On Productivity in the Midst of Global Crisis

  • April 29, 2020
Image credits: Sevana Wenn

With the vast majority of us stuck indoors during the global pandemic, we’ve had more time on our hands than ever before to absentmindedly scroll through social media. Yet, the content that we’ve consumed in the last month or so has shifted dramatically in response to the crisis. 

Wherever you turn on Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or any other platform of choice, it’s impossible to avoid the hot topic of productivity. Newton invented calculus during the London plague! posts one influencer. What’s your excuse? Fitness bloggers caution against the oh-so-menacing ‘Quarantine 15’ (because God forbid we gain a bit of weight in the midst of a global crisis), dropping their at-home workouts through your feed to ensure you leave self-isolation in the best shape of your life. This is the perfect time to write that novel you’ve been working on! To get a six-pack! To learn a new language, or get that promotion, or tidy that closet! You too can achieve the pinnacle of success: productivity. 

It’s really no surprise that American workaholism has manifested itself in such forms. Since the Protestants arrived on board the Mayflower in the seventeenth century, the predominant cultural message has been that working hard is an indicator of self-worth and success. So when we find ourselves removed from school and the workplace, we feel a need to manufacture new goals and tasks for ourselves to feel that sense of achievement.

If learning a new language or completing the Chloe Ting 14-day shred challenge is what makes you feel fulfilled during this time, kudos to you. However, it’s important to realize the inherent privilege behind the idea that we should be using this time ‘productively’. It ignores the struggles of countless Americans who have lost their jobs and are barely getting through the day trying to feed their families. Economic strain isn’t the only taxing force: many have been challenged by anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and other forms of mental illness throughout this self-isolation period. What messages are we sending to these vulnerable populations when we push the idea that you need to produce in order to be worthy?

What society needs right now isn’t an aggressive push to emerge from quarantine as the best version of ourselves, the butterfly bursting from the proverbial cocoon. What we need is to survive. This is a stressful and traumatic event unlike no other; with the exception of the few left who have lived through WWII, this is a crisis on a scale we’ve never seen. It’s okay to use this time in quarantine to care for ourselves, whatever that means to us- whether by nourishing our bodies, getting in some exercise, or being kind to ourselves and others. It’s okay to let ourselves just be for the moment. I only hope that when the coronavirus pandemic draws to a close, whenever that moment arises, we are able to leave with a deeper understanding and more compassion towards ourselves and others. 

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