June 5

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You Don’t Need to Be Productive Right Now

Counter-cultural productivity advice for unprecedented times

I recently found myself scrolling through a number of requests for sources that reporters and bloggers had put out.

A staggering number of requests from bloggers were for “creative” or “unorthodox” advice on how people can be more productive when working from home.

Being a productivity coach, I filed them all away but never responded to them. Something about having to come up with “new” and “unusual” productivity advice just felt terrible, like being asked to create a “fresh” design for an Iron Maiden torture device.

I beat myself up a bit for not taking action on those emails and then proceeded to read a funny piece of fiction (my chosen form of self-medication in the midst of the current situation) for the evening.

The toxicity of expecting people to be productive right now

Today, I realized why I hadn’t responded to any of the requests for productivity advice:

Telling people they should be more productive in the midst of what is one of the scariest things and the biggest societal upheavals they may have ever gone through is a terrible thing to do.

It is.

It’s toxic.

And I don’t want to be a part of that.

Even though I might have been a part of it already. For instance, a while ago, I recorded a video on how to be productive working from home and I certainly didn’t mention that it’s completely okay to not be productive right now.

But it is.

Here’s why you might be less productive right now

(Note: I originally published this article on Medium a couple of months ago. I edited and updated the article, in particular the following list.)

Erm…where do I start? Here’s a partial list:

  • Because the world is changing at the fastest pace ever...and it's not exactly all change in a positive direction. 
  • Because all the uncertainty is hard to deal with
  • Because 2020 has been really hard so far and things are not looking up.
  • Because the injustices and inequalities you're seeing are breaking your heart.
  • Because the video of George Floyd getting murdered haunts you.
  • Because you’re concerned about the safety of people of color, American protesters and/or your elder or immunocompromised friends and relatives. 
  • Because you're worried about the state of the economy or the world. 
  • Because March 2020 had a felt 600 days in it, and how is it still only June?
  • Because you know someone who’s really sick and you’re very worried about them. Or because you have lost someone recently and it really, really hurts.
  • Because you haven't seen people you really care about for a long time.
  • Because you don’t recognize the world anymore and you wonder if it will ever return to normal again.
  • Because you’re worried about increasing authoritarianism in some countries and further privacy invasions that might happen because of this.

In other words, you might be less productive than usual because this is really, really hard.

It’s not because you’re lazy or because you don’t care.

It’s also not because your workspace is not well set up for remote working, you’re not putting on work clothes at the beginning of the day, or you haven’t blocked your Facebook account on your browser.

Under normal circumstances, all these things might be sufficient to help you be productive.

But we’re not in normal times.

The impact of grief on productivity

To be more specific, we’re currently going through a collective grief process and what I’ve learned from once losing two dear people in two weeks is that grief takes up a lot of emotional and mental space.

In fact, grief is known to impact our cognitive function and can be associated with temporary memory loss and an inability to focus.

Does that sound like something you might be going through?

If so, normal productivity advice probably won’t help that much because the issue goes much deeper than that.

That’s not to say that you won’t get to be productive at all during this time.

You might just need to find a way of being productive that’s grounded in self-compassion.

A compassionate way to be productive in the midst of challenging times

When approached correctly, getting things done can be part of our self-care routine. After all, being productive often feels better than vegging out.

This might be even more true in a situation like the current one when so much feels out of our control. In that case, taking action can feel like we’re taking back our power.

That’s certainly been my experience in this situation. For instance, I recall one week where I spend  Wednesday only doing the very basics in terms of work. After having worked a lot the previous two days and feeling tired due to everything that’s going on in the world, I wanted to take a break.

What I realized is that I didn’t really enjoy my lazy day that much. The next day, I got a lot of things done and that accomplishment made me feel really good, like I able to move things forward.

If you can, I would encourage you to look at productivity through the lens of self-care. Sometimes, taking it slowly is the right thing to do to be compassionate towards yourself in the midst of an unprecedented situation.

Other times, being productive will actually make you feel better and thus be part of your self-care routine.

How to make productivity part of your self-care routine

To make productivity part of our self-care routine, we need to approach it differently. Instead of forcing ourselves to take a specific action, it’s better to give ourselves permission to do so and be more playful with it.

That’s the approach I took with this article. Initially, the thought of writing an article felt terrible. I then realized that I had tried to force myself to get it done and that I already had more than enough constriction and negativity going on. 

Adding more constriction on top of all that just increased the amount of resistance I had to taking action. But once I decided to give myself permission to write the article and considered how doing so could actually help me feel better, that resistance faded away and I began typing.

If there’s something you have been meaning to do but keep putting off, how about giving your permission to do it as a part of your self-care routine?

If my experience with this article is any indication, you’ll feel better afterward.

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  • Amazing reframing, Bere. Same space, same conditions, same goal, just the way we perceive it can do the magic..

    I also appreciate the confessional tone of your thoughts : coming from an active writer, I find it so humble of you. Inspirational! Thank you!

    • Thank you so much for your comment, Khalil! I’m glad my reframe was helpful for you and that you appreciated the confessional tone of this article. Thank you for your kind and supportive words… it means a lot.

      All the best to you!

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