This Quarantine Doesn’t Have to be Productive

Feel at ease when you read here why it's okay to have low productivity while in quarantine.

If you’re on the same internet I am, you’ve probably seen an idea or two for what to do with the stay-at-home time that COVID-19 has imposed on us. Time has, in a sense, slowed down, ostensibly leaving room for pursuits different from all that usually occupies our time. But I fear that the emerging attitude may be doing as much harm as good.

Without commutes or the usual social obligations, the social media collective seems to be saying that there is now time to learn a new skill or reconnect with friends. Or declutter or catch up on reading. Or get in shape. Or jump-start your spiritual life. Or all of these.

Free (and not-so-free) resources abound as many people shift their skill sets into an online presence. You can tour museums and watch concerts and take classes all from your most comfortable chair.

My feeds are full of friends taking advantage of this unique opportunity by baking beautiful artisanal bread and setting up imaginative children’s activities. Stories of Sir Isaac Newton are also plentiful: it was when the plague sent him home from Cambridge that he developed calculus, studied optics, and worked on his laws of motion.

This is a special time, the narrative goes. Even, perhaps, a sacred time. A unique opportunity, not to be wasted.

What a good, brave, beautiful human impulse.

I so admire the drive to meet adversity with creativity. I love that so many are striving to forge a path of generosity in a time of scarcity. I’m honored and humbled to know people making such goodness come from a big, scary thing. This is resilience on display.

But I’ve also been feeling a lot of pressure to make something extraordinary of this stay-at-home time. It’s tempting to try to do too much with it. As a recovering perfectionist, it’s easy to slip into a mindset of wanting to do this time “right.”

I want to start every project, to deep clean my house and master sourdough and sew face masks and write a novel and work out. But I know full well that I can’t do all of those, and that splintering my attention too much is likely to lead to further frustration in an already difficult time.

Frankly, I don’t think I’ll remember this as the best time in my life. It has its gifts, and I’m trying (hard) to remember them, but this is tough. This is a global crisis. People are getting sick and dying. We’re coping with collective grief and fear and trauma and powerlessness on a scale few of us have ever experienced.

The ramifications for us as individuals are real, and they’re hard. Many of us are lonely. Mental health struggles are likely increasing; many healthy coping mechanisms have been taken away just as a lot of anxiety has been added to our days. For many of us, this thing is revealing pockets of anxiety and brokenness we didn’t even know were there.

Plus I still have to do all my regular work, which feels like more, not less.

But maybe that’s enough. Maybe keeping your household running is enough right now. Maybe caring for your mental health needs most of your attention. Maybe recreating basic routines from scratch is using up all your internal resources.

That in itself is resilience. Resilience doesn’t need to be displayable to be real.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t do extra things right now. We’re all dealing with this thing the best we can, and if you find it lifegiving to step up your domestic efforts, please do.

Doing some things, carefully chosen, could even be part of your self-care during this time. Using our gifts in creative ways is a good way to remind ourselves of who we are and to retain a certain sense of normalcy.

But for me, at least, it’s important to temper this urge, to find a reasonable balance between the self-care of flexing my creative and intellectual muscles and the frantic urge to do all the things. The reality is that the world is not normal right now, and it’s okay if my lived experience reflects that.

When I do have the energy and mental space to do something extra, I’m finding that having one book and one craft going feels about right. One input and one output — friendly, familiar things that I’m good at and that give me some sense of control.

But even that might be too much for you. It is for me some days. As much as I admire it, I don’t consistently share the impulse for constant creativity. So if you’re finding yourself overwhelmed or confused about why you feel so tired, and maybe even crying in whatever scrap of private space you can find, just know you’re not alone.

There’s no perfect quarantine. Simplicity is enforced right now — much has been stripped away. Maybe instead of rushing to refill it, we could embrace a simplicity within the simplicity. We don’t all have to be Isaac Newton, but what we can be is ourselves, living out our unique version of resilience in myriad wonderful ways.

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