productivity requires a stronger association with mental health and well-being. Plus, what works for one family may not work for another. So this is not a one-size-fits-all solution.
That old form of replacing obsessive behavior with hyperproductivity will need to be reimagined right now. Instead of rushing from meeting to meeting, a shift toward helping others in need could be a positive substitute. That could mean making masks at home, fundraising, or volunteering while staying safe.
Social media is blowing up with baking posts. And that’s a great thing. Shifting anxious energy to cooking, gardening, or painting can give you an invaluable sense of purpose and calm.
The same goes for those who are looking for a respite from the work-from-home/parenting matrix. Maybe productivity doesn’t mean doing more but doing less. If you feel like you’re failing at work and parenting right now, that’s totally fair. But you can’t go on this way. A return to normalcy is unknown, so you need to pace yourself.
Identifying what you feel you need most and shifting a bit of focus in that direction could help you gain a feeling of productivity. This could mean having a conversation with your employer about setting realistic and achievable goals.
If you feel like your parenting skills are in need of improvement, don’t be so hard on yourself. Managing your expectations in exchange for a greater sense of well-being may be what you need most right now. And if you link well-being with productivity, then boom! You’ve done it. You managed to work from home and parent while not feeling like a failure.
However you redefine productivity, the main thing is to keep moving forward in a healthy and sustainable way. Don’t switch off completely. Studies show mental health goes hand in hand with a feeling of purposefulness. How you manage to feel a sense of purpose within the confines of your circumstances is up to you. There’s help out there if you need it. Whether it’s a phone call to a friend or a mental health service, use your resources. Otherwise, giving into hopelessness could exacerbate your situation.
So whether it’s journaling, reading for pleasure, or creating beautiful memories with your children, as long as it enables a sense of wellness or purposefulness, then it counts as productivity. Centering ourselves when the ground is shaking beneath us all is a form of survival. And surviving another day is the most productive thing anyone in the world can do right now.