April 16, 2020

Redefining Productivity at Home

When it seems that so much of the world has slowed down and become less productive, some of us are using any extra time gained to pressure ourselves into doing more than we might have managed before the pandemic. We break down why this newfound time is important, but not necessarily for doing more.

What is productivity anyway?

We’re already well acquainted with the discussion of productivity and being productive blended in with more casually-worded aspirations of ‘hustle’ and ‘gettin’ it,’ but we can’t address productivity without pinning down what that entails.

  • The Cultural Mindset: always be working and bettering yourself, making the best of our time. In many cultural contexts, that also means demonstrating those values by constantly doing or saying (loudly, if possible).
  • The Output: the number of results produced, or depending on your work culture, your number of results produced per period of time. This output is what we try to increase when we try to apply hacks or productivity systems.

Why we’re still saturating our time

Before the COVID-19 pandemic ced us all to go out less, we were constantly trying to make every waking moment productive. Even now, for many creatives, freelancers and other workers that can have the flexibility to work from home, our obsession with saturating our time has bled over into our new routine.

  • Our work culture: we’ve only been working from home from anywhere between a few weeks, but even a few months of comparative down time can’t overwrite the decade of the “rise and grind” mindset that’s defined our relationship with our official and personal work.
  • The Internet: even when it seems most of society is dutifully staying inside, it doesn’t stop the Internet and social media from transmitting FOMO from there either. As all the newly graduated home-schooled bakers would have us believe, they’re acquiring new skills in their free time (which is great, but the issue is you think maybe you should too).
  • Lack of self-control: all of our productivity systems and hacks have the goal of at least saving time on individual tasks. But even when we were able to save ourselves time through these measures in the past, what did we end up doing with the time gained? We inevitably filled it with more tasks that might not all be essential.

In an article for The New Republic, Nick Martin contextualizes the issue within the new normal: “This mind-set is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement,” he writes. “And in a literal pandemic, as millions of us are trying to practice home isolation while also attending to the needs of our families and communities, the obscenity of pretending that work and ‘the self’ are the only things that matter—or even exist—becomes harder to ignore.”

We’re not retirees, but we can still get restless

Retirement is probably the last thing we’re thinking about right now and for those who’ve accepted we’ll be likely working forever, it may never cross our minds. But one common issue among retirees and those who experience sudden and dramatic increases in free time is that they’re not always happier with the sudden freedom. The problem is that many are experiencing related degrees of anxiety and even depression well before that far-off chapter arrives because we’re similarly worrying about this new free time with respects to:

  • Our Value: the uncertainty of this situation is understandably giving us stress over employment, especially when it comes to our value during and after things improve in a recovering economy. And aside from our utility in the economy, this situation may also alter our place in society’s future priorities (such as for those who organize live music events).
  • Our Mastery: as humans, we may get listless when we’re not putting our skills and capacities to work (not necessarily for someone else, just in general). While technology has allowed us to do a great number of things from home, it doesn’t cover everything and not being able to access those outlets can cause us to stress out as cabin fever gets worse.

Knowing where our stress is coming from and what’s causing it can help us at least turn it into something that’s comprehensible and (for lack of a better word) actionable, as opposed to letting it remain an amorphous mass of dread.

The Takeaway

For many, the current period has given us an unparalleled window of breathing room, both because we’ve saved time going places and there are fewer demands on that time. Not unlike the pace we’d be leaving cities to spend in nature or the countryside, this slow-down has given us a chance to reexamine and change our relationship with time, maybe for the first time in a decade.

So what do we do? Our recent episode of Making It Up, which covers productivity during this period concluded that it’s not about ‘A-or-B’ thinking: it’s evidently time we stopped frantically trying to optimize our extra few hours gained, but it’s not a call to stop being productive altogether either.

Instead, it’s a reminder to allow moments to just let time run without actively trying to capture, box, categorize, price and spend it. Those moments will let us reconnect with ourselves and insight into what we truly want. At the very least, consider the following suggestions:

  • Take Care of Who’s Important: You can’t be productive if you’re in subpar condition and you can’t focus when you’re worried about people you care about. Attending to your health and wellbeing by setting aside time for it means you will be able to focus during the time you set aside for productivity.
  • Productivity isn’t one size fits all: Productivity is still important, but maybe it’s time to shift our definition to the aforementioned output-per-period kind. Most importantly is being able to understand where some tasks are “hackable” and others, like creative ones, require a different approach where less is more.
  • Lean Into Your Needs: You might find yourself having to cook more, for instance, but that doesn’t mean you have to turn that new need into a whole new growing hobby (and a lot more dishes). You can lean into new needs and develop helpful new habits (like sanitation) without having to do it perfectly like you’d see on the ‘gram.
  • Side Projects: Of the side projects you’re thinking of tackling, which ones have some kind of side-hustle/future monetization push behind them and which are important to you even if you were never recognized for them? Which are good for you regardless, and which are responses to internal or external pressure to just do something?
  • Things Weren’t ‘Right’ Before: Although the new normal will take some getting used to, it’s important to realize the old normal with respect to how we viewed work and productivity wasn’t exactly ‘right’ either. When things improve, they likely won’t be the same as before, so instead of taking the extra time to do more of the same, embracing change as new beginnings may be more helpful.

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