Stop Trying to Be Productive

Apr 01, 2020 · 269 comments
Douglas (Portland, OR)
In our small NE Thai town we live across the street from a community of cloistered Capuchin Franciscan sisters. These religious women are connected to the local community in ways that would surprise you. Being cloistered religious, I know they've wrestled with the demon of "productivity" most of their adult lives. Guess what? The new stay at home orders from the government haven't changed their lives one whit. Not to mention, there could hardly be a safer Covid19 situation for a group of women, young and old, than a well-established cloistered convent.
Margery weinstein (New York City)
Stop trying to be productive...unless, of course, you happen to have a job that can be done from home! And which your boss expects you to do just as productively from home as from the office. And unless you have family at home that still expects you to do chores related to caring for them like cooking and cleaning. Oh, would that we all could be such lucky persons of leisure to use a pandemic as an excuse to do nothing! Where do you come up with this stuff?
Drew (Michigan)
I really hope this article isn't a motivational to be lazy. Yes I have rearranged and sorted through things in my office that I wouldn't normally have time to do. Yes I work 9-10 hrs during the week working from home. Taylor must think we all need a participation trophy because we are all going through this. If you have stuff you need to do, do it. If not, don't whine about not doing anything.
Annette (Geneva, Switzerland)
Wonderful article. I needed it so badly. Stay safe everyone.
bobmomusic (hong kong)
At this time nearly every musician and artist who works freelance is out of work, with governments mandating they shut down in our effort to contain the virus. Yet there are hardly any programs in place to compensate them for their sacrifice in doing their part while they continue to pay rent, and are facing bleak times now and an even longer road til they can come back up to speed. The arts are considered 'non essential' compared to all the corporate industries that make our world run, yet what is everybody relying on to get through these dark times? Cinema and music.
CMH (Philadelphia)
Maybe it's just me, but I work onsite in healthcare administration...I don't have any extra time. Not complaining. Just saying that some of us are still really busy. Many of my friends are in the same situation. When I can, I love being by myself - sitting home in the silence. I wish people would use this time to look within and to become comfortable by themselves without all the external distractions.
Rose (Las Vegas, NV)
I've crammed a whole lot into 67 years (raised a son who's now 23, made a music video and performed in it, been published in The New York Times etc., have written several children's books and screenplays and songs) and now I wonder "What's the hurry?" While I often feel like I have to light a fire under other people, there's a constant one under me but now, with more time than any human should have to reflect and create, the world has slowed to what I consider an uncomfortable pace. I'm getting some inkling as to how early man might have wasted his time locked in a cave with too much family. I've always been able to stop and smell the roses but now the flow is off (no flow, just ebb) and the uncertainty of this brave new world has people on edge and reacting poorly to the quarantine possibly even more than to any illness.
Sasha (New York)
Americans are really hopeless. God forbid they have to sit for 5 minutes and actually think about their depressing and empty lives and marriages.
Jacqueline Pope (Dayton, TN)
Thank you Taylor Lorenz! What a gifted writer. NYT, please don’t let this gal get away. She just saved my sanity and countless others. My new normal upon waking each morning and after thanking God for the night and that I still feel okay, thoughts of guilt and failure come rushing at me like a tsunami. Must decide what all I can clean and do today to atone for that nothingness yesterday and promises to self that I’ll do it later. Oh and then all those other widows on my list to check on, send a note with a sealed teabag for notification they are though of and loved. I did none of those. My brain announces I have guilt to deal with now. I get up, tripping over meowing Jaxxon and Rascal, standing there demanding to know what time they can expect breakfast delivered to their bowls. I rush downstairs to the To Do Lists, that pad with all those blank lines ready to receive all the musts for each day and ..with their little circles to receive red check-offs. Very little red ink ever makes it onto those lists of late even tho they outshine the dreaded gold stars I hated that first grade teachers put on some students papers. I fill in the lines and walk away to a book. At fiveish more promises of better tomorrow. Taylor, thank you for making tossing all that writing a reality. And since I live alone only you and I know. Sorry I didn’t see you peeping in my door to write about me for me. I am going to enjoy today and hope you can yours as well. Be Safe, jacquie
Cindy (Boston)
@Jacqueline Pope Thanks for your post. I feel I should be looking for a FT job as I can't work my per diem jobs. But I have a 3ed grader at home and not sure how well I can work remotely.
Patrick Henry (USA)
As in any other time of our lives, it’s about balance. The thing to avoid though is paralysis - too many things to accomplish so nothing does. If you make a giant to-do list, it’s overwhelming. Pick one thing to do and do it. Maybe it’s a chore or repair. Maybe a hike or some reading. If you have to work, work. Great success! Enough whining, by the way. Many of us have kids, need to teach school, or make dinner, have things to fix in the house, work, stress, etc. Quit being pansies.
Jeffrey Gillespie (Portland, Oregon)
Americans are profoundly brainwashed into believing that they are pointless if they are not busy. It's very sad. I was raised in Europe and South Africa where people work to live but don't live to work. Try being lazy for awhile. It's a blast. If not now, when?
Lightning14 (Out In America)
And Australia although they too are becoming like us.
Natalie (Michigan)
I am teaching, online, every morning ( special education teacher). At 3 o'clock I leave my "classroom", take my pugs for a walk (rural area), come home, prepare dinner....all of this done through enormous stress and concern. At 8 o'clock I get high, watch something stupid on Netflix for 2 hours, then fall asleep. If I can continue to do this for the next two months, I will give myself a Nobel Prize.
johnpthom (NYC)
Thank you Taylor! This was the right article at the right time for me. It took a load off. Unlike most of the (perhaps necessary) headline/articles in The New York Times these days.
CNL (Elmhurst Il)
Here's another idea, stop telling me what to do with my time. I find GREAT relaxation in being productive. I garden, I sew some masks, I make some bread...How about we let the people who want to be productive carry on, and the people who don't get to chill.
S North (Europe)
Those who are still in denial are making up lists in their heads of what they'll accomplish in a time of global crisis. The rest of us, resigned, consider ourselves lucky if we can touch a tree. There is so much more to live than being productive, if only we could see it.
cal (clifton pk, ny)
oh, jeez, this was EXACTLY what i needed to read. Life is just exhausting and I feel like there is something wrong with me for not getting more done now.
A.A. (Philipse Manor, NY)
My fondest wish is that when this is over people will be so sick of communicating with each other through a screen that they will toss their devices and come out and meet each other face to face. A consummation devoutly to be wished. Yeah, right.
alloleo (usa)
I'm in lockdown in my apartment with a piano and a book of jazz exercises. I'm using this as an opportunity for some distraction-free woodshedding, the type of thing I might not otherwise have the self-discipline for. If that's being too productive-minded, so be it. Sure beats obsessing on the dreadful news all day.
Lightning14 (Out In America)
Well after pitching myself into small projects - the “low-hanging fruit” as it were - such as cleaning out drawers and re-organizing them, culling my library and preparing boxes of books for donation, getting every CD in the house back with their cases and classified by genre, and the like I have to move on to more difficult tasks. Finishing that movie treatment. Filling out some medical paperwork. But in between I sit in the yard with my cats and listen to the robins, blue jays and crows. I call my aunt in assisted living. I’m grateful that I have my government pension so I’m not worried about money. But today I gave myself the gift of a long nap on the couch to help get over some sniffles from spending too much time at night outside looking at the stars. I still feel like I should be doing more, but every day I get up and make goals for the day in my “coronavirus diary” I’ve been keeping since the Ohio shelter in place order went into effect (thanks Gov DeWine). My advice is to take a Zen-like approach to this event, this may well be a “war,” but I’ve served in two actual wars and this has been very unlike those. I guess it’s all about one’s perspective.
Kris (Bellevue, WA)
While my husband continues to work from home unhindered, I struggle to find energy. I am a painter, and some days I just can’t paint. I spend too much time reading articles online on the pandemic. I know it’s not good for me, but it’s an obsession. We are very lucky compared to many other people, but I can’t stop worrying about all the people who are suffering. I am very tired, have a hard time exercising in my makeshift gym, and sleep a lot. Thanks for this article, as it makes me feel better about being in shock.
John (LA)
Shout out to all the folks who are working from home. Personally, this week has been incredibly difficult to maintain a work ethic. Tasks that would be second nature are now much more cognitively taxing. Glancing at the news immediately derails any focus. Go on Twitter? Your day is lost to rage. Anyway. Other folks out there working I feel your pain.
This just in (New York)
@John And the daily 2-3 hour Presidential pat on his own back along with the Bobbleheads named Pence and Birx also a complete waste of time as the President free forms while dumping and spewing the contents of his head all over the room and the poor members of the Press sitting captive like sitting ducks. He should grow longer arms so he can reach his own back better to pat himself on it.
Frank De Canio (Union City, NJ)
These times are worse than wars or hurricanes which may devastate this or that area (tragic as it is) but leave the rest of the world untouched. Here the whole world economy and our jobs are at risk. But to dwell on these things is fruitless. Nor is it enough to make resolutions. "Man proposes, God disposes," the saying goes. Likewise, 'actions trump resolutions." Children don't resolve to be engaged, they're swept away by their engagements. Just so, I recommend people don't just find a way to occupy the time, but do something to race against the time that we're confined in quarantine in such a way that you want to get it done fast enough before being remanded back into the workaday world. Start learning a language which you know if you don't master fast enough before this quarantine ends, you will never get another chance at doing so. This way rather than the end of this quarantine being the desideratum, the mastering the language is. Act in such a way that you can honestly say when this quarantine ends: "Already? But I didn't even get to finish Ciien Anos de Soledad, or in the case of Italian La divina Comedia, or German, Faust! In no way does this mitigate what to me, as to all of us, is a painful quarantine. We either drown or ride the surge. But it's there no matter what. We might as well adjust. Hamlet says "I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, did I not have bad dreams." Well, let's all become hamlets - without the bad dreams.
B (M)
I think a lot of people did not read the article. It’s not about not doing anything but rather not beating yourself up over not doing extra things right now because most of us have more on our plate’ s than usual.
MIMA (heartsny)
I don’t know what my husband has expected of all this. He’s been grumpy and today there was a little discussion. Like this: “This is the way it’s going to be for awhile. Get used to it. Be glad you’re alive. Others our age are being stored dead in semi trucks. Besides, truthfully, you didn’t ever really do all that much in wintertime anyhow!” Sometimes the truth can be a motivator and just needs to be said. Enough gets to be enough.....
James Lombardo (San Francisco, CA)
A glass (or maybe a bottle) of wine with lunch. Period.
SoCal (California)
I guess looking for a new job is 'productive,' but it doesn't seem like it right now.
