Writing books, painting living rooms, creating websites, taking online courses – in the mid-March phase of stay-at-home orders, there was a lot of optimistic talk about major quarantine projects.
By now, several weeks in, optimism has given way to reality. The truth is, we can accomplish work on some days, while it’s a struggle to get anything done on other days. And the unfinished projects are piling up. The interesting point is this - we’re not running around as much anymore, and have more time available. Could it be, somehow, that productivity is not tied to an abundance of time after all?
I know I’m incredibly disappointed about all the events, trips, and plans that had to be postponed or cancelled. But in the newfound quietness of my neighborhood, I am also wondering whether it was everyone's events, trips and plans that got us into this mess in the first place. "We have a chance to notice: We have been living too fast. We have sold our inner selves to the devil of speed, efficiency, money, hyper-connectivity, 'progress,'" writes Alan Lightman. I agree.
If you've been beating yourself up over your failure to win at quarantine productivity, stop. Your focus has to be on staying healthy and sane, and it’s not a productivity contest!
As the weeks drag on, stop expecting yourself to complete as many giant projects as you can. Effectiveness means taking small actions every day to stay active and on top of household chores, work, and self-care.
Accountability, prioritizing, and sticking to routines can help achieve some sort of balance in this discomforting time. Here are a few more suggestions for keeping all those productivity goals in perspective.
The events of January or February may seem impossibly distant and many people feel disoriented in time. "I've stopped looking at my calendar," one client told me. "The emptiness feels sad."
Rather than keeping time by the seasons of a show you're watching, frame your outlook around positive dates. Mark your calendar with exciting things, like the birthdays of loved ones or the start of the planting season for your next gardening experiment. Look for virtual events and classes you can get excited about, or pick a random obscure holiday to celebrate for fun. It may sound silly, but it’s now more essential than ever to view life as something more than the number of supermarket visits you’ll make this month.
Although the situation is changing rapidly, checking for news updates once or twice a day is enough. I understand the temptation to check for updates constantly – after all, it’s easy to worry you’ll miss something important when you're stuck at home.
But those simple news checks can send you into an hours-long cycle of stress and concern about things you have no ability to change. This situation is bigger than any of us, and the sad truth is, nobody knows for sure how to best respond. Staying up-to-date is good, but not at the expense of the energy you need to care physically and mentally for yourself and your family.
Set a daily time (and time limit!) for yourself to read through your list of news stories. When the time limit’s up, put aside the news and focus on the small things you have control over in your own life. Turn off all continuous coverage (radio, TV). Don't worry, they will announce the same thing again later.
You may be spending more time at home, but that doesn’t mean you’re obligated to tackle the largest, most unpleasant, least inspiring tasks on your to-do list. Of course, you need to take care of daily chores, but aside from that, look for activities that bring you joy. Even if only for a short time.
Look around your home for hobbies you have long wanted to have time for. Read a book. Binge watch a guilty pleasure TV show. Bake that overly decadent chocolate cake. Assemble a 1,000 piece puzzle with your significant other. Build a model volcano with your kids for no reason. Teach your dog to roll over.
Whatever makes you happy, do it! The world is putting a lot of pressure on us right now – don’t make it worse by putting more unnecessary pressure on yourself! It’s enough to simply stay as sane and happy as you can.
Keeping tasks small is the way to go. I’ve written before about unfinished projects, and they’re overwhelming and stressful in the best of times. Don't give yourself overblown general assignments like "organizing the entire house." Instead, work on one cluttered table first, and see how you feel. Likewise, making a hundred masks to donate may be a noble idea, but could turn into an overwhelming mess. Start with making two.
If you decide to start a project, be sure to break it down into manageable steps, and decide where you will store or save it so the sight of it doesn't cause guilt and stress.
Be kind to yourself during this time. Don’t let other people shame you with their stories about building an entire deck and ignore that business coach chirping on Instagram about the book she wrote in her “new-found free time.”
Everyone has their own set of struggles during this time. Focus on the little steps that work for you and do your best to tune out the noise of productivity pressure.
If you’re a freelancer or small business owner feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and unable to focus in the crisis, consider joining the daily conversations about Tackling Task Management coming up in May. (Read more and register)