The Pressure to be Productive Amidst Reigning Chaos

April 14, 2020

After more than two weeks following the shelter in place guidelines, I have developed some sort of a routine. That is the only way I can get myself to do any work. As a graduate student, I feel the pressure to be productive even in the middle of a pandemic. My most productive hours usually occur between 7am and 2pm. I have never tried to understand why that is the case. However, since being confined to my apartment, I have been unable to work at the same level of efficiency even during my golden hours.

Some investigation into this lack of productivity has led me to realise that my productivity is not only tied to the time of the day but it is very connected to multiple interwoven factors. Some of these factors include community, mental health, sunshine and physical activity. For the first few days into my confinement, I felt immense pressure to be productive and catch up on all my research, academic and administrative work. All the while , feeling guilty about not being able to produce the same amount and quality of work as in the past. This strategy of course failed to produce any meaningful results. As a result, in order to survive this period, I devised a few strategies.

I find that I need to be outside and feel the sunshine at least once a day for my body to realise that it is time to work. So while it may be bright outside, my dimly lit room may not be enough to trick my body into sunshine. In order to fight this, I have adopted the following habits:

    • Having all my curtains drawn open to maximize sunlight entering into my workspace and opening windows to circulate air within the room
    • Taking a short walk within my complex garden. I go walking very early in the morning so I limit the chances of meeting people.
    • Eating foods with lots of good nutrients especially Vitamin D.

I am usually a very active person, I enjoy going to the gym and dancing at least 4 times a week. It is much harder to have a work schedule when my body has become accustomed to working from the same spot. Some things I have been doing to keep active are as follows:

    • Having short, scheduled workouts throughout the day that do not require a lot of intensity but can get my body moving.
    • Having a planned early morning walk
    • Having breaks in between my work when I do other useful tasks such as organising my desk, washing dishes etc.

I usually detest having a schedule because I feel like it is a source of stress as I feel constrained to only do the planned tasks and to do them within the allocated time. I am still not an advocate for strict scheduling but I have found that having a list of things you plan to do when working from home has allowed me to have more palatable daily goals. Without a plan, I feel overwhelmed and isolated. Now, I set goals first thing in the morning and try to get as much done as possible. For instance today my list is as follows:

    • eat at least one healthy meal
    • workout for at least 30 mins
    • Class Homework: section 3.3-3.6
    • 2 remote meetings
    • 1 remote discussion
    • data cleaning for nameless project
    • Contact advisor : schedule meeting
    • Contact collaborator

I do not need to complete all the tasks on my list, but having this list allows me to check-in with myself at the end of the day and figure out how I am doing.

Essentially, in a period of physical isolation, it is even more important for me to understand how my body and my mind work. I have to create several systems of checks and balances to ensure that I am doing okay because despite all the technology, my mind still sometimes associates physical separation with isolation. But I remind myself that it is okay to have days when I am not productive because this is a way of preserving my mental health.