Now Is Not the Time to Obsess About Productivity
Slowing down might feel uncomfortable right now. That’s exactly why it’s necessary.
In case you haven’t already gathered from recent viral tweets, Shakespeare apparently wrote King Lear while quarantined. Nearly a century later, according to said tweets, Isaac Newton allegedly used his time in quarantine to develop calculus.
The quarantine angle may be new, but at their core, these statements are just versions of a message we’ve already heard a thousand different ways, in a thousand different motivational tweets and Pinteresty quotes: “You have the same number of hours in the day as Beyoncé. Rise and grind.”
That’s where I found myself a few days ago, churning out emails at 11 p.m. on a weeknight. As people around the country were transitioning to full-time work from home as a means of social distancing, I was anxiously continuing the grind in spite of current events. And then, midway through yet another email, I got a text from my mom that my younger sister was sick. Not what you want to hear when #Covid-19 is trending on Twitter and the world is shutting down.
I didn’t finish that email. Suddenly, productivity felt superficial. All I wanted to do in that moment — all I’ve wanted to do since — was slow down.
It shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to snap me out of my hustle tunnel vision, but here we are. With the way productivity obsession has knit itself into our cultural fabric, it’s unsurprising that the spread of the coronavirus has been punctuated with tweets, articles, and well-meaning listicles about how everyone can “optimize” working from home or use this period of social isolation to work on some self-improvement project. Right now, they tell us, is the time to take our lives back — to finally get around to all the projects we have outstanding, recipes we want to make, side hustles to launch, and exercise regimens to kick-start.
For some of us, tackling various projects can provide the sense of structure we may need to feel sane in this uncertain time. But ultimately, this is not the time to pressure ourselves to undertake any of those self-improvement missions. It’s the time to take a breath. And, when that’s done, to take another one.