Quarantine and the productivity myth

Wednesday, September 16, 2020 - 9:02pm

Right off the bat  — I barely did anything during quarantine. I didn’t write the next King Lear, I barely studied for the LSAT, and my pile of to-be-read books went down by exactly four.

 

Part of me is still guilty that I didn’t accomplish all that much during the five months I stayed at home. Which, intellectually, I know is silly, as I was taking care of my family & working. When I wasn’t doing that, I was trying (and most of the time, failing) to take care of my mental health. My mood shifted hourly, from intensely wanting to finish every task ever to just wanting to lie in bed and listen to sad Mitski songs. And a lot of my anxiety stemmed from the feeling that I wasn’t doing enough in quarantine. Like this extra time spent at home was a gift and I was wasting it.

 

At school, I used to run around Central Campus, trying to catch up with the next appointment or meeting on my google calendar. When I was with my friends I would think about the next meeting I would have to go to, when I was in meetings I’d think of my upcoming assignments, when I was doing assignments I’d think about when I could get a minute to clean my apartment, or actually make myself a meal. Even before I went to sleep, my brain would run through the things I wasn’t able to accomplish. Things I’d need to add to my to-do list for tomorrow. In a matter of days, that all changed. I was back home in my childhood bedroom, and my schedule was nearly empty.

 

There’s this weird societal expectation that if we aren’t being productive, if we aren’t maximizing the number of tasks we can finish in a given twenty-four hours, that we’re just wasting this ever-dwindling resource, time we can never get back. In quarantine, my old habits started creeping in. I began thinking of time transactionally — I spent the past two hours playing Animal Crossing, instead, I could have been reading, or studying for the LSAT, or helping my mom or doing something that actually benefited me. 

 

I did get super into cooking though. My sisters and I made avocado egg rolls, waraq 3anab (grape leaves), garlic bread, ma3moul (stuffed semolina cookies), stuffed burgers and we tried (and failed) to make the perfect chocolate chip cookies. I can’t even guess how many loaves of banana bread my mom and I made, but I’m going to guess it’s near the dozens at this point. I picked up drawing and painting again for the first time in a couple of years. I started going on walks and bike rides. I hung out with my sisters more than I ever had before. 

 

My point is, the impulse to optimize every minute of your life isn’t healthy. Free time doesn’t need to be spent in pursuit of a hustle. What matters right now is staying safe & sane, to take care of the loved ones in our lives. Schools just started over again, and we’re inundated with so much going on — above all else, we need to be kind to ourselves right now.