Normally, I thrive on getting things done. Whether at work on in my personal life, I feel accomplished by meeting my goals. During this COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve struggled with feeling like I’m not making enough progress, I’m not “doing” enough. The pandemic has challenged how I balance time spent “being” vs. time spent “doing” things. It’s worth to take a step back and reflect on this.
Here’s a quick rundown of things that have changed for me in the past month. Things that used to be givens, taken for granted. Things that brought stability to my life and that I built my life around.
- Routine & structure: 15-minute morning walk to the train – helped me wake up. Getting into a crowded NYC train to the office. Drinking hot tea, greeting colleagues, settling into my desk at work. Work being at a space separate from home. Lunch at the office. Many choices for dinner on the way home.
- Personal interactions: meeting friends for “coffee chats”, a hug to show love and care, sharing a physical space and communicating without relying on devices.
- Ability to travel: flying home to see family, vacation travel.
- Assumptions of what’s safe: grocery shopping without face masks, loads of purell, and a constant fear that I may be bringing home a dangerous virus.
- Personal finances: fears about how changes in the economy impact my family, my friends, neighbors.
And many others.
Normally, just one of these areas being disrupted would make me pause, think, and adapt. During the pandemic, though, it is all changing at once. My mind has been running in a million different directions. I feel mentally fatigued.
What does this mean for my productivity? My ability to get things done and help myself and others? First of all, I need to give myself credit for things that I have figured out. We have a face mask for when we go to the grocery store. We have a new “process” to stay safe when we get back into the home. We figured out a new daily structure and routine. New ways to stay in touch with friends. Revisited our personal finances to ensure our safety net is there.
All of that requires thinking, analyzing, compromising, and finding a new way forward. It’s real work that I never really thought about or recognize. It’s important to realize that doing these things uses the same energy and mental resources than what I used to consider real work.
Balancing all this new personal work with my job takes a lot of energy. My days have ups and downs. More often than in the past, I have moments where it’s all blurry and I can’t think clearly. I don’t have the motivation or energy to do what I think I should be doing. I’m simultaneously in alert mode, but depleted of energy. I try different tactics: meditation, a quick workout, a nap. Ways to reset and get myself going again. But it doesn’t always work.
I have recognized and accepted this mental fatigue. There is a lot to process at once, a lot of emotions, a lot of changes. I need to be patient. Tomorrow will be another day, and by then I will have processed some more of the current situation. Little by little, I will establish a new life in which I’ll be less worried by the disruptions from this pandemic. Then, I may have the luxury to focus and think clearly again about those things that needed to get done.
More so than ever, a pandemic is the time to rethink personal priorities. Focus on what’s truly important, do that, and defer the rest. Thinking holistically about both work and personal things. I’m fortunate enough to have savings to weather this storm, otherwise I’d focus on that first. Then I’m focusing on my family and friends. Staying in touch with grandma. Learning techniques to stay safe while buying groceries during the pandemic. Finding the right balance between staying informed without getting overwhelmed by news. Taking a second look at my personal finances to ensure we are going to be OK. Replacing the broken tea kettle so I can still have hot tea at home. Meanwhile, I’m tackling the most important project at work, bit by bit, and deprioritizing everything else. Just critical work, nothing else.
One thing at a time, step by step, the foundations will be strong again. Then I will be able to think more clearly about other work. But, it is OK if that’s not today, tomorrow, or next week. It will take as long as it is necessary, no more and no less.