Illustration by Nora Talbott
From the first day of quarantine in March 2020, we have been bombarded with articles and Instagram posts such as “Ways to be productive,” “How to glow-up in quarantine” and “How to spend your time while stuck at home”. Although perhaps well meaning, these types of posts that stress the importance of productivity at all times should come as no surprise in a society that has zero issues with overwork at the cost of mental health. Kids are taught from a very early age that much of their value comes from how much work they can get done in the smallest amount of time. And if you take a day off for emotional or physical wellbeing? You’re not being smart — you’re being lazy. Apparently.
Of course, it’s important to be efficient with time and to work hard. In an ideal work environment, productivity should be expected because there’s nothing to hinder it. But when the whole world is falling apart, the expectation for productivity should also be expected to go down. Thousands of people have died every day in the pandemic, white supremacists and neo-Nazis stormed the US Capitol, Black people were (and still are) murdered in the streets by police officers and about another hundred things have gone wrong and taken over our definition of “normal.” The idea that we should still be able to focus on our essays and tests and schoolwork is absolutely absurd. And yet, not only is that idea widely accepted, but on top of it we’re also inundated with “lose 20 pounds,” “redecorate your room and your sister’s room and your trash can” and “pick up these 10 hobbies in quarantine — there’s no excuse!” If these are things that we couldn’t find the motivation to do under more normal circumstances, how can we find the motivation to do them now? Because we have nothing better to do? You mean besides take care of our younger siblings, pick up new learning habits, try to lead clubs and activities in a new online setting, spend hours every day reading about wrongful convictions and murders and hate crimes, spread awareness about tens of causes and try not to get kicked out of the house for being “political,” right?
Point being, while it may seem as though people, and particularly teenagers, have all this extra time on their hands, much of our energy is going to all these deceptively inordinate tasks. Factor in that for some students, triggers such as unsupportive parents might hinder safe spaces or mental health breaks. The consequential exhaustion from continually hiding an identity or feeling can be exceptionally overwhelming and deter from productivity or really anything at all aside from lying in bed and sleeping.
It’s quarantine, not a productivity contest. The whole point of us staying at home and wearing masks is to protect our bodies and keep ourselves safe and healthy. And yeah, I’ve picked up a hobby or two, and sometimes I do them and sometimes I don’t, but regardless, my main concern (or what should be my main concern) is to do what I feel comfortable doing and what makes me feel good. So if going on a run is what makes me happy, then that’s what I’m going to do. And if I get bored running down the same three streets for half an hour, then I’ll get my dad and we’ll go for a drive. Because if I’m obsessing over how much I have or haven’t done, or if I’m worrying about not doing something perfect, then whatever energy I have is going towards those negative feelings, rather than actually sitting down and doing my homework.
It’s about finding a healthy balance between both completing your responsibilities and taking time for yourself. If you don’t, and you spend all your time checking items off an inexhaustive to-do list, then your emotional wellbeing will most likely go down to the point of you not being able to do anything at all. Take time for homework, and take time for yourself. It’s not a productivity contest — just a quarantine.