Productivity in a Crisis

17 September 2020, Category: plague notes


From the always excellent Laurie Penny writing in Wired:

It’s hardly surprising that so many of us are processing this immense, unknowable collective catastrophe by escaping into smaller, everyday emergencies. A crisis you create for yourself, after all, is a crisis you might be able to control. Frantic productivity is a fear response.

Productivity Is Not Working

I recommend reading the whole article. It identified how I felt at the start of the crisis. I attempted to ignore the outside world and settle into big projects. I learnt to code, rebuilt and redesigned this whole website, wrote poems every single day and worked on my allotment as often as I could. I wanted to be busy as a distraction from everything.

I think a lot of us felt this desire for something useful to come out of the shock. That’s why there was a rush of baking, cleaning and DIY at the start. But now we have sat with this crisis for six months. It’s become a way of life. And we see our previous rush of productivity as what it was: anxiety at the world falling apart.

In my experience, constant productivity is not sustainable. It lasts for a month, maybe two if you really push yourself, but it can’t keep going. You need to relax, go into the sun, read, watch tv, stare at the wall for a while and live. Besides, we don’t need to do anything other than look after each other. Laurie concludes:

But right now, we have a finite opportunity to rethink how we value ourselves, to re-examine our metric for measuring the worth of human lives. Right now, the entire species is trying to work out how to live in the same house without killing each other—and that may well turn out to be the work that matters most.

I’ve kept some habits going. I write most week days as it’s something I enjoy, but I’ve let the other things drift away, replaced with looking after myself and those around me. I’ve tried to calm the fear response of doing everything at once as it’s not helpful- for myself or for others.


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