Productivity in a Pandemic

In the last few weeks, I’ve seen several articles on social media making the point that we shouldn’t guilt ourselves for not being extra productive during the pandemic.

Ah’Miya Jones (right), 11, practices her ball-handling skills while Xavier Carter, 15, Andrico Jones, and Sh’Niya Jones, 11, watch on Fulton Avenue.

I can’t help but notice that this advice only applies to those for whom staying at home and/or carving out some extra free time is even possible. Like, yes, I will try to refrain from toxic workaholism and self-flagellation. But my reasons have less to do with making myself feel better and more to do with maintaining perspective.

I mean: the suggestion that we all ought to be able to pick up a new hobby or learn a new language or whatnot seems like a brazen insult to those who now have unimaginably less free time and headspace for much else besides making the rest of society function and/or ends meet. It’s insulting because it presumes that whole demographics don’t exist or aren’t, as they’re calling it these days, “essential”—that minor self-improvement is somehow more important than collective survival.

In other words, it seems that those of us who are in a position to feel more or less “productive” right now (without there being tangible repercussions either way) should also feel lucky that the stakes are as forgiving as that. And implying that we’re somehow obligated to be even more productive than usual makes a mockery of those whose responsibilities made ours possible in the first place.

If we ought to be doing something with extra time and energy, maybe it’s just reconsidering what’s really valuable to us and making sure that our priorities are in order. (Again, many don’t have that luxury right now—are instead having a crisis dictate their priorities for them.) If this contemplation leads to a sudden burst of creative, productive energy, so be it. If it does actually compel somebody to practice a new skill and experience the pleasure of being “in the zone,” wonderful. On the other hand, if it helps them just slow way down and relearn how to sit still in a room, alone with their thoughts, that’s just as valuable.

All of which is to say the same thing as those articles ended up saying: there are as many ways of dealing with this beast as there are people. Yours isn’t wrong.

Saginaw, MI
April 2020

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