Life has changed immensely for all of us since the world shut down in March of last year. Between stay-at-home orders and case spikes and Zoom University, it seems like the life we knew before is long gone never to return.
I want to address something important: the pressure to feel productive in quarantine. Since all of this craziness started, I know that I’ve felt this incredible pressure to continue to perform at not only the same level I was performing at before quarantine, but even at a higher level.
The world shut down and, all of a sudden, there were messages from all around me saying that we should be performing in school, making professional connections, helping our communities, learning to make bread, preventing that dreaded “Quarantine 15” with Chloe Ting ab workouts… the to-do list was endless. Those things can be great, but they can also be incredibly overwhelming, especially when social media is telling you (falsely) that everyone is somehow managing to seamlessly juggle all of these things at once.
I know that I personally felt like I needed to be going for walks every day, doing well in school, and, especially as a varsity college athlete, I felt a huge pressure to stay in top shape for some uncertain return to sports. The fact that every social media platform was spreading propaganda about quarantine weight gain definitely didn’t help (that’s a whole other huge problem— don’t even get me started). I was really unkind to myself, it was incredibly draining, and I am certain that many of us have felt the same way. I found that I was beating myself up over my failure to make time in my day to walk my dog, work out, or spend enough time with my family, and it didn’t feel good. I consistently felt like I was falling short.
At some point, I think I had to come to the realization that something had to give. I was never going to be actually productive if all I could think about was how unproductive I was being by spending an hour watching Netflix or taking a midday nap after hours of Zoom classes. So I told myself that, for once, I was going to put myself first.
I decided to let the obsessive working out go, allow myself the midday naps, make time for the things that I value. I started reading again, and going for long walks where I learned to better appreciate the beauty right outside my front door. I listened to music, I spent time with my family, I forgave myself for grades that weren’t as high as I was hoping for. I had to remind myself that this is a pandemic—people are dying, I’m nineteen years old living full-time in my childhood home, and we have no idea when we will go back to any semblance of normalcy.
When I did this, when I gave myself some grace, something entirely unexpected happened; I actually found myself getting more done. I wasn’t just more productive in academics. I was growing closer with my family (even though they still drive me crazy sometimes), making time for the things that actually make me happy, and taking care of my mental health in a way that I never had before.
By pushing back against some of this societal pressure that was telling me who I should be (insanely productive) and what I should do (literally everything), I figured out how to put the things first that actually matter.
So, I’ll get to my point. You do not need to pick up a thousand new hobbies. You do not need to be at the top of your class or run ten (or two!) miles a day. What you need to do is figure out what is important to you and prioritize that. It isn’t reasonable to demand yourself to be the best at everything. In fact, the American Psychological Association explains that “multitasking may seem efficient on the surface but may actually take more time in the end and involve more error. Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone’s productive time.”
If you’re still beating yourself up for not being as productive as that aesthetic TikToker posting videos of their organized, pristine life, it’s time for a reality check. Nobody can be good at everything. As someone who is incredibly competitive with myself and very much a perfectionist, this is something that I’ve really struggled to be okay with.
It’s time to figure out where your priorities lie and focus your attention there. Just because there’s a global pandemic going on (and on, and on…) does NOT mean that you need to be insanely productive. In fact, it actually means that you should give yourself some grace and some credit just for getting through this time in your life. I’m proud of you, and you are enough. I think you’ll find that if you make some time for the things that matter, you might be surprised how well you can do them.