For me, productivity has been the word of quarantine. What I once believed to be a straight-forward word has shifted into quite the fluid concept. My days used to be so chock-full of activities of academic and personal development that it was a jarring shift to be abandoned by those time-takers under quarantine. I used to only be home to sleep; now I spend almost all my time inside my house. Life is obviously vastly different now. I have more free time than I’ve ever really had before in my adult life. Creating a new “normal” has been quite the nine-week challenge for me. I don’t believe there is necessarily any right or wrong way; every individual will find a method that is most comfortable and beneficial for them. My own personal path to redefining productivity within the context of my daily schedule has consisted of intentionally changing my overall mindset, the disciplined acceptance of my emotions, and the purposeful reallocation of my time.
Changing how I plan
As many university students do, I live and breathe through my planner. At the beginning of quarantine, I found that using my planner didn’t let me organize my days in the way I thought they needed to be, so I made an extremely detailed and full two-week plan. It was comforting to have a schedule, especially one with a surprisingly pleasing aesthetic for being done with Crayola markers. Still, the content and dates turned out to be brutally unrealistic.
Next, I tried making a “tasting menu” schedule with different goal categories I wanted to achieve. From this calendar, I experienced the opposite problem of not having structured enough dates to complete anything. For example, I wrote that I would like to complete a specific art project that I am working on. As there are many moving components of this project, I was overwhelmed, so I didn’t even know where to begin.
Recently, I have started writing out weekly and monthly goals to accomplish. As an example, I took this same art project and broke it up into smaller pieces that I could achieve week by week. Sometimes I find myself waiting until the last few days before the due date to check items off my list, but they are still getting checked off. I also stopped writing my goals in my planner and started writing them on a sticky note on my laptop. This way, I am continually being reminded of what I need to do.
These timeframes are what work for me to be the best version of “productive” that I can be during this time. My art project is nearly done now that I’ve been sticking to my set schedule. This new set-up has allowed me to continue to accomplish tasks and focus on the positives. The pacing and organization specifically enable me to be successful. I am focusing on what I can do instead of what I cannot do.
I’ve also found it to be beneficial to make goals that are related to my hobbies and fun activities. This way, I am still checking things off my list during the week, even if I am keeping the more onerous tasks till the end. My method includes scheduling in one small activity of self-care per day. I never used to believe that writing down “make banana bread,” as that seems to be the bake of quarantine, would be a task deemed necessary to put on a list. It takes a lot of self-reflection to understand that to-do lists now look different from to-do lists in January.
My personal method of self-reflection is journaling. This practice allows me to track my accomplishments and related emotions in a meaningful way. I have found a scheduling method that makes me feel productive and keeps me motivated. Incorporating fun tasks on my list gives me the break necessary to clear my mind. In my experience, I’ve found that taking time off to take care of myself results in being able to work with greater focus. I’d rather spend an hour baking a loaf of bread than working so that I can be the most efficient when I do come around to a task. I understand that my version of productivity has changed and that I am not in the wrong for being unable to have constant 12-hour workdays. I know that I am doing the best I can, yet always attempting to push myself to do a little better.
Feeling my emotions and utilizing self-care
Quarantine and social distancing have profoundly changed many aspects of life. Going to the grocery store was once a routine part of my week but has now shifted into an activity that can be nerve-wracking. Throughout the past few weeks, I’ve observed that myself and the individuals I am quarantined with are experiencing emotions in new ways. Some people may feel anxiety at the possibility of contracting or spreading the disease. Others may be feeling grief at the loss of friends or family who have been affected. Many may feel restless and homesick. The severity of these emotions can be utterly overwhelming, as many may never have experienced this before.
At the beginning of my self-quarantine, I attended a virtual conference hosted by the Women in Business student organization. The speaker, Georgi Rausch, an associate professor (lecturer) in Management, addressed the self-care that comes from feeling one’s emotions before moving past them. She encouraged listeners to sit and be aware of their sadness for a few minutes before they self-soothed with Doritos. I am so grateful that I could receive this advice as it helped push me to experience and be aware of my disappointment in myself when I failed to complete my to-do lists. Because of the time spent practicing self-awareness, I was able to find the cause of my unease and make plans to help rectify it.
Dr. Georgi Rausch … encouraged listeners to sit and be aware of their sadness for a few minutes before they self-soothed with Doritos.
My mom has told me that she cannot perform to the fullness of her potential when she is not feeling herself. This may be true for others as well. She was able to recognize this dissonance within her self-identity and make goals to help make amends. Her main goal is self-labeled as the two-thirds rule. This rule states that she must complete two out of three tasks: getting fully dressed, putting on makeup, and doing her hair. In her personal experience, these are the main components of a usual routine that helps her feel put together and like herself. My mom and I have the same problem of standardizing our levels of productivity, and each has our own preferred solution. We both were able to practice the self-care recommended by Rausch and take time to feel our emotions and subsequently find the causes of our unhappiness.
The joke on social media right now is that there are two different types of people during quarantine: those who sleep in until noon and those who are up incredibly early to workout. There is, of course, by no means only two different types of people on the planet, but it is an interesting stereotype. I spent my first few weeks of quarantine like the first example, sleeping in late and staying awake even later. In my own personal experience, as soon as I woke up, I already felt the disappointment that I had wasted my day, so I wouldn’t motivate myself to do much. Going back to my initial thoughts on productivity, I would experience feelings of disappointment for not accomplishing my usual list. This gave way to a cycle where I would feel bad for myself, so I would do nothing, and then feel bad for doing nothing. Along with changing my mindset about the concept of productivity and making an effort to experience my emotions fully, I made efforts to reallocate my time purposefully. In this, I mean that I try to fill my day with activities that I find self-fulfillment from as well as take care of the items on my to-do lists.
Events such as visiting family and spending time outside used to be presented to me organically. Now, I must purposefully put in the effort to do both tasks, which I have deemed some of my top self-fulfilling activities. As I can hardly tell what day of the week it is anyway, I have two different versions of days. One is higher effort while the other is much lower effort. On my high-effort days, I meet my two criteria by activities such as physically visiting a relative while strictly adhering to social distancing guidelines and going on a hike. On my low-effort days, I meet my criteria by video chatting with a friend and laying outside on my porch swing. Everyone will choose to devote their time to different things and have different versions of how they will meet their set criteria. It’s all about purposefully diversifying one’s time with activities that provide happiness and safety.
In short, this way of reframing productivity has worked for me. I had to experience trial and error and retool how I defined productivity. This hasn’t been easy, but I feel like I have a new system that works to be purposefully achieving personal and professional goals. I will continue to incorporate these methods as we continue to progress through this global crisis. Through all of this, I do have to promise to myself never to take a long workday, sitting down at a restaurant, or the traffic downtown for granted ever again.
About the Author
Tori Manning is a sophomore majoring in Business Administration and minoring in French. She loves to spend her time engaging within her role on the Women in Business board and through any sort of traveling.