Jeroen (Los Angeles)
This article was exactly what I needed! Whenever I just sit around and am doing nothing I am feeling guilty, and it drags me down. We're being fed all of these ideas about what to do with our "extra time", but when I worked from home from 8-5, Monday to Friday, I don't want to anything but relax and watch the latest TV shows streaming, but that is not considered a "productive" hobby. We "must" pick up a new hobby like learning how to play the guitar, make furniture, clean those closets, and I don't know what else. I'm even getting to the point that I feel that I'm neglecting my dog because I am not finding new things for him to do now that I am around 24/7. Just playing catch a few times a day, or giving him his favorite bone is not enough anymore. It's driving me mad! I am single, and I was already a homebody during the week especially since I adopted my dog Billy last September, and I am fine with it. I love my apartment, it feels like home, and I am luckily that it's large and bright, so I feel good...most of the times. I am not productive working from home. I feel so bad and guilty about that, because I am being paid a monthly salary (so thankful, because so many people don't have this luxury). I have to allow myself to stop being so hard on myself. There is less work because live as we know it is on "hold" so it's only logical that I have less work on my plate. It's a struggle to come to terms to that, and this article helped me to be okay, and just be how I want to be.
John G (Tobaccoville, NC)
I’m semi-retired so I have no illusions about “being productive”. Nonetheless, I’m finding that structuring my day carefully helps me get through this difficult time. Each day I: clean, do a little yoga, cook, cut fire wood or do yard work or write or work in the studio. At the end of the day I haven’t accomplished a lot...yet having a plan in place helps me feel like I have an ordinary life.
AndreaDoria (USofA)
My husband died, after a long progressive illness, right before coronavirus became A Thing. My main occupation for almost the last decade was taking care of him. And now I'm not just alone, I'm So Alone. Grieving is hard enough, but 100x worse when I can't share it with anyone.
AhBrightWings (Cleveland)
@AndreaDoria I'm so incredibly sorry that you are dealing with both grief of the most personal kind and a global crisis. I'm just a stranger, but hugs to you. Hang in there. Sincere condolences and best wishes.
Suzanne (Los Angeles)
My husband and I are self-employed (essential) business owners. People assume that "essential" businesses means we are operating as before. It was already incredibly challenging to operate our businesses under normal circumstances, and in the span of a week, we've had to completely upend and re-imagine and implement new operations to keep our employees employed, safe, communicate changes to public, and work endless hours with an almost instant 60% reduction in revenue. We are considering dipping into our 401ks to keep payroll going through this. We would give ANYTHING to be stuck at home right now with "time to fill". People complaining of being bored, pestering us to text with them, chat online, have no idea how absolutely exhausted and busy we are. If you have down time, enjoy it. Take advantage of it to the fullest. You don't know when you'll get it again.
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Suzanne I literally think some people would trade with you in some instances. Not me, but I know people who don't know how to "just be present" without having constant stress and worry in their lives. They thrive on it I hope things are better for you soon.
Marie McCabe (Washington, DC)
Thanks for this. I'm in IT, so my job is to make sure everyone else can work remotely. It's been an interesting month of 12+ hour days. I am very grateful to have a secure job that doesn't involve risking my life--it truly is a luxury now--but I'm puzzled by so many articles assuming we have so much time to fill. Either you're working, probably more than ever, or you are not, in which case Peleton challenges and intricate recipes are probably not foremost on your mind.
DaffyDave (San Francisco)
@Marie McCabe I have to agree. I've never been busier. In fact, the crisis has kind of eroded distinctions between work and personal hours have become extended into the night and over the weekends. It would be nice if it settles back to something close to normal eventually. Not a lot of free time these days.
Organic Vegetable Farmer (Hollister, CA)
I note that despite the absolute need to work 7 days a week right now just to try to keep things together, that I am more tired because of frustration more than anything else. I know that decreasing my work hours is needed, but as a self-employed farmer ineligible for assistance so far despite being "essential" - I grow fresh vegetables and herbs - if my employees are to be ok and my business to continue and for me not to lose my home, I must do what I am doing. Controlling news reading time is what I have had to do most so far to keep sane.
Rebecca (Seattle)
@Organic Vegetable Farmer Can't thank you and others who are keeping us all fed and their employees ok and caring for the sick enough.
Treetop (Us)
@Organic Vegetable Farmer Thank you for your work! Needless to say, but it is the bedrock of life.
MaureenC (Plainfield IL)
@Organic Vegetable Farmer I hope you can draw strength from those who appreciate your efforts! Be well!
P Toro (Boston)
I appreciate this. I am retired, so feel very, very grateful that I do not have the pressure of job productivity or whether or not I have a job. I have adjusted to a slower pace. Yet there is still the pressure of productivity, of using time wisely, even in isolation. I am finding it difficult to focus much on demanding tasks. For now I feel grateful when we wake up each morning and go to bed each night with our health intact, that we still have enough, that our family is still OK. If I manage one small project a day (a walk, some reading time, a cupboard cleaned) in addition to the rounds of cleaning, checking in on the state of affairs, worrying, and checking in on loved ones, it's been a full day. The long haul will be met just one day at a time.
H. At Home (Missoula, Mt.)
I was feeling really panicky about my lack of energy or motivation. Then I had kind of an epiphany; that I was sitting around, but not actually recharging because I was spending so much energy feeling guilty about doing nothing. So then I started putting all my energy into doing nothing. Lol. I know that sounds funny, but it's actually true. I started focusing all that energy into feeling good doing absolutely nothing. And it worked. When I started doing that, I started feeling so much better. I started having these bursts of energy that I could then use to do the house or a craft project with the girls, or thinking clearly in my head about things to do to move forward. It was amazing. I'm feeling much better since doing that.
Ann (Virginia)
@H. At Home This is the wonderfully comment I have seen in a long time. Thank you!
Tama (Minneapolis)
@H. At Home What you said makes so much sense. To be still for awhile without adding any pressure allows us to enjoy that time and eventually get to the point of wanting a change. Wait for happens.
AB (London)
@H. At Home So very true! I’ve had to counsel more than one completely panicked or burnt out colleague these last few weeks because they were actually working more hours while WFH than they did during normal times. There is so much of modern corporate/hustle culture that demands people behave like performing circus animals. What happens to your sense of self if no one is there to watch?
Janice Nelson, RN (Park City From Boston)
I think we tend to be “over productive” to distract ourselves from whatever it is inside of us we are running from. It’s very “productive” to hang out with our kids, pet our dogs and cats, read books, or even do nothing. I am embracing my inner laziness, which I never do, but find that deep inside, I like being lazy. I just always shunned it, treated it as a fault, not a delight. I always had my perpetual to-do list, my endless errands, etc. I don’t miss them. I don’t feel like I’m rushing around so much. I see now how unnecessary most of it was, really. I doubt I’ll return to that after this ends. We’ll see.
Ruth (Jacksonville,Fl)
@Janice Nelson, RN These comments make me realize most Americans don't truly know the joy of relaxation and quiet time. It is so important for the soul to be still and just listen to your inner self, for is there no better thing than to deeply know who you really are.
Morgan (Atlanta)
I've been working remotely for the last two years, so that is not new to me. What's new is not being able to go ride my horses, which are stabled about half an hour from me, or doing my usual socializing with my female friends at our favorite local spots. With the stress of those restrictions and the fact that I live alone I have embraced dishes in the sink, dog hair on the floor, and not getting a darned thing done on my to do list outside of work. Today for the first time in a very long time I did yard work. I needed the exercise.
AhBrightWings (Cleveland)
So incredibly timely and spot on. Mea culpa. I tend to be a workaholic...constantly working on projects, teaching, gardening, crafting and writing. And yes...I deluded myself into thinking that this would be an incredible-- if unwelcome and challenging-- chance to work on many of these things. A week into this and it became apparent that it would be more of the Pre-New Mother Delusion Syndrome. How many of us remember vowing on a stack of "What to Expect When You're Expecting" that we'd never be the mothers still in robes who hadn't brushed our teeth until five in evening, only to realize five minutes after the infant was delivered that we would indeed join the ranks of the deranged and slovenly who declared success if a sock had been donned, a single one? I write this, by the by, in my pajamas having yet to brush my teeth (3:23 pm) and having just taken a nap. In fact, every part of this has felt like the early days of having a baby...the sense that the world has tilted off its axis, the exhaustion, the existential fears about the future, the inability to complete a thought or task, the sense that time has become such a sneaky thief that you don't know if you've been robbed of hours or randomly given a year. Alas, the only thing missing is an actual beautiful baby to hug and hold. But then...I'm also relieved that that is not another burden to carry, that my young-adult daughter and son are here as allies and proof that whatever comes next, we're not alone.
I don't know where any extra time would come from. We try to keep our regular schedule. After we have our usual breakfast, my husband gets himself ready for his day, not in his usual sport coat, but he's definitely not hanging out in sweatshirts or work-out clothes, and goes to the basement with his computer for scheduled meetings, work on grant submissions, or research work. We're very fortunate that he’s still getting paid, so he works; this shelter-at-home is not a vacation and is instead a time to get caught up on some other work. At noon he comes up and we have lunch together then he goes back down to work. He calls it a day around 6 or so then goes out for a run then we have a light dinner and stream a show. I've been baking more so we don't need to buy bread; making meals to freeze so we use fewer dishes with every meal since we're eating at home much more; rotating my refrigerated food so I catch foods near the end of their shelf life and very little goes to waste; and organizing my pantry to use everything I have so I can delay shopping as long as possible. Keeping an inventory list on other items like toilet paper, laundry detergent, bananas, yogurt, cat litter, cat food--you name it-- so we can map out a shopping strategy leaves little time for much else. And of course there’s the incoming mail, packages, and groceries that need sorting and cleaning stations. If continuing to work and managing a home and new tasks is being productive, then I'm afraid we're guilty.
NickyP (NYC)
I have Parkinson’s so it’s hard enough dealing with normal life. One thing I have done is take a couple of free online art classes. It’s low impact on my body and keeps me focused on something other than doomsday. Plus, I would consider it more fun than productive.
Lev Raphael (Michigan)
I did an amazing amount of work the other day in our hall closet. I neatly arranged the gloves, hats, and scarves on their shelf. All that Marie Kondo joy left me exhausted, so I napped for two hours.
Dan88 (Long Island NY)
I would recommend that people immediately tune into the longstanding Saturday reggae show on Every Saturday, noon-3pm
Rusty (Seattle)
Being "productive" is subjective. For me it's getting out of bed, getting dressed, brushing my hair and putting my teeth in every day. For my wife it's hanging one foot out of the bed and touching the floor. Ya. Being "productive" is truely subjective.
JF (Dobbs Ferry, NY)
Should I feel guilty that I am happy to stay at home and not have to make excuses to do so? Introverts of the world unite!
Mari (Left Coast)
@JF, us, too! We don’t mind one bit! Cheers to introverts!
Ronald (NYC)
Being able to be unproductive is a sure sign of being alive. Nothing wrong with that.
Mari (Left Coast)
Dear America, extend some grace to yourself and each other. This is tough, scary, sad. Let’s be kind to one another. Be well, take care.
Lawrence Castiglione (36 Judith Drive Danbury Ct)
What a wonderful article! Thank you!
