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Being Gently Productive during Quarantine

by Nathalia Ramos
How to be productive during quarantine

As I pause for a rare moment to reflect on the strange times we all find ourselves in, a rollercoaster keeps coming to mind. As COVID-19 hit each of our communities, we’ve been up and down, tossed and flipped all while trying our best to keep our heads on straight. I am grateful that I am able to work from home, that I am healthy and my essential needs are met. I realize that this is not the reality of far too many. Nonetheless, it took some time to adjust to my new circumstances. 

After the initial shock of, you know, facing a global pandemic began to subside, I have to admit, I was pretty excited about this rare opportunity to be hyper-productive. I started going through all the things that I always wanted to do, but never found the time to. In my mind, I’d be checking off my reading list by the day and discovering some artistic talent I never knew I had. Maybe I’d pick up some new technical skill on one of those online courses I’ve had my eye on. And, without a doubt, I’d be fluent in at least two other languages by the end of all this. Unsurprisingly, It didn’t take long for reality to come crashing down on me. I felt busier than ever yet I hadn’t reached a single one of the personal goals I had set for myself. 

I started going through all the things that I always wanted to do, but never found the time to.

Truth be told, I had not become the savant I had imagined I’d be. I was just overwhelmed and exhausted. I knew this level of intensity was unsustainable, so I started to reorient myself towards what I now refer to as being gently productive. For me, that meant finding a better work/life balance, loosening up on my tendency to fill in every waking moment on my calendar and, rather, leaving time for spontaneity and the hidden surprises that naturally arise when we’re out and about living our lives. With just a few simple changes I have found that I am more present, happier and, ironically, no less “productive.”

Here are some of my top tips for being gently productive and not losing your sanity while WFH:

  1. Set more realistic goals: I cannot stress this enough! Let’s be real, I gained a few extra hours a day, not bodies. How I thought I was going to learn 3 new languages, become a coder, start a book club, and still keep up with my pre-COVID work demands is beyond me. Overachievers, I hear you, but I recommend focusing on one new activity at a time. Work it into your schedule, feel it out and then reassess. You’ll end up enjoying it more instead of it becoming a chore that you have to rush through so you can get to the next task. 
  2. Work smarter, not harder: Busy doesn’t mean productive. It’s taken me a while to learn this. I would often work on multiple projects at the same time and by the end of the day I hadn’t properly completed any of them. Identify what needs to be done, prioritize, and focus on one thing at a time. Bullet journaling is a really helpful approach to this. 
  3. Don’t overschedule: This builds off of the “work smarter” philosophy. A full schedule doesn’t automatically mean that you are making the most of your time. Scheduling work in blocks and leaving open gaps in between allows you to approach your work with a calmer mindset, because you’re not always racing against the clock. A looser schedule also gives you the space to get to those personal activities when you’re in the mood to enjoy them. 
  4. Everything can be a learning experience, but not everything has to be: Trust me, I understand that implementing a few changes won’t fundamentally change the nature of your personality. If you’re like me and still feel like you have so much you want to accomplish but not enough hours in the day, think about this: anything you do can also double as an opportunity to learn. Here are a few examples to inspire you:
    1.  I started gardening a few weeks ago, just for fun. But in doing so I have also learned so much about science, nutrition and cooking. I was even able to incorporate my Vietnamese lessons by learning the different vegetables and plants I’m planting in Vietnamese. 
    2. I joined Rosetta Stone blogger Calli Zarpas #CabinFeverReliever Challenge and made my grocery list in Vietnamese. Join her challenge for tons of inspo! 
    3. I really want to learn German but I am taking it slow, so I started by counting to 20 in German every time I wash my hands! 
  5. Have fun: Catch up with friends and family. I have a weekly Zoom trivia game with my family around the world and it’s become one of the highlights of the week. Connect with the people you love and do some things just for fun: that’s not wasted time. 
  6. Give back: The truth is that this is a hard time for so many of us. If you are feeling overwhelmed or unfulfilled, take some time to look around your community and see where you can be of service. Volunteer at a local food bank or testing center, pick up groceries for an elderly neighbor, or reach out to someone you know who lost their job and see if there is anything they need. Even just reading a book to the kids in your life over video chat can do wonders for tired parents. Everyone can do something and we need to lean on one another more than ever. Two local California organizations that I’ve been supporting are the LA Food Bank and Foster Nation, who are currently providing Chromebooks so that students in foster care can keep up with the studies while schooling from home. Volunteer Match is a resource hub where you can find all sorts of virtual and in-person volunteer opportunities near you. 

We don’t always need to have a final destination in mind. Sometimes it’s the journey that matters most. That sounds so cliché, but quarantine life has shown me that it’s true. I’m learning to be more present and not put so much pressure on myself. That doesn’t mean I am being lazy or less productive, I still have so much that I want to accomplish now and in the future. But, I’m learning that the path there cannot entirely be mapped out in advance. I need to be open and present so that I can see the unexpected surprises that life throws at me and, more importantly, enjoy the ride.

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