I was having a chat with a friend yesterday who was feeling a little tired and exhausted. The root cause of this exhaustion was sitting in front of a computer screen for long periods. She mentioned that, if she wasn’t working, it was as if she wasn’t being productive and was letting down her team and her job. I suspect a lot of us who are new to the idea of working from home are struggling with that dilemma.
I have been a longtime “work from home” proponent — at least, for myself. First, I get about 900 Mbps on my broadband. I have the table, computer (monitor), and (open back) headphones, and desktop amplifier of my choice. I also don’t get into too many casual chats (I am known to wander around and talk to colleagues because, well, I like to talk). In short, when alone at home, I can get everything done without interruptions and without interrupting others.
The pandemic has resulted in the days becoming longer and longer. And for some odd reason, my efficiency has improved. What used to take about ten hours is now being achieved in six, leaving me with extra time on my hands. This prompts me to ask the question, “Am I being productive?” Of course, when you ask that question, you end up in the same position as my friend: feeling guilty. For me, a good sanity check is my first principle of working from home: Refer to my daily to-do list. If everything on the list is done, then I have achieved what I set out to do today. And that removes any questions surrounding productivity.
Read my tips on how to work better and smarter when working from home.
But shouldn’t we instead ask ourselves this question: what is the big deal about being productive and productivity in this unprecedented time? How can we ignore the ambient anxiety of living in this new strange (for now) normal? We have to get normalized before we get caught in the guilt trap. As I was thinking about this, an email from Pop Up Magazine showed up in my inbox. It had a short blurb from Hanif Abdurraqib, a poet. (I don’t know much about him, as I have admittedly very little interest in poetry. )
Long before the pandemic took hold, I battled with my understanding of productivity. What does it mean for me to be productive? To whom do I owe my productivity, if not myself first? Kicking these ideas around turned me into a slower, more patient writer of poems. I pushed away the self-importance that told me there was a world waiting for my work.
Lately, I’ve tried something new: recycling my way toward a feeling of productivity. I copy and paste email responses that work across multiple inquiries. If I don’t feel up for making a morale-boosting lunch, I pile some leftovers into a bowl and hope for the best. I’ve found myself doing this with poems, as well. Piling leftovers onto the page and seeing what makes sense.
That is a good idea. I am going to try his approach and work through my photo library to see if there are any “one-star” photos with half-finished edits that need revisiting.
May 7, 2020. San Francisco