Dalia Maeroff | Staff Illustrator
Once upon a time, when the world still felt like the world, I was what some might call obsessed with productivity. On any typical day, I would wake up around 9 or 10 a.m., attend 18 credits worth of lectures, work two jobs, go to rehearsal, eat dinner around 10 p.m. and decompress with some homework or writing.
My digital calendar is color coded in six different categories based on urgency. My friends mock me for calling my Apple watch the “height of productivity” every time it alerts me about my next calendar event, email, text or call. I am always plugged in. I am always on the go.
I love it. I chose to fill every second of my day doing things I love or the things that make it feasible to do what I love. But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I often begged for a pause. After exhausting rehearsals or draining study sessions, I’ve longed for moments of stillness where my responsibilities would disappear with the snap of a finger. And now, in many ways, I’ve got it. Granted, shelter-in-place mandates in response to a global pandemic is not what I had in mind.
In these uncharted waters, many of us are reaching for normalcy. For many, this means encouraging themselves and others to use this time to get ahead on work. More time off means more time to study, right? Not necessarily.
It’s not that using this time to master at-home productivity isn’t a noble pursuit, but spending this time to work on the projects that bring us joy is equally worthwhile. It’s time to do the things we “never have time for” — writing that poem, composing that song, compiling those recipes, starting that podcast. We can get ahead on our school work any other time of the year. We may never get so much time to work on extracurricular enrichment again — let’s utilize it. Now is the perfect time to prioritize creativity over traditional academic productivity.
I’m going to play guitar and piano and sing. I’m going to read 100 plays. I’m going to write more than I ever have before. I am going to watch hours of slam poetry on YouTube. I’m going to paint, even though I am a terrible painter. I am going to read novels that are not on a syllabus. I am going to work on developing my brain in ways that aren’t in the classroom.
Sure, I will still do my homework. When I’m feeling stir-crazy, I will walk the dog. I will work out in my basement if my body tells me to move. I will organize all my flannels in my closet and finally unpack the piles of junk I lugged home from my dorm. I will Zoom into my classes and study for their exams. Perhaps I will use this time to clean my room or organize the basement — just don’t tell my mom I made any promises. But it’s OK if I don’t always check the boxes on my to-do list — I may not make one to begin with.
I will aim not to spend this time worrying. I will try not to shame myself for spending days on the couch, only to move to my bed. I will let my body tell me if it absolutely needs a vegetable, otherwise I won’t force myself to eat anything other than the mac and cheese and tacos and chips that I love. I won’t tell myself to shut up if I feel like crying over the experiences and time that I’ve lost. I won’t let myself get overrun with frustration and anger when watching the news. In fact, I may commit a cardinal sin and not watch the news at all.
This is not an entirely sustainable lifestyle. It’s atypical that we can focus on things other than school or work.
We are living in scary times, there is no way around it. But self-isolation itself doesn’t have to be burdensome. We can watch movies, sleep, read, write, sing, dance, exercise, cook and simply be. We can use this time as a gift. We can use this time as a lesson that maybe even when this is over, we should make time for the things we “never have time for.”
The time will come when we’ll get to be productive again. We will feel the rush of accomplishment. We will get a pat on the back from our boss for a job well done or a hug from our friends, saying congratulations. We will connect with our passions, our jobs, our peers, our loved ones, our worlds again.
Until then, I will spend this time doing things that are not on a syllabus, things that bring me joy and things that spark creativity. I will take this time to let myself breathe. It has never been more important.