Don’t buy the myth of pandemic productivity. Look after yourself. These are trying times | Ana White

A pandemic merit badge: A loaf of sourdough bread (Image via pxHere.com)

When the COVID-19 pandemic first began, it provided us with large amounts of time that we otherwise were not used to due to busy schedules and high demands of life.

Ana White (Capital-Star file)

The abundance of time for many was first realized as an immense opportunity to get well needed rest and to adjust to the precautions of what would become our new normal.

Over time, many who were at home took the opportunity to focus on things they otherwise couldn’t beforehand, including reading new books, catching up on television shows and tapping into some of the things on their extensive to-do list. Catching up for many was the primary goal. For others, this time presented the option to develop new skillset, some for survival and others for leisure.

The development of businesses seemed to increase as the months passed, with many social media posts and commercials pushing for new development of businesses, discovering passive income opportunities and channeling everything you can while you still had time.

But in a space in time where the pandemic was increasing in communities, where essential workers had no days off, and childcare and education put a halt to many people’s ability to feel free and effective in this free time, the time period to rediscover oneself and design another path simply wasn’t feasible for many readjusting to this life.

It appeared that those who had the time to start businesses were encouraged to do so, and the messaging about people utilizing this time properly seemed to imply that if one wasn’t starting a brand or lifestyle shift, they were wasting this time.

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But for mental health workers, we understand too often that free time under trauma and stress is hardly where creativity flourishes. Many discuss the idea that their creativity has become stifled because of this pandemic, with their ability to see their world outside of their windows significantly impacting how they were able to move forward as artists.

The world shutting down effected many and their ability to be optimistic, to dream bigger and to execute more. Essential workers never had that opportunity to ‘stand down’ and have the luxury of this newfound ‘free time’ many spoke about.

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Mothers rearranging their lives had to focus more on their parenting and the free time destined for them was quickly occupied by their default (and mandated) appraisal from working mother to remote learning educator, and many were still struggling finding time to look for new employment opportunities while being laid off.

The message about this period being a time of seemingly abundant space in time to create and start businesses is a telling one. The sense that we have nothing but time due to the lockdowns, curfews, etc.  and that if we are not utilizing this time to run a new business venture, push our marketing goals, etc. lends itself to a weakened logic of what we are experiencing as a society.

While we do have a space in time for more individuals to have more time, we seem ignore that for many, specifically essential workers, that time is nonexistent. Further, the abundance of time for many hasn’t served as a gift, but really serves as a mental health curse with an inability to truly tap into seeing this space as one of abundance in time as opposed to restrictive times.

Also, the assumption that time is ‘wasted’ unless we are producing lends perhaps showcases our American society as one that prioritizes productivity versus simply existing within society.

While in a pandemic, the messaging and push for one to be productive, using every minute before we head ‘back to normal’ and creating business and social products can allow us to miss the very important mark surrounding our lives right now. We are not on break; we are in a pandemic.

For those who haven’t had the luxury of relaxation, this rings the loudest. Essential workers have not felt the abundance of free time.

Those mothers who have had to scramble to make ends meet in a new way with short notice haven’t had free time, and children have not been able to ‘take advantage’ of this free time as we’d hope with confinements being difficult for growing and active minds.

In addition to this, we must also remember that the ability to start a business with free time during a pandemic is a conflicting one.

While many more are at home and developing businesses, the reality is that poverty has increased, free/extra money for many has become their only means of income, and for most, trying to acquire business success and marketing to an audience experiencing health disparities can seem tone deaf.

During this time of instability, in a space where so many are scrambling to reestablish themselves, may we be reminded that pushing an agenda of productivity for so many is pushing them into spaces of shame and guilt, not of entrepreneurial vigor.

While this is a time for reinventing, we must also allow for individuals to take this pandemic seriously, to take pause and complete stops during a time of instability, an unknown future, and to allow for the messaging to support rest, restoration, replenishing and stillness.

For many Americans, we are hardly on break.

We realize fully that time is of the essence, but what is feasible to complete and what we ‘should’ be doing can be subjective to the luxuries, privilege, and realities we have.

The messaging that we must rush to develop and create before our free time runs out should serve as a confirmation that many of us need to expand how we manage our daily lives to allow for free time.

Whether we return to our previous lifestyles or not, we must note our desire to complete our tasks so desperately before time runs out should serve as confirmation that we should seek to have free time as a normalized event and not a luxury.

We must be mindful not to burnout in the free time we do have, simply because we are not accustomed to it. We should avoid over-performing  during a pandemic and remind ourselves that we are not on break. We are in a pandemic.

We may have more time, but those times are occupied by instability, constant reshaping, brainstorming, and figuring it out one day at a time.

We must be mindful of sending messaging that makes us believe that we are in a ‘now or never’ time period where the window to develop ourselves as our best selves is reduced to this moment in time. We must switch the narrative that this could be the only time where we can have this much time to ourselves and reimagine how to ensure our time belongs to us.

Times to develop ourselves as humans pursing our own happiness should not only occur during pandemics, largely because pandemics and natural disasters require us to maximize our time in so many other ways.

We must send messaging encouraging taking this time to reflect, reframe, and reshape at our own pace rather than believe we must devote every hour to productivity in a ‘use it or lose it’ frame of mind.

Opinion contributor Ana White, of Harrisburg, is the owner of Way With Words Consulting Services, LLC., which specializes in diversity and inclusion professional development training. She also works in mental health services in the Harrisburg area. Her work appears weekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page.