You don’t need to be productive during a pandemic

You don’t need to be productive during a pandemic
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When coronavirus arrived in Charlotte seven weeks ago, our ever-growing, always-busy city came to halt. Chairs went legs up on tables at our favorite breweries and restaurants. Highways and Uptown’s towers emptied out.

Now, when you walk outside, parents are playing with their kids at odd hours in the middle of the day, neighbors are talking to each other from their porches, kids communicate with their friends in sidewalk chalk.

In some ways there are fewer distractions, like unnecessary errands and long commutes. Day one of working from home, I was excited to use all of this new free time to become a svelte health goddess who makes everything from scratch, does yoga while the sun rises, journals using a gratitude template shared by some wellness influencer, meditates at sunset, and reads before bed. All of this in addition to work.

By the end of week one I realized I need to lower my expectations. By a lot.

All of us have lost something — feeling safe, sense of normalcy, human connections, jobs, perhaps a loved one — during this pandemic. It’s a lot to deal with.

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Yet there’s this undercurrent that we need to capitalize on all of this newfound “free time” to join a pushup challenge, bake banana bread (why?), write a novel, or become the next Newton.

In a survey, we asked Agenda subscribers if they’ve struggled with feelings of loneliness, anxiety, or depression since the coronavirus pandemic. More than 60 percent of respondents — 2,722 people — said yes. Some said those feelings were triggered by the pressure to be productive right now.

LaToya Evans, a strategic communications leader with her own PR firm in Charlotte, can attest to feeling the pendulum swing of emotions, and the pressure to be productive amid it all.

Evans says last week was the hardest for her so far, and taking care of her wellbeing and working her full-time job, which includes helping businesses stay afloat right now, is more than enough to keep her busy.

“Nothing is normal. No one is behaving normally, even if it seems so on the surface,” Evans says. “This is a traumatic event. We’re grieving this loss of life. We need to understand everyone is emotionally charged, which shows up personally and professionally.”

Having an unusually heavy workload in abnormal conditions makes for long days. Knowing that, Evans is more protective of her time and energy, practices self care, and extends grace to herself and others.

For instance, she’s gotten honest about what really needs to be on her daily to-do list and prioritizes those things in the morning when she’s most energized.

She calls other things she’d like to get done her “wish list,” and tackles those items only if she has the mental capacity and emotional energy for it.

Setting that boundary and indulging in quarantine versions of normal, like Netflix, takeout, press-on nails, and home renovation projects (think building shelves, painting) has helped take the pressure off, Evans says.

Sarah Olin is a life and leadership coach in Charlotte. Through her businesses Sarah Olin Coaching and Luscious Mother, she works with some of the most ambitious, go-getting professionals in the city.

Olin says what Charlotteans are experiencing right now is grief.

She says the people she talks to are all over the place emotionally — one moment is up, the next is down. And if you have children, figuring out how to work from home, homeschool your kids, and take care of yourself is a struggle, too.

“One day we can handle it, the next it’s grim,” Olin says. “We think, ‘They’re losing this; they’re laying people off. Will we get stimulus money or won’t we?’

“In my job, we spend a lot of time talking about the unknown, like what happens if we move a little outside of our comfort zone. Now it feels like the universe is like ‘No bitch, this is the unknown.'”

Olin says any grief brings up all grief. Which means people are possibly dealing with additional traumas. Adding on unrealistic expectations might not yield results.

“The pressure to be productive right now is crazy,” Olin says. “You’re asking people to be productive in undistinguished grief. We’re all experiencing it.”

You have to take care of yourself — mind, body, spirit — which might lead to an activity and it might not, she says.

Step one, she says, is to feel your feelings (guilt and shame aren’t invited).

Olin says some clients feel grateful for what they have, but also devastated for all those suffering.

“We can hold ‘wow this sucks’ and  ‘we have so much.’ It can be both,” she says. “We don’t want to do shitty comparative suffering. You’re a human. You get to feel bad.”

Once you identify your feelings, what action you do or don’t take is highly individualized because the answer has to come from inner dialogue, Olin says; you need to ask yourself what you need, and quit consuming things that make you feel bad or create pressure.

You don’t have to make banana bread, master a new skill, lose weight, climb the ranks at work, or partake in a fitness challenge right now. Getting by is enough.

Or maybe your priorities and needs have become really clear and you do want to get into fitness, lean into your creativity, or pick up a new hobby.

Either way, Olin says, find out what’s true for you and get good with it.


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