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The Pressure of Productivity

Words by Imogen, 26 QLD

Illustration by AileenYou can find more of her work on Instagram @aileenetc

If you had asked me at the beginning of March what my plans were in the upcoming month, I would have told you that I was gearing up to work at two Comic-Cons (London and Birmingham), possibly accepting a promotion at work and counting down the days until my Dad would visit me for a holiday in London.

Obviously, none of that happened.

The spread of COVID-19 intensified, people started getting sick and, sadly, people started dying. As major changes to social norms, businesses, and day-to-day living unfolded, my life changed, as I’m sure yours did too.

I hurriedly decided to pack up my life and move back to Australia to be with my family. When I arrived and entered quarantine, I saw different posts and articles discussing these strange times, including many expressing the importance of utilising lockdowns as opportunities to learn something new. To start a side-hustle, push yourself further in your career, and to come out of this experience better than ever before.

These comments got me thinking…

How should I spend this time?

What happens if I don’t come out the other side having crushed numerous goals?

Should I be jumping on the productivity bandwagon?

Or is it okay if in the coming weeks/months the only thing I end up achieving is baking some loaves of banana bread and binge-watching Netflix?

On reflection, I don’t think it has to be an either/or situation and that being goal-oriented and allowing time for a breather are both important. What is more crucial at this time, is to avoid feeling pressured by social expectations and to instead reflect on who we are, our circumstances, and where we want to go. Then – hopefully – we’ll find our own personal equilibrium.

In the last however-many months, our lives have thrown up lots of challenges and obstacles. Losing a job, financial strain, adapting to working from home, being confined in a small space, being isolated from loved ones, becoming unwell, or feeling anxious because someone you know is unwell, are all realities for many young people at the moment.

Change is a common challenge we are all currently facing.

I know change can often provoke fear and many of us do our best to avoid it. With the coronavirus outbreak, change just came and slapped us in the face. None of us could escape it. It was new, sudden, unexpected and for a lot of people, unprecedented.

Every person has a unique reaction to change and can experience adjustment periods in different ways. It can take a while to feel comfortable in your new ‘normal’.  Because of my medical history, I am at a higher risk of getting respiratory issues should I get sick with COVID-19 – and that has caused me to feel some anxiety. I am now back in Queensland, unemployed, living with my parents, and am very unsure about what the future looks like. While there were some low days when I first arrived back, I feel like overall I’ve adjusted pretty well.

But then I thought about those memes and wondered what my excuse would be for not having done something incredible and life-changing during this time. What if I didn’t have a valid ‘excuse’?

I put this to a family member who wisely asked, ‘Why does there have to be an excuse? Is that a pressure that you’re putting on yourself or does it come from society as a whole? Why does there always have to be something more, something new, and something always on the go?’

If we feel content and happy right now, wherever we are at in our lives, then let’s embrace that feeling, because constant pressures about the future and comparing ourselves to others can be draining, and often, unhelpful. 

If you built new habits that are beneficial and you can use them outside of lockdown, that’s awesome. If you learnt a new skill or developed a business idea, that’s awesome. If you didn’t do any of those things but have been able to make it through each day, then that’s awesome too. Being able to accept this time for what it is and not beating yourself up if you haven’t been as productive as you were pre-Covid is important. I’ve been trying to view the extra free time I have not as unproductive or wasted, but as an opportunity to slow down and reflect.

As I write this sentence the sun is shining, my Mum’s dog is sitting in front of me and the smell of black coffee is creeping into my nose. I’m not sure what today will bring, but right now I am safe, happy, and content. I’m going to take a minute to feel that.

So, if you can, take a deep breath and acknowledge how resilient you have been during this strange time. A time I’m sure you won’t soon forget.   


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