The Pandemic Productivity Paradox – Doing More Doesn’t Make Us “Better”

The global coronavirus crisis has presented challenges for us all, especially when it comes to adjusting our routines.

For however long it lasts, we are working from home, teaching our children, and still trying to eat healthy and exercise.

All of this is hard enough to do in our “new normal” environment, but there’s also an underlying message that surviving with our sanity intact is just not good enough.

We see it on the news, in commercials, on social media – “What are you doing with your time in quarantine?  Are you starting a new hobby?  Are you creating new goals?  Are you improving yourself with all this ‘extra time’?”

For most of us, it’s enough that we are able to get through the day between the online meetings where it’s frowned upon to show up in sweats… the pressure to give our kids a structured school day at home… the fact that we were even able to make dinner.

And we should be proud of ourselves if we are able to stay the course and keep everything moving along as best we can.

But that message is still out there.  We must use this time to be even more productive.  To make ourselves better – as if we’re not enough being who we always have been.

Now, we’re supposed to be even more organized, even more structured, even more productive, simply because we’re not leaving the house as often.

But what they’re forgetting in the media coverage – aimed to give us “inspiration” – is that it’s hard enough to meet deadlines and focus on our goals without distraction and a sense of normalcy.

Fear of the unknown, adjusting to a different work environment and schedule, and all the other challenges this pandemic brings is a strong force we must consciously repel just to do the basics.

We’re being sent the message that we’re letting ourselves down if we don’t use this time to lose twenty pounds or write a novel or take online classes.

In our society, our worth – and more importantly, our self-worth – is tied to how productive we are.  

We’re often judged by our careers, our income levels, the size of our homes, and even our personal fitness and appearance.

And now, when we’re all struggling to get through uncertain times – especially for those who are unemployed or facing illness within the family – we’re supposed to add more to our plates.

Theorist Kathy Weeks has discussed the problems related to our lives being centered on work, and suggests reasons why the “pandemic productivity” message is reverberating around the world – especially in the U.S. where work often takes a back seat to our families, our health, and our sanity.

During this crisis, we are working harder than ever, says Weeks.  But it’s not the work that is valued in our nation because it is not valued by the economy.

The extra childcare, the extra housework with everyone home, the constant need to prove that we’re valuable to our jobs when we can’t be at the office are just adding fuel to the fire of a workforce already facing burnout.

While it may be beneficial to us to stay busy and focus on what we can control – our own responsibilities at home and work – being sold an idea that we should be doing more rather than giving ourselves grace through this crisis is absurd.

It’s not just an American problem, but Americans are notorious for “over-working” at the expense of our mental and physical health.

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This way of life is so ingrained in our culture that we think we are failing if we don’t add additional deadlines and goals to our list in this time of crisis.

We all know that healthy habits are vital to mental and physical well-being, so focusing on taking better care of ourselves at this time is certainly a good thing.

As is spending quality time with family if we find ourselves with a little extra time on our hands.

But feeling that we have to create new tasks, push ourselves harder, or be “productive” at every moment is not a good message for any of us.

It’s ok to take some time to watch a movie, or play a game with our kids, or just sit outside and read a book in the sunshine.

In the end, it’s up to each of us to decide what makes us feel fulfilled and successful, but we don’t have to become conditioned to the idea that “doing more makes us better.”

It’s an idea that leads to burnout and anxiety – something none of need in these unprecedented times.

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