Rik Myslewski (San Francisco CA)
Locked down here in San Francisco, I thought of rebuilding our bookshelves and tuning our flux capacitor, but I instead decided to avail myself of a bottle of Bombay Sapphire and a flexi straw. Seemed more reasonable ...
Jim Bennett (Venice, FL)
Amen! (But “full disclosure:”. I am almost 83, only semi-retired, and have worked out of a home office for over 40 years... .). However, the article is really for people who are feeling they have time on their hands, and want to be “productive.” The best way to be productive in such circumstances, is simply to live simply. Today, I got out onto my morning 5+ mile bike ride which took 34 minutes, made breakfast (including coffee), talked almost 45 minutes with my Companion who is in NYC instead of in FL with me, went to the newspaper sudoku which is hard on Saturdays, and got it wrong because I was really listening to all the birds around the pond and golf course I look out at, did some electronic banking, and am now eating a salad lunch I made for myself, while reading and writing on my iPad. I will spend the rest of the day weeding in my garden, writing perhaps, going for a 2-mile power walk before eating leftovers, to replace swimming a kilometer because the community pool is closed, and talking again on the phone with my Companion. The latter, and listening to wildlife is what makes it work. I even stick business in there, just not today.
Mari (Left Coast)
@Jim Bennett, well done! You gotta live, to live! Cheers!
Julie Rockwell (Huntingdon)
A friendly reminder that many of us are in graduate school and there is no let up, especially in an already-online program (although my university has gone to a 'Pass/Fail' grading system where a letter grade can still be requested, but you are still responsible for the work.). 'Stop Trying to Be Productive' should be morphed into 'How to be Productive During a Pandemic When You are Still Expected To Perform to High Standards' is more like it for many of us who still have to work and still have to produce...grad school knows no such thing as a pandemic...
H (New England)
@Julie Rockwell Not that undergrad work loads are necessarily equivalent to grad work loads, but I can relate with my undergrad classes. We still have grades and there's some decent pressure because of pre med gpa requirements in spite of having to pack up and move away from my university, where my peers and I have some other responsibilities. We're still staying up late working until 2 am. One professor sent out an intense email about how we're at war against coronavirus and must do particular things or watch our world crumble and then a midterm about quantum mechanics. It's such a massively bizarre juxtaposition.
Suzy (Ohio)
Besides working from home, which is more difficult and takes longer, I have to spend a lot of time cleaning so that the cramped space is bearable.
Cherrie McKenzie (Florida)
I think where the problem occurs is scheduling out your time almost as if you were at work but at home. I do woodworking and decided I would try several projects now that I had free time at home. I didn't put a time frame to it and just did a little each day. There was no rush just new things I wanted to learn and do. Once I approached the projects like that they became fun mental challenges to figure things out, and purpose to large blocks of time during the day. This was not like my job but something that came and went through the days. So far I've made a very intricate chair for my Den, a matching rustic coffee table, and up next a rustic wood wall hanging. There is no rush or pressure to it... I just let the day and the ideas flow. In the process I've learned new skills, redecorated my Den and saved my mental health.
Susan M (Atlanta)
I was staying with a friend years ago. We were having a lazy afternoon and I was feeling that I had to be doing something. She said, and I'll never forget, " If nothing is what I feel like doing, then I think that's exactly what I should be doing." Words of wisdom. Chill out folks :)
Kolder (Santa Barbara)
Absolutely love this. Master Linji invented the term the "businessless person," the person who has nothing to do and nowhere to go. This was his ideal example of what a person could be. My point is, Western culture could use more people who realize the value of simply "being" rather than always doing or thinking.
Alecia Stevens (Charleston)
Thank you for this. So tired of hearing about how we are to prepare our home office for the perfect conference video call, how to keep the dogs and kids out of range, how to "lean into" the opportunity! My mind is undisciplined; monkey mind the Buddhists call it. And so be it. Finally, after 2 weeks I started to pay attention to this and stopped planning anything for the morning hours except what I felt like doing. Awake at 2 a.m. with night terrors, I just couldn't manage responsibilities first thing in the a.m. ( I work for myself so I understand I am very lucky to have that flexibility, but I've found it really hard to concentrate at any time of the day sometimes - or care about it!) I only have 4 things a day I am absolutely committed to: 1. walking. 2. meditating 3. eating one meal a day that is satisfying (the others can be not a big deal.) 4. appreciating - everything from the song of a bird, the Monarch butterfly out my window as I write this, the green that surrounds me, my husband, my friends, my family and dogs. It's a pretty simple life now. I'm rather well suited to it, I find, and appreciate all of you who are doing your part to make this work.
Craig (Canada)
Awesome article! I really think certain cultures that don't concentrate on "every nanosecond of our lives ...being... commodified..." are likely the ones that will remain relatively stress free and that is a true immune booster that we need. All the best to everyone. Take Care
Marci (Smith)
I’m spending five hours a week ordering groceries, disinfecting food and packages, and driving groceries to my parents, who aren’t able to get deliveries. Then I’m spending a few hours a week cleaning my house, which my housecleaner used to do (I’m still paying her). I’m also cooking all my meals, when I used to mostly buy food at work and pick up takeout up at night.  I’m spending hours on the phone with the mail-order pharmacy, fixing Internet connection problems, and dealing with banking issues. I’m also doing all of my own computer tech support, and because I am no expert, this can take many hours. Oh yeah, I forgot… Providing remote tech-support to my parents on everything from their computer problems to online banking. And I know I’m very lucky, because I still have a full-time job that I can do from home. All in all, daily coronavirus life has taken up way more of my time then I’m saving from not commuting. That’s why I’m taking advantage of staying in bed late, sitting for hours drinking coffee on the couch, and doing as little as possible on the weekends.
Eve Comstock (North Branford CT)
@Marci Imagine if you had a couple of children to tend to and school at home!
Meg (PA)
Thank you for this article... This helps to take the pressure off - owing to the cortisol overflow in my system right now, I feel as if I am trying to wade through very thick mud to get ANYTHING done! If I do just one thing on list per day, it is enough......
Pia (Las Cruces NM)
Two weeks ago l admitted to a neighbor my fear of going to the grocery store and was told that I was hysterical. Two days ago another friend advised me to be productive to avoid negative thoughts. I stopped contacting these people. Worked out really well!
Mari (Left Coast)
@Pia, I’m immune compromised, so my husband is our shopper. He’s healthy and strong, but fears going into stores. The other day, he went to our small, local ACE store for planting soil. When he drove up he looked inside and the store was full of people. So, he sat in the car waited until the store emptied. You are right in being concerned. Don’t talk to those who are negative. Take good care.
Hudson (Seattle)
I got sick in Seattle with what we assume is C-19, but couldn't get tested because my fever has remained just under 100.5. (Still not enough tests here.) Two docs are helping me remotely and the standard C-19 home-care response is pretty much this: monitor your breathing and temp, be still, try not to talk much, get in bed or on the sofa, drink warm clear liquids with honey, rest and rest and rest some more. It's challenged me to be so quiet and unproductive for two weeks now, but it's also made me understand this is what the virus is asking of all of us. Stop doing. Stop striving. Learn how to just be with yourself. Our compulsive "productivity" is being called into question--is this really healthy for the planet and all of us who live here? I am beginning to think not.
Deborah (Washington state)
@Hudson Hope you feel better soon! I am doing the same. I found hot cinnamon tea, vitamin C, and REST is the key. I have work to do, but just letting my body tell me what to do.
Sam Francisco (SF)
If you are still working then you are already being productive. This was true before the pandemic. If you aren’t in a position of hardship this is a great time to watch the whole world chill out. Maybe when this is all over we will figure out a way to not be so busy all the time.
Laura (NYC)
Gee, should we relax with a nice indian dinner with wine, or instead telework as hard as we can? Articles like this abound. How about more articles about daily life at home for those low-wage workers are now unemployed or who have no option but to ride the subway to their jobs as grocery cashiers or warehouse workers? Yes, the Times has done a good job telling us such people exist, recounting their economic hardships and health exposure on-the-job, and giving some good quotations from them. But we rarely hear about their daily activities while dealing with the dread and terror of not knowing how they'll put food on the table next week or pay rent next month. Do you think they need advice about a beautiful dinner of indian food and wine that they can't afford? This article is written from a point of view of such obliviousness to the desperation of more than half our country -- our working families. They don't have the luxury of choosing between stressful Pilates and relaxing high-price dinners.
Eve Comstock (North Branford CT)
@Laura Well said. While we are concerned about our productivity and all that surplus time we have gained by working remotely and just how best to use that time, we seem to be forgetting those that do not have the same concerns because they are still working, doing what is necessary to help our society and risking their lives while doing that. They don't devote a single minute to concerns about their productivity but instead worry about staying alive and well
Johnny (Rock)
@Laura Didn't get that work done today, then this article says its OK, then along comes Laura-downer. I feel OK because I got out of bed before 10 today, then along comes Laura-downer. People have it tough, and I get that's rough, then along comes Laura-downer. Procrastinating through the day, but, hey! maybe that's OK...then along comes Laura-downer... Lighten up, Laura. We have a lot more of this in front of us than we have behind us. If you are this overwrought already, how tightly wound are you going to be in 2 weeks? Do yourself a favor and get a bottle of wine and some Indian food.
Giuseppe (Rotterdam)
I agree with the article, counterintuitively we are consuming more energies, takes time to adjust to a completely remote-working setting: It’s out of the comfort zone for many, even if we were already doing it sometimes. I’ll add some more reasons why one might be lacking energies in this period: - our bodies are moving much less - we design our houses to give a sense of intimacy and coziness rather than energy - it’s easy to get distracted I’m sure that after some time, we’ll learn to be productive and used to working from home so much that we won’t be willing to go to an office anymore. And that’s how it should be, for the sake of the environment.
B (M)
I have 2 small children at home. There is no way I’m going to be productive.
Jessica (Vancouver)
I'm a freelancer. I don't know what world you're living in, but in my world, I have contracts that will put food on the table for the next few months... but not if I just sit around and drink wine with my spouse. I feel very lucky and grateful to have a little paid work, and not to be risking my life for it like our health care and other front line workers. Your column is the definition of unreflective privilege.
KCM (Detroit)
The point of the article is not to diminish the work you have to do, but to ease the pressure of having to do more with this extra time. I work from home on a regular basis, but not with two children who need to be home schooled and my husband working from home. The first week of this set up was insane. My job is too demanding for me to also be a teacher. My husband quickly realized that and was able to step in and help. The point is that we need to be kind to ourselves during this difficult time. None of us know what will happen with our health, our family’s health, our jobs, etc. It is hard not having human contact. Processing all of this is hard enough without the pressure of learning a new language or some other self improvement goal that is irrelevant to these times.
