Stop trying to be productive during the pandemic

Reading time: Just over 4 minutes

Has your productivity taken a nose-dive during the pandemic? Mine sure has! Here’s why we should all STOP trying to be productive during the pandemic…

Before you read today’s post, can I ask you to take 30 seconds to complete a one-question survey? I’m going to be offering no-charge training classes once a month, and I’d appreciate your direction on the topics you’d like me to tackle. Here’s the super-fast survey. Remember, just 30 seconds! And it’s anonymous — you don’t need to use your name or email.

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I am an introvert. I’ve worked from home for the past 24 years and would have predicted that the pandemic-related lockdown would make me feel better rather than worse. Why? I’d have fewer out-of-office meetings to attend.

How wrong I was! I am hating being locked in. I miss my friends. I miss shopping for groceries (which I’d always enjoyed.) I miss my trips to the bank and to the library. I miss going out for lunch.

And worse, I am far less productive than I’ve ever been in my life. Sure, I’m still waking up at 6 am and going directly to my home-based office for two hours of exercise and planning before breakfast. But now, I struggle to get anything done after noon. Long-term projects sit on my daily calendar mocking me for my inability to get started on them. 

What’s going on? 

I call the problem PR-LOP — pandemic-related lack of productivity. I’d started to worry about the feeling last week but now I’ve decided to stop paying attention to it and scale back my ambitions. This pandemic is a once-in-a-lifetime thing and even if it continues for a year (although I sure hope not!) I will have plenty of opportunities to regain my productivity when it’s over.

But as I started to reflect on the issue more deeply, I realized PR-LOP just like writing.  Here’s how:

When we want to write, we often begin by trying to identify huge chunks of time. We think that anything less than an hour of writing is going to be insufficient and inadequate. Similarly, in the pandemic, we have nothing but time, so we scale up our goals to be extra-large and daunting. We’re going to clean every cupboard in the house. We’re going to learn how to cook. We’re going to write that book. And guess what happens? We fail because the goals are too large.

So here’s what I suggest: Make your goal(s) really small. Writing — or doing anything else — for 15 minutes is more than enough. And if that seems the least bit daunting, then start with just five. Yes, that’s barely enough time to turn on your computer, but the commitment is your toehold to building a habit. Once you have a habit, the writing will take care of itself. Gradually, over time, you can ratchet up the five minutes to 10 and then grow beyond that as well — as you feel ready.

Here’s part 2 of my suggestion: Make your writing time early in the day. (Bone fide night owls — thought to be only nine per cent of the populationare exempt from this tip.) If you do your work early in the day, the benefits will be numerous: 

  • You won’t feel guilt or dread — “oh no, I have to do my writing at 4 pm” — you’ll just do the writing.
  • You’ll feel accomplished first thing in the day which will make every other task in your life easier.
  • Your feelings of accomplishment and happiness will help make the next day’s writing job seem more feasible and fun.

The pandemic, in which everything we’ve previously taken as “normal” is upended, is not the time to be taking on major new projects. Instead, focus on surviving the challenge of living in isolation and get through it the best you can. If you want to try a new challenge, make it small and do it early in the day. Apart from that, get enough exercise, read and keep yourself safe.

A gigantic P.S. for parents with kids at home

If you have kids, they’re suddenly underfoot, with schools shut down and, in some places, online education beginning. You’re probably wondering how you’re going to help manage their mandatory homeschooling.

My husband and I voluntarily home-schooled our triplets until two of them were in grade 10 and one of them was in university. Our motivation? We started because we wanted to be able to take family holidays in months like September and May. But that ambition became irrelevant when we discovered that our son had profound learning disabilities and was gifted — a double whammy. Traditional school would have made mincemeat out of him.

A couple of other things you should know: I am not a teacher; neither is my husband. When our kids were young, I worked part-time, usually three days a week. And while my husband has always worked full time, he has a compressed work week and does it in four days. 

Although grandparents raised their eyebrows and some friends thought we were kooky, all of our children enjoyed the process and learned lots. Each now has an undergraduate degree and is gainfully employed (when there’s no pandemic). One of our daughters is currently waiting to hear back from grad schools. 

Our experiment worked even though we did not fuss about a curriculum or learning plans (we did what some people call ‘unschooling). Our main goal was to have our children enjoy learning and remain curious about life. 

Of our three children, the one who is best informed, best read and has the deepest grasp of just about every topic (except perhaps math) is our learning-disabled son. And guess what? He spent the first 12 years of his life unable to read and doing almost nothing but watching movies and playing video games. (What else can you do with a kid who is super smart and yet cannot read? It was an impossible situation. We got him as much tutoring as we could afford, based on the concepts in this book, and I spent about an hour a day — no more than that — on exercises with him.) 

This pandemic is a blip on the screen of human history. If your children are younger than grade 10, don’t spend a nanosecond worrying about them ‘losing’ the learning of school. They will make it up easily when the pandemic is over. (Those older than grade 10 will be able to direct themselves.)

Mainly, don’t damage your relationship with your kids (or make yourself crazy) by turning into the person who must crack the whip over their schooling. Instead, encourage them to read widely and diligently. After that, let them watch TV or play computer games. The pandemic won’t go on forever.

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Want to establish a modest but sustainable writing routine during the pandemic? Consider applying to my Get It Done program. I’ll be holding a no-charge training session about how to be a better academic writer on April 17 and the session will include helpful info about Get It Done. To register for the free training, please email me. If you already know you want to apply to Get It Done, please go here.  

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My video podcast last week addressed how to make editing less painful. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.

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How is your productivity faring during the pandemic? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section, below. And congratulations to Steuart Campbell, the winner of this month’s book prize, for a March 11/20 comment on my blog. (Please send me your mailing address, Steuart!) Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by April 30/20 will be put in a draw for a copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!