Tag Archives: productivity

Productivity During a Pandemic

I’ve been in quarantine for two months now, and it is not going the way I expected. When it first started, many people (myself included) saw it as an opportunity to be productive and do things we hadn’t had time for during our everyday lives. Friends told me about their big plans and I read about famous novels and plays that had been written while the authors were quarantined, and it put a lot of pressure on me to finally write a novel. This was my chance, after all. I’d never get another stretch of time this long off work, so if I didn’t do it now, I might never do it. The immense pressure I felt had the opposite effect it was meant to, and I still haven’t done any creative writing, but that’s okay.

I’ve talked about this before, but I really don’t think pressure is a good motivator (at least not for me). I also feel that my goal of writing an entire novel that would (hopefully) one day become a bestseller wasn’t very realistic, and that made it even more difficult to do. I’ve never written a complete novel before, so it is already a daunting task without the added pressure of having to do it before quarantine ends.

Quarantine itself has also been a strange experience; initially I was too stressed to accomplish anything, then I overcame my anxiety and focused on finishing my final projects, and since then, I’ve spent most of my time relaxing. I do feel like I deserve a break; I did just finish my degree after five grueling years, after all. Plus, as I stated before, I’ll never have another stretch of time off like this – it’s possibly the only time I can spend months relaxing until I retire, so I might as well take advantage of it and recharge before I start working full-time (whenever that happens – there aren’t a lot of jobs available right now, for obvious reasons). For these reasons, I have come to terms with the fact that I am not going to write a novel during this time, and I’m okay with that. I still have the rest of my life to write, after all.

So, since I won’t be accomplishing the one big, unrealistic goal I wanted to accomplish, I set my sights on a few smaller goals, and focusing on those has made me feel much better. I had a few realistic goals for this time: I wanted to work out consistently, I wanted to start writing on my blog again, I wanted to grow my nails out (I compulsively pick them – it’s a bad habit I’ve had for years), I wanted to talk with friends more, I wanted to rewatch some of my favourite film series such as The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, and I wanted to read (as an English major, I’ve barely done any pleasure reading since I started my degree, and I wanted to get back into it).

None of these goals were crazy, unachievable things, and that made them easier to accomplish. Plus, I kept them vague – I didn’t plan to post three times a week on my blog or read 25 books, and this vagueness also helped. I could accomplish these goals at my own pace, and any effort I put towards them counted as an accomplishment, which made me feel better about it and encouraged me to continue.

I can proudly say that I have accomplished each of my goals, even if only to a small extent. I’ve been working out every other day, I’ve been writing blog posts about once a week, my nails have grown, I’ve talked to all of my friends (some almost every day), I’ve rewatched most of my favourite film series, and I’ve read two books and am halfway through a third. These may seem to be small accomplishments, but I’m proud of them nonetheless.

I think making a few smaller, more realistic goals is better and easier than having one or two big, unrealistic goals, and the feeling you get when you accomplish the smaller goals may push you to keep going and work at one of your bigger ones. Even if you feel like you haven’t accomplished anything during the last few months, I encourage you to look back and try to name two or three accomplishments, no matter how small they are. This will help you realize that you have not just been wasting your time, and will make you feel better when you look back on this time. Though, of course, there is nothing wrong with not accomplishing anything – in fact, relaxing could be seen as a sort of accomplishment, or at least something that’s good for you.

Basically, don’t beat yourself up over not achieving that Big Goal you had – it’s totally fine to use this time as a break, and small accomplishments are still valid and important. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or put unrealistic expectations on yourself. This is a tough time for everyone without the added stress of being productive, so don’t let that weigh you down – just do whatever is best for you.

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The Electronic Parasite

Over the last 8 years of my life, particularly through my life in high school and University, everyone is always asking about my phone, perhaps more than I’m actually on it. Everyone wants to know what everyone is paying attention to. Attention, attention, attention. What could possibly be distracting me from whatever I’m supposed to be doing?

ATTENTION! New things require attention. News grabs attention. It is completely possible in my mind that new = notification. Because when I am notified, I am drawn to my phone like a bug to a night light. There is a habitual need to put my attention on what is demanding it and reply. What if it’s an emergency? What if it’s important? What if I miss out? That stupid red notification symbol will get me every time.