B (Los Angeles)
@Mike FWIW, the CEO of my organization has told us to take it easy and focus on important things like family and health during this time, and not to worry about work as much. We have also been given one free day off a month while WFH orders are in place to take care of personal matters. Last week I hit a breaking point, caused by many of the factors described in this article. Talking to my supervisor, listening to my CEO, and taking a day off to get my head straight and life sorted helped me focus more on work the next day. Take note employers out there: quality time working is better for you and your employees. This is true with or without CV. Work with each other to balance and respect the needs we all have right now. PS Wash your hands :-)
Mike (Westchester)
@Jessica Have to agree, there is an underlying subtext to this article that, now that many of us are working from home, our employers will be OK with it if we don't really do our jobs and take care of all of things we've been meaning to do around the house. I've worked for many years in a field where there is the latitude to work from home from time to time, and no one has ever expected a smaller contribution from me when I am not in the office. I'd be interested to know which industries do not have this expectation of their employees.
slogan (California)
I'm spending 8 hours a day writing code, same day job, just my desk changed location, not my job or project schedules. But, now I avoid a 60 minute round trip commute, so I can spend that time getting in a little more guitar practice. Also finding more time for volunteer work that I before could accomplish (I also write code for a healthcare-oriented NGO). Looking forward to the end of the pandemic, but loving working at home and being more productive with the things I want to do outside of my job that the commute took away time for. I'm eager to see the
Mike Mead (Hawaii)
Countin' flowers on the wall That don't bother me at all Playing solitaire til dawn With a deck of fifty one Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo Now don't tell me I've nothing to do The Statler Brothers
P Wilkinson (Guadalajara, MX)
@Mike Mead awesome, thanx
RoxyMaven (Seattle)
This. All. of. this.
Xavi (Mendoza, Argentina)
All right. Gracias. Much needed. Now match this piece with this other one: "Making the Most of Staying at Home" (
Wayne (Europe)
What are these job titles? Working in Philanthropy... Scientific consultant.... Product specialist.... Product manager... My boomer experience tells me these people should worry about keeping their present job$ much more than being productive in their involuntary free time
Nicholas (Orono)
I seriously don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to be productive right now to at least some degree. You don’t need to do some crazy stuff, just get at least something done. Read a book for 30 minutes. Boom, done, you were productive today.
B (M)
If I wasn’t trying to juggle my full time job, home schooling my 7 year old and taking care of my toddler, maybe I would try to be more productive in other ways.... but it’s not happening. Right now I’m exhausted.
Mexico Mike (Guanajuato)
@Nicholas I brushed my teeth. Done.
Tom Jakovlic (Allison Park, PA)
As an American, I think we act like if we aren't being productive 16 out of 24 hours a day or more, we are being wasteful. As if downtime and relaxing don't have benefits when you are working? Best quote in the article..... "This urge to overachieve, even in times of global crisis, is reflective of America’s always-on work culture. In a recent article for The New Republic, the journalist Nick Martin writes that “this mind-set is the natural endpoint of America’s hustle culture — the idea that every nanosecond of our lives must be commodified and pointed toward profit and self-improvement.” I can recall reading articles in the NY Times over the past several years about people not knowing or even dreading taking vacations. This pandemic is not a vacation as many people are out of work and stressed, working from home, or are K-24 students who are still learning in an online environment. For a lot of people, this is one stressed filled time. Don't let people social media shame you into feeling guilty about making time for yourself to destress; taking a walk in the park, cooking new meals, engaging in new creative arts and crafts, or engaging binge watching t.v. I signed up for Disney + and Hulu with expressed intent of watching the Mandolorian, National Geographic, and other quality content with my family. I consider that time well spent. Dr. Peterson has the right prescription; cook and relax with family. Enjoy the company.
Martha (Boulder)
Yeah, no. We need to be productive. Otherwise we will hate ourselves. And I'm far from a Millennial!
Mari (Left Coast)
@Martha, “hate” such a strong and toxic word. Very sad comment.
Ron (Silverlake)
I am retired and have not changed my daily life much at all. Go to bed at 11. Get up at 9. Take a nap at 3:30. But I am feeling much more patriotic about it. My natural laziness is saving lives.
Andrew (Toronto)
Retired myself. Nothing for me has changed re: schedule. I do feel like a much better person when I’m just listening to records. I’m saving my community one album at a time.
Never Sit (USA)
This excellent piece gave me a good laugh, and helped me attain peace of mind, at least today. Please run more such articles!
Bubbles (Burlington, VT)
Great article! I'm so happy that I'm not on social media anymore--I can only imagine the carefully curated photos of their children declining Latin nouns or whatever that people are posting. Unless you got in an argument with your spouse, your kids are driving you crazy, and you burned dinner, keep it to yourself!!
Mari (Left Coast)
@Bubbles, I agree! But I do find Instagram quite life giving and beautiful. Many are posting photos of their cooking, gardens, houseplants, children and pets. Many posting joy.
Margaret (Oakland)
Thank you for the reassuring article.
Patsy (CA)
It can take hours just to locate a supply of toilet paper. Then sanitize yesterday's mail, clean doorknobs and such. Keep up with regulations that change daily. Plan ahead for supply shortages which would hurt the most. Deal with friends and loved ones who are ill. Makeshift masks. Two days needed for scheduling online shopping, sp plan all meals. Washing gloves and extra laundry. And still hold down your job, fix meals , exercise, and do all the things we are supposed to do to relax! Less time then ever, here.
Spencer Doidge
We scrambled the first 30 years to get the kids raised and pay the mortgage. I am 75, retired software engineer, and since 1952 have mostly failed, in my opinion, as a guitarist. Now, staying alive by staying inside at home with my wife of 50 years, I am practicing more and better than ever in my life. I have the time, patience, and know-how for it. She will soon finish reading all the fiction novels ever written, I think. Sometimes she starts one and halfway through realizes she already read it. I peel potatoes for the food bank. She is making face masks instead of clothes for the grandchildren now. They live on the other (wrong) coast. To relieve their parents overworking at home, we read to the little ones using whatever app happens to be working that day. We like being in opposite ends of the house all day and checking in now and then. After dinner we play Russian Bank, a double-solitaire card game, two hands every night. A couple of nights ago I started dragging out the old vinyl, one record each night during cards. I have to hide my emotions over this music I haven't heard for so long. Were it not for this situation, I might never have heard any of it again. I hope we make it through this. If not, we were lucky while it lasted.
Teresa (Gulf Coast)
@Spencer Doidge Thank you for the wonderful view inside your world. It sounds ideal. So happy for all the guitar playing, book reading, music listening, and love sharing between you both. May God continue to bless you and protect you. 💛
Woolley (brooklyn ny)
@Spencer Doidge Really encouraging. Thank you for sharing and giving us some hope that retirement could be amazing!
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Spencer Doidge your relationship with your wife sounds perfect and one I would love to share with someone someday 🤞Giving each other space, playing card games, listening to music reminiscing... sounds perfect!!
Bill (New Zealand)
One of the things that has been most pleasant about living in New Zealand the past 15 years is the work/life balance. I miss a lot about the US, but not one thing about the work culture. The focus on a constant productivity, even in supposedly off time is a social pandemic, perhaps not as deadly, but quite damaging nonetheless. It was rather ironic, for example, that when my elderly mother needed assistance 2 years ago (she passed last year) it was me who was able to take three months leave (using a combination of holiday and sick leave) to go back and stay with her in Connecticut. Neither of my two brothers, who live only a few hours away, could manage more than weekends. I also wonder if for the millennial generation it is particularly acute because they grew up in a much more controlled and scheduled atmosphere than many of us Gen X and older folks. That of course, is not their fault, but I imagine it informs the mindset quite a lot.
yogi-one (Seattle)
I think that while it's good to set a daily schedule and keep an overall focus, I have found that it's best not to cram that schedule full of stuff everyday. Leave blanks in your self-schedule. Especially later in the evening before your bedtime. Always leave some "whatever" time there. if task A bleeds into Task B's time, then adjust your schedule: If Task B can wait till tomorrow, it's OK, because your'e going to be home tomorrow too, right? The old general's advice fully applies: have a plan, and don't be surprised if you have to change or abandon it when time comes to execute. It's not wrong or bad; it's just life.
David (Brazil)
I got sick (thyroid problems) from years of always trying to be productive. I learned my lesson. Yes, I had to change careers and location to maintain the lesson and yes, I do realise this is not possible for everyone. By the way, the first lesson I learned: Never let strangers on the internet guilt trip you.
SomewhereOutWest (WA)
I've really been struggling with the fact that I am very grateful that I still have a job, and also that I am able to work from home through this; Yet, I am feeling a lot of guilt that I am not 100% focused on work when so many people have lost their jobs or are working in dangerous situations right now.... I am at the end of my 4th week of teleworking and it has been a struggle to maintain focus on my work, when it feels like the world is collapsing around us. The thought comes in, why am I even trying to work? Is anyone else that is not deemed "essential". having these same issues and guilt? I have been working on having daily "to do" lists so I am still at least accomplishing something in my working hours. Am I alone in feeling this among the working folks out there? I live alone and am used to the introvert lifestyle but having no human contact is getting hard. I quit drinking alcohol, have been doing mindfulness meditation and taking daily contemplative walks in the desert. I feel very fortunate right now to be able to do these things and fear for humanity. Please be well.
mfresh (CO)
@SomewhereOutWest I hear you loud and clear, both the guilt at still having a job and in the inability to focus. I work from home all of the time anyway but still have been struggling to re-align my motivation and productivity. I find myself continually distracted and then incredibly disappointed with myself for not being productive enough. Have been trying to change the tune lately and have started reading more about how to work more productively (including the series on this site) and generally lowering my expectations for myself. It's day by day.
Chan (California)
@SomewhereOutWest It's the same for me. I wish the self-help mental articles would go beyond the typical eat well, sleep well, and exercise points. I wish work was able to acknowledge it instead of pushing us to do more training online and be productive. The only workers I see working hard are doing so to mentally avoid thinking of the virus or they fear for losing their jobs or are managers with employees relying on them. The other workers are like you and me, but we can't say it out loud. We can't chat with our co-workers and be honest even if we trust them because work has access to all our emails, chats, and messages. We worry but we try not to worry, but it's not making it easy to do anything. Meanwhile friends and family are all struggling between job loss and other uncertainties. It's heavy on the mind and spirit. For me, I've been more likely to want to do nothing with my time and sleep through all of this.
A (Austin, TX)
@SomewhereOutWest Yep - right there with you in all of these feelings. I work in IT for a state university and while my small team is deemed quite essential and we are genuinely busy I struggle with the guilt of having a stable job and feeling unfocused and hazy as I carry out my duties from a comfortable home. If it isn't on fire I cannot concentrate for more than 15-20 minutes at a time. As a perfectionist everything that I can't know or control is very hard to accept and I'm paralyzed and overwhelmed several times a day. My body is starting to betray the stress and anxiety I'm trying to suppress so now I'm trying something new - stop fighting it. Here's what's helping: Taking it day by day and allowing myself to do what I need that day to feel "okay". Is it a crying day? Cool - feel that - do that. Is it a laughing day? Go there - make the jokes - be a cheerful comic voice for folks who are having a bad coping day. And when that is too hard? Take it hour by hour. Finding ways to give back to my hurting community also helps with the guilt. Since I have stable income I give a little monetarily each week to food banks in places I've lived over the years. I don't have children so I have time to volunteer my skills to organizations. I am relatively young and blessedly healthy so I can work with the local food bank to make food drops. I try to connect people with resources whenever I can, however I can. Finding a sense of agency is a huge help.
