What Does Productivity Mean Now That There’s a Pandemic and I Don’t Have a Job?

In normal times, I’m always doing something.

My full-time job, hot yoga 7 days a week, movies (oh, how I miss movie theaters) hanging with friends, traveling… I even freelanced as a writer because, hey, I needed to feel that extra hit of productivity.

My story with being productive

In 2017, I quit my full-time tech job to consult and freelance write. Honestly, I did it so I could travel more and be the boss of my own schedule. Turns out that setting your own schedule for work and play takes tons of discipline and experimenting.

At the time, I grew increasingly frustrated with how short my days were and knew I needed and wanted to get more done in the day. I became a productivity fiend. I made it my goal to maximize my time, efficiently prioritize my work, and just get more done during the day.

I devoured books from Chris Bailey, Cal Newport, Tim Ferriss, and Charles Duhigg. I even wrote a monster blog about how to be more productive at work and how I experiment with managing my time more effectively.

Some outcomes were great, and I fell into a routine that worked for me. Since I’m naturally an early riser, I started waking up at 4 or 4:30 am.

When I was still working a full-time job, a typical morning for me looked like this…

I’d knock out laundry, a freelance writing assignment, and yoga before 7:30 am. Then I’d hop on the train to for 1.5 hours to get to the office. During my commute, I’d listen to audiobooks or a podcast to gain more knowledge about something.

The pandemic: the good and the bad

Then coronavirus hit, and like many other Americans, I lost my job, and everything sort of… stopped. I was suddenly forced to adjust to a new schedule and lifestyle. Time no longer held the same meaning it once did. The new normal became the new weird?

The good…

Not working was all new to me (and kind of fun) so I gave myself a week or so to purposely and completely wreck my rock solid schedule. I’ve never been without a job before, so I wanted to fully enjoy it.

And anyway, did it really matter if I slept at 7 pm and woke up at 2 am? I let loose and binged-listened to my favorite podcasts (Stuff You Should Know & Hidden Brain — love ’em), went outside for long walks, runs, bike rides, cooked.

The bad…

Then, after week two, I started noticing it was a challenge to focus on anything. Even my beloved podcasts became noise.

Not being productive when I have all of this time danced through my mind. I started feeling guilty.

Perhaps I missed feeling productive?

Thanks Google News

Or… maybe it was my Google News feed reminding me that I wasn’t being productive. Because let’s be real, we’re a culture that’s addicted to being productive (myself included). I’d scroll through my news feed and see “How to create your dream home office space” or “Why you shouldn’t work in your PJs.”

A lot of it is just silly fluff. I definitely don’t need a blogger telling me that nailing artwork to the wall would somehow make me feel more pleasant (and hence, boost your productivity!) while I’m plugging away on my laptop.

No surprise, I’m addicted to the feeling of accomplishment. I felt this overpowering need to tick off my to dos each day, mark the “X” on my calendar. This ensures that I matter, that I count, that my actions during the day (despite not earning an income) mean something.

Redefining productivity

Being quarantined is forcing me to reframe what it means to be productive. April was the first full 30 days I haven’t worked, and I’m learning that boredom is a part of my productivity too. I’m freeing up brain space while I aimlessly putter around my apartment (and close my freaking laptop).

Perhaps coronavirus is speeding up the process of change while (ironically) everything around us slows down.

I admit, marking that “X” on my calendar feels kind of great. But now that I’m not working, being productive means making the best of each day and accepting the little nooks and crannies of downtime and boredom, no matter what I’m doing — watering my plants, writing, looking for work, making good use of bananas (never knew banana blondies were a thing)…

Why is baking so therapeutic?!

…or going on long bike rides (check out the view from this painful uphill 10-mile Bay Bridge ride I did recently!).

The view from Yerba Buena on the Bay Bridge in between Oakland and San Francisco.

How do you define productivity now?

Would love to hear how things have changed in your world when it comes to feeling productive during this pandemic.