Measuring Productivity in a Pandemic: Why Doing Less Isn’t Terrible

By John Linderman

Elm Staff Writer

Though we are stuck home for the time being, our work and jobs haven’t halted altogether. Many of us have been working from home through video conferences, digital work, and for students, online classes. But at the same time, we have lost the physical communities which may have brought color and life to our jobs, alienating our work environments.

What are some of the best ways to keep up with our work from home? 

At the same time, are we just guilting ourselves to work harder now that we have more free time? Since this kind of thinking can’t be healthy, how can we stay at ease while the world is combatting this pandemic? Perhaps “productivity” isn’t the sole answer, and we can explore other routes.

It’s not up to anyone to say how productive you should be during a pandemic. It may be best to find a balance between improving the quality of our work and taking the time we need to process everything around us. Here’s the scoop on productivity during a pandemic.

  1. How to Stay Productive

If you can’t avoid your work, here’s what people are writing about productivity. “Do less, but do better,” said Tonya Dalton on Business Insider, nationally recognized productivity expert and best-selling author of “The Joy of Missing Out.”

“Take this time to tackle something you can do that is tied to your business or career goal. Use the constraint of social distancing to your benefit,” she said.

For students, this may be doing early research on your thesis or senior capstone, since it can be tied to a class you are currently or have taken in the past. Reaching out to a professor and discussing this shows great initiative.

“Constraints can direct us to make the best out of what we already have. With constraints, we can dedicate our mental energy to acting more resourcefully,” Dalton said.

Constraining yourself to isolated blocks of productivity can both increase the quality of your work and your mental health. Identify the work you can complete in a given day to the specifics and take intermittent breaks. Catch up with friends on your phone or get some fresh air during breaks.

  1. The Case Against Productivity

Or just don’t be productive for a little bit. Seriously.

The extra time home may have pressured all of us to be more productive. Viral internet challenges, and social media posts about our friends picking up time-intensive activities like exercise and learning a language, may play a role in this. However, the stress from committing to new hobbies right now may be more demanding than what it’s worth.

Most of our work responsibilities haven’t ceased, only our environments have changed. Hence, we might want to continue our hobbies with the same pace we had before. The same goes for picking up new challenges. It’s never a bad idea to expand your interests, but picking up seven hobbies at once isn’t going to fix anything.

“The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity consultant interviewed by The New York Times.

For some of us, the pandemic may have taken a direct toll on our personal lives. Some of us may have family members afflicted by COVID-19, and the emotional energy required for new hobbies simply isn’t available.

Likewise, we shouldn’t pressure others to be more productive with their “extra time” because there really hasn’t been any net gain in time. There’s been a radical and sudden change in our work environments, and perhaps the healthiest option we have is to take life day-by-day.

Being productive right now is a balance of the two. If you can’t excuse yourself from work, ask yourself if you have the time to pick up two or three new hobbies. The time home with family can be a blessing, and while hobbies are shown to be constructive towards our mental health, we should be grateful for what we have before being covetous of what we don’t. This includes productivity and self-improvement.

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