Anthony (Oregon)
Yes, Travelmom, this is a luxury for most people. I just had the hardest week of my 20-year teaching career. I was up multiple nights trying to figure out how to best do a whiteboard via Zoom (it is with a doc cam), how to convert paper-based surveys to digital (it is with PDF annotations that the students move to indicate their response), and how to not leave behind the already-struggling students (I'm still at a loss on that one).
Over Here (California)
Give Google Forms a look
Marc Goldstein (Boston, MA)
@Over Here Second on Google Forms. IT will make your life a lot easier.
Travelmom (NYC)
This is a luxury for most people. For many there's no choice to not be productive as we are told to work from home with no childcare and managing food shopping and cooking as companies are laying people off. I'm not taking up a hobby, just trying not to become yet another unemployment statistic.
RoxyMaven (Seattle)
@Travelmom the "productive" discussed in the article isn't about work, childcare, or cooking. Those are a given. As you say, those are not a choice. The "productive" in this article is all the extra being pushed for us to do even more with our home time. It's saying it's okay to not go over the top and paint your house, learn something new, etc. in the next few weeks because as you say, we are all just trying to not become another unemployment statistic. We have enough to focus on without the extras. Maybe we just need to come up with a new term for the superfluous productivity being hawked at us.
Ann (Virginia)
I was thinking just this morning about starting to write about my past and current life and what I know about about my ancestors (unfortunately not very much). Sort of anecdotal and written by hand, not typed. Content would include good stuff and not so good. I have always regretted not pressing my parents for more info on what their lives were like as well as ancestral info. Would be a bit of a ramble on thing. Shall see what happens. Thinking this might be a good activity for kids stuck at home, maybe FaceTime with Grandma and Grandpa.
Temple Lathrop (Long Beach)
Finally! I keep hearing about people reading all these books, catching up on DIY, taking long walks, making elaborate meals. I had to start working from home and I'm busier now than I was at the office. I put in my work time and there are still all of the other duties and errands that have to be completed each day. I don't have any extra time to be binge watching tv or anything else! The commute time? That's used in just keeping everything else going around the house. Thanks for lifting the guilt cloak!. This isn't a luxury staycation, this is just surviving and hoping we all get through to the other side.
Chris B (VA)
Can't agree more. I thought we would have more time to learn, to be productive at work. But as a matter of fact, I have the low productive ever with kids around and bad news every day. it's really hard for me to concentrate on learning and working. Probably I should be chill about this productive things.
Thomas (JC)
IDK, maybe READ A BOOK??! Learn?? Maybe I'm crazy.
Pam (Asheville)
@Thomas You could start by reading the whole article, rather than simply responding to the headline, and then go on to read a book. Or two.
nadayooski (Manhattan)
Stop letting people off the hook NYT, we need to be productive!!! Or at least feel bad about not being productive
Butterfly (NYC)
@nadayooski Oh please. Don't we have enough to worry about just making it through this? You go be productive for all of us. Write a play. Learn ancient Greek. Write a play in ancient Greek. Then come back and enthrall us all with your productions. Me, I'm trying to enjoy watching tv and reading all the books I have piled up. In between, I take Clorox wipes to clead all the groceries I managed to find and buy. That's all I have the mental energy for to stay reasonably content.
Yasmin (The Netherlands)
@nadayooski Why? What's wrong with not being productive all the time?
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@nadayooski There's that good old Calvinist Puritanism, ensuring we never feel relaxed and joyful but always harried and striving to do more more more. Anything less means we're worthless slackers. I've been working on giving that up for the past few years ago as a mook's game that has been seized on and repurposed by capitalists. Really, is the world improved if the bedside table is more organized? Is it enough to tidy just for the selfish sake of having a pleasing space, and not because "dusting every week" is what good people do? It's okay to be, to do just what one feels like doing at a given moment. It's possible to do that and keep one's commitments. We've been taught to distrust our instincts, our default desires. Who does it hurt if we watch TV during the day? If we sleep until 10? Being busy and adding gold stars to the calendar for most push ups done / cupboards cleaned / garages mucked out? Sure, if that's what makes you feel happy (and not just righteous. There's a difference). I'm trying to find out what happens if I'm not scheduled into 15 minute increments. Is my life still worthwhile? Can I still find satisfaction, and not just relief from the critical voices in my head asking if that's really the best I can do? Maybe if I believed in an afterlife that was partly governed by a lifetime propriety checklist (books organized? Fruits canned? Shirts ironed even before they're needed?) I'd be more motivated to get stuff done.
Ian (Toronto)
lag (NY)
Best article I've read so far during quarantine. Living our lives by someone else's standards of productivity is making us all nuts. Yet, so is the incessant reading of the NYTimes and watching the hours tick away. Remedies? As they teach in mindfulness meditation, "you're already perfect just as you are". We're living through a nightmare with no roadmap (and Trump/Kushner/Pence as our fearless leaders, God help us). Find satisfaction in small accomplishments: calling a friend in need, filing your taxes, reading a book, pack one bag for Goodwill. And if you're really motivated: donate blood! It feels great! Count your blessings having to wrestle with your 'productivity'. Unless you are a doctor, nurse, hospital worker, EMS tech or other first responder, you've got nothing to complain about. They don't have time to eat, pay their bills, clean their closets or even go to the bathroom. Comparatively, life's not so hard.
hopeingforchange (middle earth)
"Find satisfaction in small accomplishments": I started living this way about 10 days ago. I am retired but still pushed myself to take on things apply for refund on St. Ives, UK rental for June. Granddaughter health worker in NYC . My mind can't focus without hoping she is ok...lose track of what doing...This new normal will continue long after I am gone. However it does occur to me to wonder how the world might change. My mother lost an aunt in 1918 flu. Her photo sat on shelf in grandmother's living room. This young woman's siblings, shaking their heads, ever more told us "she was the best of us all". I think of families now saying this for the rest of their own life if they lose someone to Covid-19. I needed this letter.
AlexS PHX (AZ)
@hopeingforchange It’s called a ‘Count Your Blessings Letter’, I learned it from my mother. She lived through WW2.
B Cantor (Ct)
Thank you so much for this article!
paula (new york)
Part of what is feeding this frenetic zoom call after zoom call activity is fear that our bosses will see us as unnecessary and we'll be out a job. In America, never attribute to psychological weakness what is a logical outcome of our particular form of capitalism. If I lose my job or see my work hours reduced, I lose my healthcare, my home, and food on the table. And default on my student loans. I'm not driven by irrational fear.
sjs (Bridgeport, CT)
I run a library that I am trying to move online. The library staff must learn two new systems in order to operate. We are trying to help faculty, staff, and students while staying part of/in touch with the community college system in CT. I do not need to look for more work. I do not need to start nor complete any projects I need to make to the end of the semester.
Hungrybrain (Suburban California)
I decided a few days ago that I have one job: to love and support others as best I can. I live alone, and my goal for each day is to have meaningful contact with just one other person. Three years ago I had to adapt to 3 major life changes at once: forced early retirement, divorce after 34 years, and the death of my closest family member. I had to drop my productivity expectations to zero, because of the incredibly hard work of adapting to new reality. I learned how to be grateful and satisfied to just get through a day with my faith, relationships and health intact. This lesson is serving me very well now, and hopefully I can share that with others. Thanks be to God!
raph101 (sierra madre, california)
@Hungrybrain I didn't choose that avocation -- loving and supporting others through this -- but it turns out I've been doing that, and it's been appreciated. As I reflected on people saying "it helped" or "thanks for thinking about how I'm dealing with X," I realized lots of us need more than our usual amounts of contact and reassurance. I'm now going to add "lifted up L" and "made H laugh" to my list of daily accomplishments. I hope that makes me feel productive!
@Hungrybrain '...meaningful contact with just one person." Yup. That's my productivity for the day. Anything above and beyond that is just icing on the cake (and there's been a lot of that, too, lately...
Over Here (California)
This sounds crazy but please go on TikTok and start making short videos about this life transition. Look up @thesingingzookeeper on there for a creative example of what people are doing on there.
Dreena (Canada)
Great article. Who the heck decided on a 40 hour work week? My brother works 4 days a week and I just might aim for this myself in the coming years. Monday thru Thursday. Looking at my credit card bill it’s $2900. I gave the kids a talk about wasting $500 a month and how much this adds up over a year and then over 5 years. I think this spender needs to look in the mirror! Love the’s not what you make but what you spend!
Person (of Interest)
@Dreena Francis Perkins did. Down from 80 hrs a week.
Bruce (Bronx, NYC)
I retired in October. Now I understand why my grandfather so loved taking me to the street bench and watch the buses go by when I was boy. I was overjoyed.
Nancy P
Someone shared this article with me and I agree that pressuring yourself to be more creative than you need to be in these trying times is hard. That said, I'm not totally sure that the person who shared this actually read your article and equated it to work shaming. They assumed the article said to forget about work and just relax, which is not how I read that article at all. However, I must agree on one thing. The title/headline to this article is very misleading much like many are. It's to get people to read the article. Most don't and tend to infer from just the headline what the article is saying.
Blake (Columbus, OH)
I find it ironic that the solution of expecting productivity during a pandemic is to "practice" being and to "create" a journal. The solution to high expections of productivity is in-fact to perform tasks at accepting your inability to perform tasks. Even while failing to be productive we still crave productivly accepting our lack of productivity.
Butterfly (NYC)
@Blake Then do someting small every. Clean half the bathroon. Next day the other half. Then same thing with the kitchen etc. Or maybe just take time to think and dream. If you can't enjoy dreaming then you're in bad shape.
Shehryar (Pakistan)
I think this article is a depressing. It maybe a generalisation to say that everyone is struggling to remain disciplined in the quarantine life. But even if a few are doing so, it would be good to read some motivational stuff rather than reading how badly everyone is doing. I think people are doing well and that whatever small things they are doing should be appreciated.
KG (Cincinnati)
The people suggesting ways to spend time are really the ones who need to find something productive to do. Many of the rest of us are busy trying to keep jobs, convert medical practices to telehealth, run service companies etc., etc., and are plenty busy, thank you. Oh yeah, and we also are stressed, have to mow the lawn, educate our kids, shop and protect our families. Should we takes breaks and tend our ourselves to stay healthy? Of course. But "Staying inside and attending to basic needs" is a luxury that neither we, nor society, can afford.
