Recharge

I’m So Over This Pandemic Productivity Contest

Our columnist learns to slow down and take it easier on herself during quarantine

Within days of San Francisco (where I live) announcing shelter in place, I had already made my “lockdown bucket list.” I sat on the floor of my apartment, exhausted from crying because my entire life’s work revolved around gathering women together offline, and I tried to make myself feel better. How, you might ask? Well, with a list of course! (In purple marker, no less.) I attempted to bait myself out of feeling bad by finding the bright spots. Maxie, make the most of this time! Turn lemons into lemonade! Bitch, add tequila! Oh the ignorant hope of early spring. Turns out, those lemons were rotting. 

My lockdown bucket list from March 1942 … I mean 2020 … went something like this:

  • Write my novel
  • Finish book proposal #2
  • Re-learn how to play my violin
  • Paint the big canvas
  • Make and send handwritten notes
  • Remember how to bake
  • Go for long walks
  • Clean & organize my apartment
  • Meditate
  • Journal
  • Read
  • Prank call people
  • Re-do budgets
  • Create a class

LOLOL. I learned really quickly that I was going to have neither the time nor the energy to do any of those things. Lockdown wasn’t a windfall of space in my days to redirect my attention, it was about to become about surviving — emotionally, financially, physically and mentally. It would literally be day-by-day, hour-by-hour for months on end. For all of us.

Lockdown wasn’t a windfall of space in my days to redirect my attention, it was about to become about surviving — emotionally, financially, physically and mentally. It would literally be day-by-day, hour-by-hour for months on end. For all of us.

As I architected this hopeful pandemic masterpiece that I intended to be my “new life,” basically everyone on social media began beating the drum of get fit!Now’s the time to make! bake! create!Don’t be a pessimist, pivot!Isn’t cooking fun? … Finally writing my book! You? Oh, and the IG lives for days. It was as if because the world slowed down, we all felt the need to speed up. Collectively, the race was on to see who’d have the most “to show for it” on the other side of lockdown. 

I don’t know about you, but I felt like shit. Every day was a battle to not lose control of my own emotions or thoughts. The macro-level pain and uncertainty made checking my Twitter feed feel dangerous. Consuming anything from the outside-of-my-apartment world was like willingly choosing to stand in as a punching bag. It was a barrage of terrible emotions: loss, grief, fear, worry, you name it. Some days, it still feels that way. Obviously, this made it damn near impossible to do anything on my lockdown bucket list. For seven years, I’ve been writing weekly blog posts and even those 500 words felt impossible. I felt bad for the world. I felt shitty that I wasn’t able to “make the most” of the slowdown by producing anything (other than the soul-warming snack of melted peanut butter and chocolate chips. Try it. You’re welcome). Everything just felt hard. Then I read a tweet by Bryann Andrea so obviously brilliant it must have been how the cavewomen felt when they noticed that ice melts into drinkable water: This is a pandemic. Not a productivity contest. 

I felt seen. As I reflected on the first weeks and months of this world-altering experience, it was clear that the only contest there was to win was the one that required us to just be. For me, that meant being home, without travel, for the longest amount of time in a decade. It meant softening into redundant days, whereas prior to now, no two of my days were ever the same. It meant leaning into my relationships, even with uncertainty looming. Ultimately, to just be was a call to become comfortable with the loss of a currency I’d gotten very good at hoarding, the currency of action. I used it, for so long, to feel valued. I thought that the more actions I took, the quicker I took them, and the more convicted I was in doing so, would mean that I was doing life right. 

As I reflected on the first weeks and months of this world-altering experience, it was clear that the only contest there was to win was the one that required us to just be.

Pandemic undid all of that. It forced a stillness that shines light on uncomfortable questions. Who are we when we stop? Who are we when we slow down? Who are we without the actions we’re used to taking that we previously used to define ourselves? Even those of us that have been busy because of work or caretaking experienced the discomfort.

When I sat with those questions long enough, I realized we don’t need to show anything on the other side of this except that we stayed healthy, sane and well. That’s it. All that is expected of us right now is to do the best that we can do. To just be is a powerful thing, which just might be the minimum. For some people that might be to cook or write in order to forget. Some might be producing digital events to cure their loneliness. However, we shouldn’t look to those things that others are doing to get through this and think we should be doing that, too. 

Instead, ask yourself How can I just be? See what it would take to do that. When you let yourself slow down to immerse in the present, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t things to do, work to accomplish, family to care for, or communities to serve. It means, instead, that when you can be where your feet are, be present in your day, and ultimately, just be … you will see what you actually need with further clarity. You’ll find that there might be things you do indeed want to do, create, ideate and try. But you’ll be doing them from the alignment you found in slowing down, rather than the need to come out on the other side of this “with something to show for it.” 

You don’t need to be productive right now. Instead, focus your time and attention on whatever matters most. And just be. 

Maxie McCoy is a facilitator of women’s stories. She’s the author of You’re Not Lost: An Inspired Action Plan for Finding Your Own Way, which Refinery29 has called one of the top career books for women. Committed to the global rise of women, Maxie specializes in creating meaningful content and programming experiences for The Riveter. Her work has been featured on Good Morning America, TheSkimm, Forbes, Fortune, INC, Bustle, Business Insider, MyDomaine, Women’s Health, Marie Claire, Billboard, CNN and many more as an expert in women’s leadership.