I know from myself and from friends that we open apps and our phones just to be rid of that damn notification symbol. Inhale, exhale. Notification gone. I am updated. I have been productive. Nothing is wrong. Everything is right in the world.

However, I have noticed a few abnormal habits that have developed.

Phantom vibration syndrome. Most people know what I mean by this. You SWEAR you just felt your phone vibrate and now YOU HAVE TO CHECK IT! ATTENTION! You open your phone just to see nothing there. Lots of people can testify that this is a real condition and it baffles everyone, yet, it’s harmless.

And what about the mindless checking of your phone, where you open it and do absolutely nothing except scroll through the home pages, almost searching for something to pay attention to. There’s no notifications, nothing. There was just a need to open the phone, JUST CHECK and make sure you didn’t miss anything, and then go back to whatever you were supposed to be doing. Perhaps this happens more out of boredom, rather than as flashback to when your phone vibrated.

The worst that truly bothers me is when I check Facebook and I have it open on both my phone and computer. There is no reason for this whatsoever. It normally happens when I’m in class and bored, but that incessant need to BE UPDATED as often as possible irks me.

I think you know when you’re addicted to something when these dysfunctional attention syndromes arise. But is it necessarily a big deal? Yes. I’m trying to convince the whole population to give a shit — YOUR ATTENTION IS BEING DEMANDED ALL THE TIME! They know we know how much attention we give our phones. Advertisers and corporations want your attention and your data. We know that. Now what? Well, what are you missing out on when you erratically check your phone? At what point in every moment that we did we feel the need to pay attention to our phones?

I am critical of those who claim that this is not natural. Even when individual cell phones didn’t exist, people found other ways to distract themselves in class. Reading newspapers in public, for example. Passing notes or doodling in class. When we are in stagnant situations like sitting on transit, our attention isn’t being demanded, and why go through another mindless, routine, and systematic day, accepting the lack of control we have over our lives, when instead, for a moment, we can retake that control and take back our ATTENTION by deciding what to do with it?

For classrooms, teachers should not blame the phone but instead, wonder at which point students felt the need to be distracted. Is it the way the content is being taught? Is the content engaging? If kids feel like they already know something, or that something is irrelevant, perhaps it is time we challenge them and make it relevant for them. WHY SHOULD THEY GIVE YOU THEIR ATTENTION?

I am asked yet again how often I check my phone. First, I would have to break down when I mindlessly check it, like I’ve previously described, and when I feel I am being productive. When I consider myself being productive on my phone, I am checking messages, emails, making playlists or just lists in general, creating events and schedules on my calendar. This, in my opinion, is actually constructive. I am using the phone for what it was supposed to be for; as an aid in my daily life to help me be a productive citizen, student, friend, and family member. There are mindless messages, and constructive conversations.

I dismiss any arguments and criticisms to how much time is spent on phones when it is not defined as to what is constructive and what isn’t productive time on the phone, or even social media. A lot of work revolves around social media and being available in and contributing to digital spaces. In this day and age, how could anyone’s attention NOT be diverted to check their phones once in a while when we’ve all been trained to? Repercussions from mom and dad if we didn’t text or call back in a specific amount of time. Missing out on an opportunity or event, or missing the notification about an event when something about it changed. Loss of a job if our employers didn’t receive an email fast enough. This is literally Psych 101: over the years of negative reinforcement, we have been trained to check our phones. Obviously this is dependent on age and many variables unique to everyone, but the argument is still relevant. And we are still inevitably told that everything we have been trained to do is bad and wrong.

We live in a world where our attention is battled over and equivalent to work value. So much so, we crave times we aren’t on the grid anymore. We look at vacation as a time where we aren’t obliged to look at our damn phones all the time, where notifications can’t reach us and we have agency to look at them.

Nothing comes free, something is always given up. Everything must be moderated. My suggestion to anyone who feels they check their phones too much is to simply put your phone on silent. You can change the settings so that it notifies you when you get phone calls, but not when you get texts or notifications from apps. You’d be surprised how much less you may look at your phone, because now your ATTENTION isn’t being demanded, it is being given with your own discretion.