Happy Cyclist (Carlsbad)
I am feeling unusually content right now. I have a list of culinary projects I've been wanting to do, and I am okay with not having everything done. I am happy being still, too. Slowing down is good for us, and I embrace it.
James Igoe (New York, NY)
This will likely sound like more how-to productivity suggestions, but sometimes optimization means cutting down or at least replacing things. - Spending too much time reading? Remove the mediocre sources and increase the quality ones. The latter nullifies the effort, but still, you could just cut the low-value items... - Spending too much time at the gym? Optimize your routine with supersets, cutting the space between, or doing more high-intensity intervals. - Feeling unproductive at work? Stop, think about what matters, where you matter and focus on those. Ditch the low-value work, focus on the good stuff. - Think about the wastes of time, and remove them. Mantras - Stop. Breath, Think. Plan. - Don't do more, do better. - Make sure you enjoy what you do...
George (benicia ca)
I have projects. Some days I work on them. Other days I just want to goof off. I take each day as it comes. There are advantages to being 82 years old and in good health. I love the sunshine and miss the grandkids.
Yasmin (The Netherlands)
@George That seems like a great view to life. Wishing you many more healthy years! (And time with the grandkids!)
Frank (Sydney)
'Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself' - Basho
Awake (Here Now)
@Frank A Bow. : )
Bruce (Bronx, NYC)
@Frank Perfect.
Awake (Here Now)
@Frank The Japanese haiku master ....Shiki : )
Matt (Earth)
I get that some people use 'being productive' as a coping mechanism. I really don't like it when it gets turned into a competition, though. "I'm learning Swahili, detailed the car, beat 5 video games, and took up oil painting during self-quarantine!" "Yeah, I took two naps and found mates for all the socks in my sock drawer."
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Matt Love it. The sock project is a huge accomplishment in my book. Naps are always good!!
Kayla (Toronto, Canada)
Normally I strive to be super productive, super busy - I work 6days a week, am constantly levelling up with professional development courses, working out 4-5x a week I often don’t have any down time. I have now been off work for almost 3 weeks and it’s funny because I have thought a lot about things I should be doing with my time but yet I haven’t done any of it. Instead I find myself enjoying the daily nuances of life and connecting with friends and family over video chat. Thanks for the reminder I shouldn’t feel bad about this !
E (San Francisco, CA)
I can't be the only parent who laughs every time she sees people referring to "extra time." I'm a math professor who was given 36 hours to turn my classes into a remote learning model. I'm also a parent of a kindergartener and a preschooler who haven't been in school for 4 weeks (the kindergartener) and 3 weeks (the preschooler). I'm now working what I consider to be four full-time jobs: math professor, preschool teacher, kindergarten teacher, and chef creating 3 meals a day for four people. What is all this "extra time" people are talking about?!
Kathleen (Michigan)
One thing I've found useful is to do something I WANT to do each day. It may be something that takes a half hour or longer. It may be chosen on the spot. It may be loosely scheduled the day or two before. At the end of the day, I look back and feel better about the whole thing. I'm spending more time talking or Zooming with friends, and this is a plus. I'm working from home, a part time job. I'm trying to keep up with the exercises I was already doing most days. As usual I'm cooking from scratch, simple and healthy meals. I'm making sure the kitchen and bathroom are clean, and the rest when I get to it. That seems like plenty. I know I've done insane amounts more in the past. But this is now, and I like this pace since everything is changeable and vague right now.
Jay (Brooklyn)
@Kathleen Thank you for sharing.
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu CA)
You do not need to leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. Do not even listen, simply wait, be quiet still and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. Franz Kafka
Deborah (San Francisco)
Beautiful. Thank you for that!
Linda Bohannon (Bainbridge Island WA)
@Dasha Kasakova thank you for this quote.
Dasha Kasakova (Malibu CA)
@Deborah most welcome, stay safe
APH (Planet Earth)
No kidding! The time it takes to wipe down the high touch surfaces is almost a part time job.
Carolyn (Los Angeles)
Ironically, this publication has been quite oppressive in pushing the thriving and productivity gospel. Stop telling me how to do everything better.
frank perkins (Portland, Maine)
During the mid 1800's when "the whites" started to encroach on Native American territory, Indians would sit on hill tops watching them and made the observation, among many others, that "whites" were known to bustle about even when they had nothing to do.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
@frank perkins Excellent anecdote about those headless chicken-like humans.
Concernicus (Hopeless, America)
My wife has worked remotely for over 20 years. The reality is that NONE of these fantasies about getting things done around the house come true. The hours that are "saved" by not commuting? The time not wasted by people poking their fat head in your cube for "just a moment"? All of that and much more is spent working on projects that are actually about your job, answering e-mails, and in general putting in far more hours than you ever considered putting in by "going to work." What I find amazing is the number of stupid employers that do not realize this. They are so concerned with paying middle managers to "monitor the workforce" that they fail to see the monumental number of free hours that remote workers give the employer. I wonder if the pandemic will open their eyes.
Leona (New Jersey)
In Dec I completed 2 ½ yrs of study and an internship to graduate at 68 from a paralegal certificate program. I had discovered sitting home “retired” was not only boring. I’m a hard worker, then this pandemic hit and morphed into what to me is house arrest. Like the article points out, I made all lists and had wonderful ideas of what to accomplish. Each day I could barely get out of bed after spending a night with anxieties. I chastised myself for not trying harder to be productive. Reading comments by people on Facebook and Governor Murphy this is a fallout from what we are all going through. After the 2008 stock market crash trashed my finances I got sick thinking I should have planned better. Listening to what other people were saying, the guilt & my stomach problems disappeared! Gov Coumo, in one of his daily briefings, stated this is a marathon, not a sprint. I am now putting to use that advice along with how I got through 12 days of no electricity after Hurricane Sandy (speak about not being able to be productive, there wasn’t a choice!) I told myself daily to get up in the morning, put my feet on the floor, then for the rest of the day put one foot in front of another. I am beginning to return to productivity doing the things that need doing, engaging in things I enjoy doing, and to heck with the projects I thought I should be doing. And my prayer life has become more “productive” as I pray for all the people who are sick, on the verge of death, or lost their job.
Tuvw Xyz (Evanston, Illinois)
It would really be the end of the world if one followed the advice of every Tom, Dick, and Harry published in Internet.
JK (Oregon)
All this maximizing stuff is too much to endure during regular times. It is off the charts crazy making now. How about: 1) Kindness to those you love first priority. Whatever that means in your situation. Nothing should ever ever be more important than that. When this is all over, that is what we will each remember. The giving of kindness and the receiving of kindness. 2) I order to be able to do this hard thing (Being loving) reduce, don’t increase, expectations of yourself and others. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself. Schedules and goals are great. Their purpose is to serve the #1 goal above. What might you do? Making music is possible. Sing along with the masters or take out the guitar for fun (not self improvement), find useless comfort activities. Like jigsaw puzzles. Watching an unidentifiable bird out the window. Just sitting together. This is the time to prioritize relationships and emotional survival. To the extent learning a little something new helps that, go for it. But the goal is always #1 above.
Allison Falkenberry (Savannah, Georgia)
Loving this article -- somehow my days seem shorter.
AlexS PHX (AZ)
@Allison Falkenberry You mean the luxurious days seem longer? And the work days seem shorter? :)
oldbugeyed (Aromas)
Ha!.....Wisdom from back in the day....Relax,.. Chill Dude...Slow Down....Now you're findin' out that "hangin' out" is not so easy. Fortunately it is in fact an actual, develop-able ..Skill!..back in the 70's we found it to be a LIFE SAVER... fortunately for us, the weed is now legal and can help to slow things down..(but be careful about how you acquire your 'Munchies')..Your 'Practice' can start with a ...NAP! guilt, no judgement...(survival skill!)..Now is the time to ZOOM with Granpa and learn from that old hippie how to chill....LOL...but if you do feel guilty, then consider this,.. while 'Hunkered down' you are actually 'optimizing' your remaining time by staying alive!.. Be Safe,.. Be Well!
Archer (NJ)
When this is over and people are intervieweing again they will glare at you and say "and what did you accomplish during the lockdown?" It is important to be able to say "I proactively initiated many successful and profitable innovations that enjoyed strong sales and exhibited my many leadership qualities such as proactivity and excellence."
MaureenC (Plainfield IL)
@Archer In answer to the interview question, I plan to glare back and reply simply, "I survived, I stayed alive, I helped others, I absorbed the silence to hear myself think"... We are human BEINGS, not human DOINGS! Peace, health, love, and acceptance to you and yours!
Judith (Washington, DC)
@Archer The interview questions are going to be ridiculous. Something to ask *them*, though, is how they dealt with it. As a company, not as an individual. Did the company let people work from home as soon as things started getting bad, or did they wait to get shut down by the government? Did they pay people during the shutdown who didn't have jobs they could do at home? If anyone died, particularly if they weren't part of the managerial class, were their coworkers allowed to grieve, or was the death swept under the rug, and the survivors admonished to get over it and get back to work? "What did you do during the outbreak?" is a question that can go in both directions. Also, how many people do you think they'd ask before they got someone to cry because they'd lost someone important?
Deborah (California)
@Archer Although your reply to the interview question sounds like a line from an SNL skit, hooray for you if that's what you're doing.
Íris Lee (Minnesota)
Americans should use the opportunity and do something they've ignored for more than forty years: do less and think more.
Hummingbird (New Orleans)
I think having gone through Katrina I have been able to reach acceptance quicker. Really understanding what it means to "Be in the present moment " can be achieved when there is nothing else but. As friend told me once, "you need too be a human being not a human doing." This time will pass and along with all the loss will be gifts you never expected.
Howard G (New York)
As a free-lance musician, I am currently out of work and home-bound. My wife - on the other hand - is working full-time from home - in our apartment - and needs to focus on her work during business hours - Yes - I could use my free time to practice and improve my skills - but that would probably be a distraction for my wife, who must concentrate -- Last Friday - I was channel surfing and found an episode of that quirky show "Hot It's Made" - on The Science Channel - where they go into factories and other facilities to display the step-by-step procedure for making hard goods - What I soon discovered was the Science Channel was in the midst of a three-day, non-stop "How It's Made" marathon -- For the remainder of Friday - all day Saturday - all day Sunday - and into Monday morning - I watched probably half the episodes - sometimes napping - sometimes eating - sometimes engrossed in learning how they make such diverse items as paddle boats, bowling balls, packaged brownies and high-end camera lenses -- Then - a few days ago - I discovered an all-day "Twilight Zone" marathon on the SyFy channel - and had the lottery-winning experience of watching an episode I'd never seen before (Boomer who saw them when originally aired back in the 60's) -- I probably will get around to practicing - mainly because I'm a musician and need to stay connected -- But what I've learned about this so far is - the best thing you can do is - stay in the moment -- What's going on right now...?
