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Can You be Productive in a Pandemic?


Life + Learning

  • A hand holding a lightbulb

Jessica, Hespeler | March 1, 2021

If I hear that William Shakespeare wrote King Lear during a pandemic one more time, I think I’m going to scream.

As we lived through the first lockdown, then entered a second, many of us felt pressured to use the time to do something productive. Whether it was trying to bake bread, learn a new language, or write a masterpiece like Shakespeare, the pandemic seemed like the perfect time to get things done.

Yet, as lockdown continued, I found myself wondering if it was even possible to be productive in a pandemic.

As the weeks went on and we were all stuck inside with nowhere to go, the pressure mounted to use this time wisely. To come out of lockdown having accomplished something. It didn’t help that this tidbit about Shakespeare was everywhere you looked.

With this pressure on my mind, I tried to pick up a new hobby. I tried drawing, something I’ve always wanted to get better at. There were online classes and videos everywhere that could help me achieve this goal, but it didn’t take long to realize that I lacked both the patience and the skill for art.

Giving up on my artistic dreams, I tried to learn a new language next. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish and long before the pandemic I took the first part of a great Spanish course offered online for free through the library. This was the perfect time to continue with Spanish and take the next set of lessons. I’m sad to say that I didn’t get very far with my Spanish. It takes a lot of mental energy to learn anything, let alone a new language. With all my thoughts on the coronavirus, I couldn’t focus on learning anything new.

One thing no one tells you about productivity is that you don’t only need the time to complete a task, but you need the mental space as well. With so much going on during lockdown, finding the mental space can be difficult, if not impossible. Our minds are already occupied. We’re living in a pandemic, worrying about our families and friends, and dealing with uncertainty about the future. How can we also focus on doing something productive?

Maybe it’s okay not to be productive this time around. Modern life demands that we are constantly moving, constantly doing. Always striving to be productive. Why? What does being “productive” truly mean?

As we all tried to learn something new during lockdown, I think there’s only one lesson that we all need, and one that I’m trying to learn myself. The lesson being that it’s okay to relax, to take time for ourselves and not feel guilty about it. We don’t need to come out of lockdown having a checklist of all the things we accomplished. What’s the use of that? Taking care of ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic sounds like a much more productive use of time to me.

We can’t all be William Shakespeare and that’s okay.