Productivity in the time of Coronavirus

I had originally planned to write this blog last night, along with filing my taxes, spring cleaning my closets, building a blog business plan, calling 127 people, and baking a pumpkin loaf. Not to spoil anything, but what I actually accomplished was finishing Tenements, Towers and Trash by Julia Wurtz and the Netflix original series Alta Mar — two things that hold zero productivity points on paper but in reality, gave me a much needed respite from the constant intake of pandemic news.

The first day of self-isolation, when we were asked to officially work from home, I found myself hyperaware of my sudden need to lean into productivity and almost guiltily, have something to show for my time at home. “Uncertain about a situation? Make a list about it!” my brain yelled at me while playing a carnival organ. “There is no anxiety to see here behind this curtain! Just focus on these good ole’ fashion, unrealistic to do lists that will  eventually bring you anxiety but until then, will distract you from the anxiety already brewing over the pandemic!” My brain is very theatrical in times of crisis. Bless it, it’s like an ever running production of The Cursed Child and Moulin Rouge combined.

Productivity, for better or worse, has always been my coping mechanism through uncertain times, giving me a fake sense of control in times when I really had very little. It should work wonderfully in theory, but then again so should MC Hammer pants. What my productivity coping mechanism almost always fails to take into account is that sometimes what my body actually needs is to slow down, acknowledge the uncertainty, and just be.

Going into week two of self-isolation, as cases of coronavirus ramp up by the thousands in New York City, I’ve been trying to avoid as best I can the social media posts displaying all the things one can accomplish during their time at home. Work out everyday and get a six pack, learn a new hobby, learn a language, clean out your entire house, write a novel — this is your time to make all your dreams come true! At times it has felt like every voice is yelling to be a part of the conversation that we all need to be making the most of our time at home.

And this conversation is driving me absolutely crazy.

Yes, Susan, you might find deep deep comfort learning three new recipes a day and posting them all over Instagram. I applaud you! Gary, your lists of 181 things to do during your time at home is, yes, very well organized and it seems to provide you a lot of comfort. Amazing! But all of these types of posts have been sending my brain the incorrect message that doing anything that isn’t productive during this time at home is a wasted opportunity and quite frankly, this is bullshit.

The truth is, everyone reacts to stress and uncertainty differently and the voices that need rest, need evenings on the couch doing nothing, aren’t really being heard. Or perhaps they’ve put their phones away and are choosing to not yell into the void, which I admire.

So to any of you who might need to hear it today, and to my sweet dumb brain, the only right way to exist during a pandemic is by acting in ways that keep you safe, keep you hopeful, and keep you healthy. If you need to do a high intensity work out everyday, treat yourself to it. If what you need is to sit and watch a Netflix documentary about cooking while eating pumpkin bread right out of the pan, please make time for that. Make goals, don’t make any goals, it’s up to you. Rest, read, write, go to bed astonishingly early, create, sit quietly, stare out the window, be outside if you can, play Animal Crossings, talk to your pets, call your friends, burn your to do lists, make to do lists, do nothing, do many things at once, write letters, take numerous afternoon naps — whatever is speaking to you, drown out the rest of the voices, and follow what you need. Just remember, there is no “things I should be doing” in a pandemic, there is just keeping yourself and your community safe — the rest is entirely up to you.



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