Concerned Citizen (Anywheresville)
@Howard G : thanks, you made me laugh! Generally our local stations do Twilight Zone marathons on New Year's or other holidays….and once in a great while, I see an episode I am pretty sure is new to me! and it does feel like winning a prize! because I feel like I've seen them all. But I haven't! not quite. (This also goes for The Outer Limits!) BTW: only the vintage 60s stuff counts here. NOT the awful reboots.
Jenna G. (CLE)
Yes. I’ve been preaching this for weeks. And parents are getting this message twice: social media has blasted so many “educational” ways to entertain your child during these times, but most school-aged children also have prescribed mandatory homeschool curriculum. Not to mention, many parents are trying to manage their own mandatory workloads. Will my children be behind if they don’t create Mo Willems doodles or learn another language or take virtual tours of museums and zoos or create intricate pastel murals on the sidewalk? Probably not. But it can feel like it sometimes. Right now they’re kicking around a ball in some made-up game, running and laughing on the first sunny day we’ve had in weeks. That’s good enough for me.
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Jenna G. I think all the above mentioned activities I see on Facebook for kids and parents is starting to become overkill. There are so many suggestions that imply we are supposed to be constantly doing something.
Eric (Chicago)
You couldn't be more wrong. Now is the time to get your resume ready, start budgeting to only the basics and get your act in gear. It's those who fail to do this that are going to be left behind. You're not doing yourself or anyone else any favors by not doing all you can at this time.
Thomas (JC)
@Eric Agreed. It's one thing to say take it easy on yourself and get back to basics, but another to say "stop trying to be productive". That's bad advice. Sure, don't try to be productive by painting and doing these projects around the house that were never necessary in the first place. But DO take care of business by investing in your future somehow, and on all those things you've been ignoring or procrastinating on. (For what it's worth, I have LESS time now due to wife working from home teaching 6th graders, and our 11 month old gremlin, uh, son, home as well).
Cathy (Vancouver)
Well, mayb if you are in your 20s or 30s you will feel more comfortable with doing nothing. You can't tell people what to do really, it's a matter of preference. Some really enjoy being productive, it makes them happy and it's a way to cope. So the title of this article should probably be: "Feel free to do whatever you want with your time."
Antonio Marcantonio (Benalmadena, Spain (Italian resident))
Since Neoliberalism stemmed mainly from Anglo-Saxon countries, it isn't difficult to track the capitalist productivity fetish back to the drives explained in Max Weber's "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism". Even if our world is increasingly becoming more secular, such drives are hard to be swept away in a few generations. The new secular dogma has just replaced a God who showed you (and the world) that you are a predestined, saved soul by bestowing upon you wealth — so that you had to work hard to make this "miracle" happen — with a totem called Profit — the result being nonetheless quite the same. (It isn't a coincidence that non-Protestant or pre-capitalistic societies have often been —and often are — deemed to be "lazy".) Maybe this peculiar although dramatic times are an opportunity to rediscover the worth of the most basic and enriching experiences instead, e.g. taking care of yourself and your beloved ones, cultivating your knowledge and curiosity, meditating, enjoying small things, solidarity, inner growth and so on. I do agree: let's be a little bit more Taoist and learn to just live beside being (less obsessively, please) productive.
Peter (Melbourne, Australia)
Relish this once in a lifetime (hopefully) opportunity. Do things at your own pace for a change. Sleep in if you want. Enjoy not having to endure the daily commute, those pointless meetings, etc. Just be careful to moderate your alcohol and carbohydrate intake, and to cook yourself healthy, simple meals.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
“All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” - Blaise Pascal
Ichabod Aikem (Cape Cod)
How about taking a deep breath and being thankful that you are alive? No one owns your mind or your life, not your boss, or your job. The level of stress induced when you measure your life by its productivity rather than its being is overwhelming. Look out your window and admire the budding tree or the blooming forsythia or the sparrow scratching for worms. And know that this day, too, shall soon pass.
Kat (Chicago)
I have a 2 year old at home while my husband and I continue to “work” from home. I’ve never been busier or more exhausted. I see all these posts for “live streamed concerts!” Or “online museum tours!” Or “Free online sketching course!” And I laugh. Who has the time? Perhaps only the 6.6 million Americans who were just laid off.
elleom (Ohio)
Grateful for this. I work at home, self employed. Signed up with a new business coach at beginning of year, and have felt like I'm walking through sludge for the last few weeks, not meeting our goals, let alone cleaning out all my drawers and closets and painting my kitchen. I'm immunocompromised so it's extremely scary, and I've been voluntarily isolated for a month with a cat who is terminally ill. Glad my coach also recognizes that we are finite, human, and that self care has to come first. But also very grateful that I have a basic amount of work to do every day, to pay the bills, and can stop when I'm fried. I know others do not have this luxury.
Jenni (Las Vegas)
You read my mind. I've been making lists of all the things I should be doing. I have a stay-at-home bucket list of sorts but no energy to do it. I'm sure we are going to see an uptick in the prescription of depression meds as this goes on.
Ellen (PA)
@Jenni I have been thinking of contacting my PCP to up my antidepressant dosage. Pushing through each day.
mm (usa)
Oh yes! I have family members who exhaust me just by telling me their schedule. I recall 'doing more' when I did much less. I have chosen 'slow' travel for decades instead of the overactive vacations I used to have. And yet, as I get older and become less 'productive', I feel pressured to do more, having often little to reply when someone asks me, 'What did you do today/over the weekend' (if I can remember!). Thankfully, my body often tells me one way or another when I need to stop. For the coronavirus, I have decided I will finally get to sleep as much as I want every day!
Gail (Minneapolis)
I have been waiting for this. Thank you. I am not more productive now because my mind is doing a huge mental adjustment, and that is ok. When I take a walk, I sit half the time on one of the benches scattered around and just wait for birds to fly by - for life to "be".
Liz (Georgia, US)
Thank you for this. There is a lot of pressure from the business sphere to do everything now exactly as you did a few months ago. Nothing has changed according to them. I am getting to the point where I am just happy when people ACKNOWLEDGE that things have changed and stop pretending.
Arlene (Seattle)
I retired two years ago. Not being productive is just what the doctor ordered! I do miss my friends’ company. But other than this, I love being home and looking at the clock in a whole new light. Also, I’m afraid I’m eating too many carbs....the only down side!😱
Kathleen (Michigan)
@Arlene Too many carbs here, too! They are so comforting in times of stress. Plus they last longer than veggies.
Arlene (Seattle)
@Kathleen Absolutely! Stay well.🌺
Julia (Massachusetts)
"Drink a bottle of wine with your spouse." Those of us who have no spouse or pets, who are looking at not having any hugs or close contact with anyone for months, are not finding that advice very helpful.
Wendy (Aptos, California)
@Julia Your comment is so poignant and heartbreaking. Social isolation will be hard on so many people. Adopting a pet, if possible, is a great help. I'm worried about the long-term effects this event will have on Americans.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
Julia In that case, I'll be right over.
Kathleen (Michigan)
@Julia Although I'm an introvert, I loved having lunch or dinner with a few friends. Yes, we can Zoom and are, but it's really not the same. I used to jealously protect my time alone.
G F Lukos (Oregon)
Retired almost six years now, I have come to the conclusion that productivity is highly overrated. Certainly, when I was working I wanted to really “earn my paycheck,” and I wanted to make the best use of my free time. And I always enjoy the feeling of achievement when I have created something or completed a project. But I feel no guilt when I come to the end of the day and can say that I have done nothing that others would label “productive.”
Deborah (Rockvale)
@G F Lukos Kudos to that! Clock? What clock?!? 😉
Amy (North Carolina)
@G F Lukos Yes! When I retired, I was asked constantly what on earth I was going to do. Life is slow now. I have time to observe the birds I'm feeding, and enjoy their daily and seasonal rhythms. Paddling a a kayak in a leisurely way with no destination to achieve, hiking with a dog who loves to stop and sniff, and cooking slow food that is satisfying and nourishing with a spouse of over 40 years, well, who needs more than that in a day (or week)?
Cara (San Francisco, CA)
My thoughts exactly! So glad this article was written, myself. I was just saying to my husband last night that really, if one can just make it through the day with keeping body and soul together right now, that's totally enough. That said, sure, if one is working from home with one's job that one formerly had to go to, and looking after one's children(if one has any), then yes one still has those obligations. It's all this other stuff that people still feel that they "should" be doing. I really feel for the people who have kids at home and are trying to manage the at-home work, and supervising schooling, etc. It's a HUGE job! Last but not least, I think it's going to sink in for a lot of people with various things about our culture that it's no longer business as usual, that trying to keep up the furious pace of everything as it was, is futile. And that the real lesson here is SLOWING down and learning to BE, even if it's just for a short time each day. I would sincerely hope that something more humane will come out of this, but we first have to roll through what is unfolding now. On my end - my husband and I are in our 70s, healthy(and taking maintaining said health seriously as we do anyway), and have lived a quieter health-conscious lifestyle for many years now, even in the midst of San Francisco, so maybe we had a leg up on what is now new to many. I wish everyone out there the best of luck in navigating these unprecedented times.:)
Stacy Mann (San Diego)
I have had lots of time. I feel like I a in some weird holding pattern. Finally two days ago I decided to make masks. I have now for two days and I feel better mentally. I am so angry at the government response, but I can do nothing about that. I can make masks for my family and friends. I will.
Liz (Georgia, US)
@Stacy Mann Seconded. I have more time now but it's harder not to spin my wheels trying to work on certain tasks that I just don't have the focus for sometimes. In some ways/areas I've gotten a lot done and in others...not so much. I try to focus on the things I've gotten done that I've wanted to get done for a long time. Those have value. And I am focusing on acquiring masks for people I care about (who may or may not be taking this situation seriously).
Jenni (Las Vegas)
@Stacy Mann I feel the same way. I feel like that's apt description "a weird holding pattern". Where suddenly I'll have this brilliant epiphany and write a book or learn to play the guitar and write music. I want to believe that we will all come out stronger on the other side with an appreciation for life. But for now, I just can't find the motivation to do anything but watch/read the news and mope around the house doing meningeal tasks.
Samantha (California)
Thank you for using your pent up energy to make masks. The USA is so far behind the curve....but thanks to ppl like you we will catch up. THANK YOU
Lauren (Hawaii)
I've taken to deleting every email that comes in with all the ideas of what I could be adding to my plate. The plate is full and doing regular tasks, working full time from home, now taking care of kids full time and attempting to homeschool all while the pandemic runs like an app in the background draining my battery is plenty of 'productivity'.
Jenna G. (CLE)
That’s a spectacularly apt visual. A perfect way to describe our collective waning energy.
LK (New Mexico)
@Lauren Amen. I’m exactly where you are. I realized that just keeping my anxiety in check and taking care of myself are huge tasks right now, and I need to focus on them so that I can parent my kids and get my work done. It’s survival mode, and just getting through each day is a triumph...
Meighan Corbett (Rye, NY)
I may not be a millenial or a gen X or gen Z but even as a boomer, I feel the pressure, to organize all my closets, family photos, clean compulsively, listen to a podcast while walking and oh, yes, working from my dining room table. This article is so helpful. Dial it down, not up, right now. And stay home!
