It seems we’ve all collectively agreed to not pressure ourselves into being productive during this global pandemic, and I’m all for it. The stress of dealing with the uncertainty and stream of bad news is enough, the last thing you need is to feel bad because you haven’t been productive enough. If there was ever a time to practice self-compassion, this is it.
And while I’m cynical at the idea that we should “make the most” of quarantine, I also feel like there’s an unnecessary amount of outrage and hair-splitting over benign suggestions of how to spend your time at home. Forcing routine into your life might feel laughable and counterproductive at the moment, but like me, you may also find yourself craving a sense of normalcy.
In finding a middle ground between those two places — the pressure to be productive and the desire to cope with reality — I’ve adopted a loose, daily ritual that gives me a reason to start the day without the pressure of pretending everything is normal. This ritual is loosely based on advice from a friend, and it involves completing five different types of tasks every day (or at least making a reasonable effort to do so).
I do one productive thing.
I don’t have to be productive every day, but every day, I try to do at least one productive thing. It doesn’t have to be a big thing. It can be something small and simple, like deep cleaning the oven, doing your taxes, sweeping the baseboards, or organizing your digital photos. I’m lucky enough to still be working through this pandemic, so I have to be productive at work, but I also try to do something productive for myself, too.
To be fair, this tip tends to work best if you’re the type of person who feels good when they’re getting things done. If checking stuff off of to-do lists feels good to you, it might help to give yourself something to work on each day, which can offer a sense of control and stability amid the uncertainty. Of course, this kind of behavior can backfire — I’ve been known to use productivity as a way to procrastinate work I should be doing — but during a crisis, productivity can keep you going.
I do one small thing I “should” do.
In addition to work that feels good in the short-term, making progress on something you “should” do can feel equally satisfying.
Is there something you’ve been procrastinating that you know you should probably do, especially with so much in financial flux right now? It might be calling your student loan servicer or talking to your landlord or fixing the clog in your bathroom sink. Whatever the task, doing one thing you’ve been procrastinating means you don’t have to think about that thing anymore. You can spend the rest of the day feeling accomplished.
I spend 20 minutes on my “someday” project.
If the pressure to start your novel, launch your podcast, or finally learn photography is too much right now, ignore this step. It’s been a lot of pressure for me, too. But one thing that’s helped is devoting just thirty minutes a day to my passion project. Yes, perhaps this means working on that novel. But rather than come up with an entire plan to finish your project during isolation, which can be overwhelming and an already-overwhelming time, take one small step toward your goal. Outline your table of contents. Write a foreword. Do some character development. Making a few moves toward your big picture goals — the things you “should” do — can feel satisfying.
Plus, more often than not, that twenty minutes turns into an hour and then another hour, and I find myself lost in doing something I thoroughly enjoy, which is a welcome distraction from everything that’s happening.
I try to do something helpful.
If you’re staying at home and practicing social distancing, you’re already being helpful. But if you want to do more, there are a handful of things you can do.
Some people are volunteering remotely. At Alone, for example, you can provide companionship to the elderly, checking in with someone two hours each week. And the Crisis Text Line is asking for volunteers between 7 p.m. and 3 a.m. PT — they provide free training on how to answer texts from people who reach out. You could offer to help elderly neighbors pick up groceries or prescriptions, donate money or supplies to a coronavirus relief fund (GlobalGiving, for example), or host a free virtual event where you teach a specific skill.
Your helpful thing doesn’t have to be huge — you could text a family member who might be struggling, ask a neighbor if they need anything, or take to social media to share some tips and advice on your particular area of expertise. Whatever the task, finding a way to be helpful can help you feel connected and productive. But again, staying at home, social distancing, and washing your hands, are among the easiest and most important ways to be helpful right now.
I do something indulgent.
Finally, I’ve been trying to give myself something to look forward to each day, whether it’s taking an indulgent bubble bath, shaking up an intricate cocktail, baking delicious cookies, or ordering takeout at my favorite Indian restaurant. I also try not to do the same indulgent thing two days in a row, because that keeps it from feeling truly indulgent.
You could even make a list of ten indulgent activities, cut them up and add them to a cup, then draw a new activity each day. With so much to be anxious about right now, it’s a good time to enjoy the little things.
While I’m wary of spinning this crisis as a way to make the most of your time, staying home is the easiest way all of us can be helpful. If you want to be productive, be productive. If you find that impossible, that’s okay too. Perhaps there’s no right or wrong way to cope with this pandemic, aside from staying home, appreciating the workers making things easier for us, and remembering that this is a collective solution.
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