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The pressure of being productive in self-isolation

by Thomas Coughlan

22 April 2020 9:14am

We’re over a month into official lockdown but for many of us, it started much sooner. Whether you’re still working or taking time away from your job, expectations to perform at your best are greater than ever. We have more time to spare because of no work commute, not seeing friends and postponed holidays – the pressure to fill this time with productive activities is real. Most of us aren’t feeling inspired by this time off; we’re feeling uncertain, anxious and fearful of what’s to come. If you do feel inspired by all your free time and you’re raring to create, then go for it! But these pressures and expectations just aren’t realistic for most people.

Social media really doesn’t help our anxieties. We’re just one scroll away from someone shaming us for not achieving our goals right now because we don’t want them hard enough. We’re being told that this is the perfect time to start your side hustle and earn some money online – if you don’t, you’re lazy (these are real posts, I’ve seen them!). These comments couldn’t be more offbeat and not what any of us need right now. Most of us are just trying to hold our jobs down, stay engaged with friends and family and get through the day without being saddened by another news update. When we experience helplessness, controlling the controllable can seem like the only way to establish some sort of normality. But you don’t have to pretend everything is normal because nothing is normal.

What does being productive even mean?

It feels like productivity has become about achieving the big things in life: getting your dream job, turning your hobby into your career, losing weight or getting a six-pack. These things are great goals to have if you really want them, but who put a time limit on achieving them in lockdown? You’re led to believe that if you don’t come out of quarantine with something to show for it, you’ve wasted your time. We need to scale back what productivity actually means. It needs to include the little things in life because on some days, these things can feel like mountains to climb. Being productive should be waking up before 11am, grabbing a shower, going for a walk and making a nice dinner.

When we feel down, overwhelmed, anxious and scared, our natural coping mechanisms are to busy ourselves. We head out with friends, have dinner with the family, take a trip to the countryside or out to the beach. But with all these things off-limits to us, we’re having to look closer to home for distractions. We feel like we have to clean the house from top to toe, turn into some sort of Mary Berry baking machine or Alan Titchmarsh gardening extraordinaire to regain control of the things we can. If those things are genuinely what you enjoy doing, that’s totally fine. But we owe it to ourselves to not ignore those underlying feelings. Right now, the best we can do is allow ourselves to be open and honest with one another.

Take stock of your feelings

We’re rarely able to give in to our feelings, especially us Brits! We tend to find it hard to accept what we’re experiencing, how it’s impacting us and share it with others. Instead, we try to compensate for not achieving what we would usually achieve. Our productive outlets become a distraction to our feelings. With a lot of solitary time at home, you may feel like your feelings are bubbling up. Instead of suppressing them, let them come to the surface.

Now is the ideal time to address your emotions. We’re not talking about suddenly taking up a guided meditation session if that’s not what you enjoy. All you have to do is take a few moments during your day to think about how you’re feeling. Instead of being quick to distract yourself with an activity, just figure out why you’re feeling that way. Has something on the news made you sad, has a message from your friend made you smile, has a good sleep made you feel energised or even more tired? Feel out your emotions by talking them through with your friends or family; they’re likely to be feeling the exact same way.

Ignore pressure caused by social media

Social media is one of the best and worst ways to occupy yourself during quarantine. You can spend hours on Whatsapp chatting with your friends, scrolling through Instagram and watching dance videos on Tiktok. These things are great ways to pass the time, but you can get bogged down by the feeling that you’re not doing quarantine well enough. Seeing people with big families, in positions of wealth and have different motivations to you can make you feel like you’re not having as good a time as everyone else. You have to remember that none of the activities these people are doing makes how you’re spending your time any less valid.

A digital detox could be the answer for you. Taking time away from social media could clear your head and bring your mind back down to earth. Digital detoxes aren’t for everyone; our lives demand being connected to work, friends and family via social media channels. An easy timeline cleanse can do the trick. Unfollow the people that make you roll your eyes when you see their posts or make you feel rubbish about yourself when they post a workout video. Follow the outlets that bring positivity and relatability to your life; this is the content you should be consuming to help you get through these strange times.

Let’s just slow down

You don’t have to learn that new language you said you always would if you had time. You don’t have to lose the weight or get the six-pack you’ve always planned if you just had more time in the morning. Bake the cake, binge that Netflix show, go for a walk, download Duolingo and never open it again. The only thing you actually have to do right now is stay inside and wash your hands – the rest is totally up to you and you should never feel guilty about doing something that doesn’t make you happy.

It’s okay to not have created something by the end of lockdown. Who said you had to write a novel, read the entire works of Shakespeare or become a personal trainer all rolled into one. All you have to do is find the activities that make you feel safe and comfortable. This time we’re in is only temporary and you’ll be back to your routine soon enough. Use this period to spend time with your family (if you’re in the same household that is), video call your friends, blow the dust off that jigsaw puzzle you have in the loft and just slow down.

Tags

productivity
self-isolation