Should you be productive during the quarantine?

Nathan Adlam
3 min readApr 11, 2020
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

As we sit here on collective house-arrest, our desire to be productive is not something we should stuff back into the closet

As a recovering productivity junkie, the simple mention of productivity is enough to make me want to jam a Q-tip in my ears.

The very idea of it makes me think of overly-sensational motivational quotes like You’re either growing or you’re dying. It makes me think about people who have overly-ambitious morning routines and talk more about being productive than actually being productive.

I have nothing against being productive; the word productivity as a buzzword already has me stressed out before I begin. I feel the same need as you do to be productive but my feelings towards this concept have evolved over time.

My first approach to productivity began around the time I entered the working world. This approach consisted of something like read as many books as possible on how to be productive, and the productivity will just osmose into my brain. While some of the books I read give me great ideas about how to approach productivity (Essentialism, The 4-Hour Work-Week, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying), I thought closing my eyes and braving myself through this material would level up my “productivity”, like a video game.

I started to learn that this method of learning about productivity was actually just jacking myself off to productivity porn. Learning about how it works is nice to be able to share information with others, but it doesn’t help you learn how to do it yourself.

The best memories of life do not come from whether you were productive or not on that one day that you had free. If you look at productivity from a short-term lens, you’re going to be disappointed. Being productive is a long game; you can eat your elephant over the course of weeks, months, or even years. You have time.

As we sit here on collective house-arrest, our desire to be productive is not something we should stuff back into the closet. Our bodies have a natural tendency to be productive; if we weren’t, our physical being would have no reason to exist and therefore shut down.

I’ve recently seen a viral tweet that goes like this:

If you don’t come out of this quarantine with:

  1. a new skill you learned
  2. starting your side hustle
  3. more knowledge

You never lacked time. You lacked discipline.

This message might work for some people, but not most. Not everyone responds well to a threatening ultimatum that will consider you a failure if you don’t meet your own expectations.

Productivity responds well to momentum. This is why productivity hacks (*excuse me while I vomit out the window*) like making your bed first thing in the morning lead to you getting more things done during the day; doing something and getting a feeling of accomplishment from it makes you more likely to continue being productive. Success breeds success.

Another productivity hack that I find helpful is the idea of doing something for 10 minutes.

Most of the time, starting is the hardest part. It’s easy to just check your email one more time or check Instagram for just a minute, and 1 hour later, you’ve gone down a rabbit-hole of spiraling self-hatred.

If you have an entire day free, thinking you’re going to study for 3 hours is setting you up to fail. If you don’t achieve said goal, you are de-motivated, and feel worse than when you started.

A Latvian start-up called Desk Time used their own tracking software to track productivity among workers. They found that the ideal time to work productively was 52 minutes, followed by a rest period of 17 minutes. Telling you to set your clock for 52 minutes is a bit mechanical and may not work for everyone, but but what can be gleaned from this is the ratio. Three parts working, one part resting.

The last thing to consider as you stress out about not being productive is why do you need to be productive? Like I said before, our brains need to be productive to some degree; if not, they have no reason to exist. Even though all of our needs are met, we still must continue forward.

Enjoy your quarantine.



Nathan Adlam

English teacher, engineer, expat… writing about things I am passionate about. Author of Avocado Toast and Other Millennial Insights.