It’s okay to not be productive right now

Let me first say that the irony here is not lost on me: I am writing a story about why it’s okay not to be writing stories, or making art, or brainstorming business ideas, or doing anything at all that requires brainpower and creativity right now. I believe this, and yet, here I am writing this article—a task no one asked me to do, but I chose to do anyway, because I felt the need to produce something, anything, instead of sitting around and wasting time. What I am trying to say is that in this strange new age of social distancing and quarantines, I, like so many others, am finding myself constantly torn between two emotions: Guilt over not making the most of these extra hours at home we all have thanks to coronavirus (COVID-19), and exhaustion from living in a world that’s growing more chaotic and depressing by the day.

I want to be doing more. I’m still working, albeit from home, but with events cancelled and in-person socialization no longer a possibility, the hours of 6 p.m. until midnight-ish are suddenly wide open. If you’d told me, weeks ago, that I’d have all this extra time, I’d have excitedly come up with a million possibilities for how it could be used: Making edits to my memoir, working on a screenplay, researching agents and publishers and taking major steps towards the goals I’ve had since I was little. And even now, I still want badly to be doing these things—I feel such a need to be productive, to be making the best use of this additional time that I know I won’t ever get again, when this is all over.

Every night I don’t write and instead watch TV, or read a book, or work on a puzzle, I feel like I’m letting myself down, like I’m throwing my only chance away. I feel guilty, over and over again.

And yet the idea of writing, of probing my mind for content and thinking deeply about structure and voice and emotion and so much more, feels so tiring these days that I just can’t bring myself to do it. When I do sit down at my laptop and open up my manuscript, my mind goes blank and my anxiety starts to rise. All I can think about is coronavirus; everything else feels like a blur, and trying to make sense out of that blur—no matter how much I might want to, or how mad at myself I get for not doing it—is impossible. And while I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, it doesn’t make that disappointment go away.


So I close my laptop, put my notes away. And the moment I do, I feel infinitely better—not like I’m letting myself down, but like I’m letting myself off the hook. Like I’m giving myself permission to take a break, to not try. To simply sit there, or listen to music or watch a movie or play with my dog—any kind of mindless activity that doesn’t involve real concentration or thought, just distraction. I need this relaxation time, I know I do—we all do, during this unprecedented era when we’re anxious and antsy and indefinitely stuck in our homes.

We need this reminder that it’s okay sometimes to not work and just be, even if that means putting long-held goals and plans aside for a little while.

But it’s challenging. So many of us, myself included, are used to constantly moving—onto new ideas, new projects, new ambitions. We feel restless and bad when we pause, so we don’t pause. We push forward even when we don’t have any energy left because we feel like we’re supposed to, even if the only people expecting that of us are ourselves. So while I’m currently not writing much, I am still doing some, definitely more than I have to. I’m pitching a few stories (this one included) and taking notes for my book, because the urge to be productive is still very much there, even though I’m trying to quiet it down. I still feel such a strong need to be busy, and an even stronger guilt if I’m not.

But I’m also realizing, as the days go on and this worldwide crisis continues, that right now I would rather be calm than creative. If I want to feel okay, or at least as okay as one can be during a pandemic, then I have to not push myself to use my brain for more than it wants to be used. And if that means not writing, and “wasting” my time instead? So be it, even if the part of me that wants to be going going going at all times still finds it hard to understand.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, HelloGiggles is committed to providing accurate and helpful coverage to our readers. As such, some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, we encourage you to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments, and visit our coronavirus hub.

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