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Meighan Corbett where does this pressure come from?
Treetop (Us)
Thank you for this article - it is just what I needed. I work at home, and being forced to stay home all the time, I figured I would get even more done. Seemed to make sense. But that didn't account for cooking all the time, taking care of kids full time and internet school, following the news etc. And while I like all the ideas of things to do with all this extra time, I think a lot of us actually have much less extra time right now.
Jenni (Las Vegas)
@Treetop Not to mention the fact that with all these new responsibilities, it's hard to find time for ourselves. Self-care and space from everything is impossible.
Paula Thompson (New York City)
Thank you for this article. I believe we all need permission to slow down and it is alright if you aren’t being productive at something everyday ( unless you are fortunate to be working from home). I entered social isolation with such enthusiasm. I wasn’t going to let this dampen my spirits, make lemonade from lemons, miss Pollyanna, etc. Guess what? I was struck down by a tsunami of fear and depression. It is alright to be afraid and uncertain. That’s human. Now I am finding gratitude in my health, connecting with friends far and near, time to actually finish a crossword puzzle, take a nap. All of my lofty goals have been put on hold and I gave myself permission to do what I want or don’t want to do each day. Ease up. Now is the most important time to be kind to ourselves and know we are not alone.
Riley (Arkansas)
@Paula Thompson I reacted very similar to the whole situation like you did. I had a positive mindset when this all started, but when it started to affect my senior year, my sisters wedding, and slowing us down on building our house, I was upset and afraid at what else it would affect. I finally realized that most people in the United States were going through tough problems like this so I calmed down. Now like you, I am just trying to ease up and make the most of the situation we are in. Thank you for your encouraging comment and reminding me I am still not alone.
MaureenC (Plainfield IL)
@Paula Thompson Thank you, Paula, for hitting the nail on the head! What jumps out at me from your comments are the concepts of giving ourselves PERMISSION, and to be KIND to ourselves and others. What I find myself concluding or observing as our lives change is, This or that obligation/ritual/habit really isn't so important after all...The things we have allowed society to dictate re our values do not really speak to what is truly important. I believe this virus will leave us rethinking our personal value systems going forward. Be well!
Tama (Minneapolis)
@MaureenC I hope so and that we as a nation reevaluate what we want and need from our President when things like this happen.
DG (St Paul MN)
In the year after I was suddenly widowed, it was this concept from The Four Agreements that kept me sane: Do your best, but keep in mind that the definition of "best" will change, moment by moment and day by day. It's still a great help.
Galea (New York)
@DG My condolences for your loss. Thank you for the reminder from The Four Agreements. Stay well.
Melinda (Wisconsin)
@DG a friend gave me that book a couple years ago. I'm finally going to read it.
Socrates (Downtown Verona. NJ)
Recently, I got out of bed. It was a pretty impressive accomplishment.
MC (Ontario)
@Socrates Me too. I felt the same sense of awe at my achievement. Congrats to you.
JWT (Lamar, Colorado)
@Socrates This is a "classic" response and gave me a great laugh when I read it. Thanks, Socrates. JWT
barbara schenkenberg (chicago IL)
@Socrates: Good one.
Alberto G. (San Jose)
I'm usually mocked up by those that know me by being a perennial hustler, and even in these times it is a longtime habit that is hard to let go. But I also discovered something else: Sure, we now have these insane amounts of free time that we've never had, but our energy and spirits aren't being the same. Not with the constant psychological pressure and stress of the uncertainty of what's to come, on whether our loved ones will come out through this unscathed. Is as if the mere act of surviving was demanding enough. And as things are unfolding, it probably is.
AustenArkansan (Arkansas)
@Alberto G. What a great line - " Is as if the mere act of surviving was demanding enough. " Yes, yes, yes.
Jarrod Lipshy (Athens, GA)
Once I am done with work for the day, I am being incredibly productive... on my Animal Crossing Island!
Anne R. (Montana)
Finally, I can play bridge all day. With a neighbor, a woman in a wheelchair two miles away, a friend in Colorado, my 94-year-old mother and her friends in Florida -- and strangers Argentina, Canada and Ireland, so far. I am very thankful for this opportunity to connect with friends and especially my Mother.
MaureenC (Plainfield IL)
@Anne R. Yes, the time with your mom especially is precious. My mom has vascular dementia and is on lockdown in a rehab nursing facility. She has her better days when we are able to connect via phone, and she is in good spirits with the staff there, but the stress of separation and implications of the unknown are at times just too much for us on the other end. Enjoy every moment of connection, as we are trying to do. Be safe and well!
Anne R. (Montana)
@MaureenC Thank you Maureen.
Laura (NJ)
Perhaps instead of trying to be productive, people could learn to be comfortable being alone with themselves. No spinning of emotional plates in the air; no distractions, no productivity. Just learn to be comfortable being alone, and in your own company. Master this, and you'll will enrich own life and, when the epidemic is over, others will enjoy and appreciate your company much more.
kran r. (virginia)
@Laura 1000 times recommended
Laura Shindler (Steamboat Springs, CO)
Who knew being an only child would come in so handy?!
Birdygirl (CA)
Amen to your words of wisdom Ms. Lorenz. Most of us have plenty to do, but are also distracted by the daily news of this pandemic. Being productive means doing the best we can under the circumstances, realizing that there are limitations within confinement. By staying home or responsibly practicing social distancing, you are already being productive.
ryanmcteague (Boise, Idaho)
This reminds me of how I thought I would accomplish so much on maternity leave...It's hard to realize how much of your energy and attention is used up just adjusting to a constantly changing environment and a sense of insecurity. Stress from negative event (pandemic) is oddly similar to stress from joyful events (a new baby).
Liddy (Stroudsburg, Pa)
@ryanmcteague Yes! Totally agree. I'm doing both at the moment with a 5-week old. I laugh at how much I thought I was going to "get done" with my maternity "time off"
kay day (austin)
i’ve gotten so many emails and articles advising me how to use my corona time: mediate, do this exercise, follow this schedule, improve productivity by X, etc. So ridiculous. Can we just relax?! much as possible anyway, given the virus-related concerns?
Mustapha (Accra)
Nonsense! I'm watching 3 times as many tv shows and I'm eating twice the food. My productivity is pretty good thank you very much...
Debra Grant (Newport Beach, CA)
How lovely for you. If I tell my boss I can’t work full-time hours from home due to my desire for self-care, how do you think I’ll fare in the next few weeks when my employer decide who to lay off?
Susanne (New York, NY)
@Debra Grant I don't think he's talking about productivity for work, but rather outside of career productivity: getting fit, deep cleaning the refrigerator, repainting a bedroom, learning how to do some niche hobby skill, etc. All the things we assume we'll do when we have an abundance of time...
CHX999 (Minnesota)
@Debra Grant HR Manager here...Guess what? Your employer already has a shortlist of people "eligible" for layoff. (that's how it's phrased, really!). If you normally worked FT and you're still working FT then you still have the same number of non-work hours and possibly more due to lack of commute.
Laume (Chicago)
I think this is directed to the masses of us whose work was cancelled indefinitely.
Mike S. (Eugene, OR)
I left FB 2 years ago because the highlight reels that everybody posts made me feel like I was a slug, the only non-world class person in the state, and had wasted my life. I never regretted getting off that platform. Being a slug is fine. From Milton's Sonnet 19: “God doth not need Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest: They also serve who only stand and wait.”
BC (Calif)
I don't know who said this first, but it resonated with me. There must be a reason that we are called human BEINGS and not human DOINGS.
Gretchen (Boston)
This is a lovely article and it comes at just the right time for me. So comforting.
Adam (Los Angeles)
I'm more curious how the month(s) of downtime will transition into life after the crisis. The new daily habits that will emerge after this mess will be the real story.
Deborah Howe (Lincoln, MA)
After three weeks of getting virtually nothing done, I have started to put my laptop and iPad in the car for the day, and finally can do the design work (for which I hand-draw, rather than use any CAD program). Clearing my brain of digital input during my day has allowed me to focus on synthesizing information, prioritizing my time, and focusing on my immediate needs -- including earning an income — rather than on a continual cycle of doom-scrolling and obsessive news-scanning.
Person (of Interest)
@Deborah Howe Doom-scrolling...exactly! Thank you for that!
Tama (Minneapolis)
@Deborah Howe I need to stop the 2020 Doom Scroll. It's killing me.
george (new york)
Well, it depends where you start in this crisis and where you hope to end up. This crisis, like any, will create winners and losers and will exacerbate the differences between winners and losers. If you have a job that you can continue through this crisis, inside or outside your home, you can choose to work as much as you are able or to throttle back. But you can't later complain, if you throttle back from what you are able to do, if someone else who has worked harder jumps ahead of you in some way. If you cannot work through this crisis for whatever reason, you may be disadvantaged too, as compared to those who can continue to work. If there are other ways you can advance your interests in the meantime, and if you choose not to, that is fine -- but again, you won't be able to complain later that your interests have not been advanced. What advancing your interests means if, if course, up to you to decide. If it means "getting Indian food and drinking wine with your spouse," and if you have the ability to do that, go for it. But realize that others will be making more commercial efforts and may emerge from this crisis ahead of you commercially.
mandy (ny)
@george The idea that people are looking to get ahead during a global pandemic killing thousands of people is alarming to me. Perhaps it is even the sentiment that got us to a place where we are running out of protective gear, short on life saving equipment, etc in the first place. Life is about caring for others in an atttempt , not using collective suffering for personal gain.
Joe (New York)
@george It sounds like you're operating at the "natural endpoint of America's hustle culture." The idea is to focus inward and do what's right for you, not as a watermark between yourself and others. A global pandemic is not the time to capitalize, though the indoctrinated mythos of the American hustle will lead you to feel dumb for not doing so. For those privileged enough to do so, it is a leveling time to seize upon the ancient lessons of the stoics.
Andy (Denver)
@george While I agree you can't stop someone from advancing their interests during this down time, I think you are hitting at the author's point exactly: we are caught up in this culture of always needing to be productive in order to feel like we are maximizing our time and not falling behind others - and it's a shame we've come to that. Why can't we just do less during this time, not feel guilty about it, and not worry about getting ahead or falling behind. Unfortunately it's not that easy.
Julie C. (Philadelphia PA)
Thank you for this. I took a month off one year to shelter in a cabin in Montana and write. I discovered there that the Great American Novel wasn't happening in solitude. Oh the other hand the dogs and I took a lot of hikes.
Mark (BVI)
I'm taking more naps and I'm quite OK with that.
Lone Poster (Chicagoland)
@Mark and getting enough sleep is the one thing that can prepare a body to resist and/or recover from infections. Given that the added stress of Living In The Time Of Corona makes most of us insomniacs, when we take naps we would do well to compliment ourselves on doing our part to not overburden the healthcare systems rather than feeling guilty for not being busy.