When we went into lockdown in March last year for the first time, we were told that the post-pandemic world would be different.
And that, we must be prepared with a new set of skills for our workplace. We made our kids learn coding, we started to learn languages, enrolled for online courses in Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. We busied our hands with long-forgotten hobbies — painting, knitting, pottery and what not. It was as if we were not fighting the virus but the free time we suddenly found at our disposal owing to a global health crisis.
As we settle into another round of lockdown in the wake of the deadly second wave of Covid infection, I for once have decided not to fall for this productivity trap. With news of deaths all around and economic uncertainties looming large, I have very little energy to barely tick off all the tasks on my to-do list. In fact, this lockdown, I decided to reassess my to-do list, prune it and eventually completely do away with it.
The problem with most to-do lists is that we often turn it into a wish list — a litany of tasks we could achieve on an ideal day. And what does an ideal day look like? A day when one is feeling physically fit and emotionally stable. A day when nothing goes wrong — the taps don’t leak, the landlord doesn’t have a complaint, parents don’t torment you with distress calls about their internet not working or giving you a dressing down for not getting married. Even under normal circumstances such expectations are unrealistic to say the least. During the pandemic such an overambitious to-do list is nothing but self-harm.
One of the reasons we tend to overpack our to-do list is we fail to accurately estimate the energy and time that goes into doing household and maintenance work. And that in turn can be blamed on the fast-spreading malady of self-improvement that's infecting more and more millennials. For people who are part of the “self-improvement” bandwagon (more on it in a later column), as long as they do not finish a book a week, watch a few documentaries to upgrade their knowledge, work out twice a day, attend a few online workshops to upskill and listen to self-help podcasts, life can be deeply unsatisfying. Millennials often discount the fact that cleaning, bathing, washing, repairing and maintaining a house also require a good amount of time and energy.
We also grossly undervalue the amount of emotional work we put in on a regular basis. I invest a chunk of my time in checking in with friends these days. Talking to your parents or friends over phone when you are staying away from them in times of a health crisis that’s claiming lives every day is also productive.
To be able to set realistic expectations of ourselves, we need to redefine productivity. If you have been compassionate to yourself and others, invested time in self-care and taken a moment to acknowledge all the myriad contributions you make to run your home and life, you would have a productive day.
Some ways to deal with productivity anxieties
1. Don’t make a to-do list. It’s an added task.
2. Turn exercising into group time with friends.
3. Turn housework into a fun activity. Team up with your partner or spouse and play some music or sing aloud while doing chores. Don’t plug in a podcast. Enjoy the process of cooking and chopping vegetables.
4. Pat yourself on the back for getting the laundry and the dishes done.
5. If you have spent the whole day chatting with friends, see it as an accomplishment of a task, not wastage of time. We need to talk to people and stay connected. Everything else can wait.
6. Make peace with where you are right now. Constantly obsessing over the next online course you want to finish or your next fitness target adds to your anxiety. Learning is a lifelong process, just as fitness is. Consistency and not unhealthy obsession with goals and self-improvement will get you there.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioral sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)