Productivity in a Pandemic

Productivity amidst a pandemic: is it possible?

By Michael Kim


For me, studying at home was never an option. My repeated raids of the pantry or what I deemed to be ‘well-deserved’ frolics to YouTube made it seem I was aspiring more to be a chef or professional YouTuber than to be a good student. However, the emergence of COVID-19 meant that I, like many, had to study and work at home. And that posed a challenge: can I maintain productivity amidst a pandemic?

My first two weeks were, in retrospect, laughable. Being bed-ridden took me back to the days I was recovering from appendicitis or when I took the brave, yet noble, challenge to watch four seasons of Game of Thrones in four days. The key difference? I was now at UNSW and this means studying in perpetuity. In this sense, if “we are what we repeatedly do” as Aristotle puts it (I know, I apologise), then Aristotle would have surely called me lazy. Thanks Aristotle.

However, like most, I eventually found my footing. For me, that involved creating, and then religiously following, hyper-structured schedules. Every morning, I would plan every hour of the day on a sticky note, designating time for study, exercise and importantly, break-time. This is in recognition that rigid structure can offset the entropy that follows major shifts in lifestyles.

While study and exercise are axiomatically important, I found that productivity can only be maximised with adequate breaks. I had always been of the thought that quantity is a good gauge for effective study: if you dedicate more time to study, and less to breaks, you’re more productive. However, appreciating breaktime and ensuring you ‘get it all out of your system’ means that you can stay focused for longer without a desire to procrastinate. As such, if you’re still trying to work productively at home, I strongly encourage you to always reward yourself with adequate, compensatory break time. And if you want to be uber productive, I found exercise to be an awesome study break – it resets your body and gets the feel-good mindset necessary for you to smash that lecture you’ve been avoiding.

This said, while we were in holidays - which seems now like a distant memory – the importance of productivity was dwarfed by a need to rest. Pages like “Business Driven Dream” (yes, that’s a real page on Instagram) advocate that individuals must take advantage of COVID-19 to upskill, no matter the circumstances. But downtime is downtime so don’t let hyper capitalistic outlooks make you feel guilty in taking this chance to recharge and catch up on Netflix even as we do kickstart the term again.

So yes, while this reality was hard to adjust to, productivity can be achieved by establishing routines and rewarding yourself with breaks. If your story is anything like mine, we can take a look at our progress and be surprisingly happy in how we have improved. Indeed, when we look to ourselves now, if “we are what we repeatedly do” I would daresay Aristotle would perhaps even call us productive. Thanks Aristotle.

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