Wednesday, April 22, 2020

It's Okay if You're Not Being Productive Right Now

By Janice Hardy, @Janice_Hardy

Just because you're home, doesn't mean you're on vacation with nothing to do.

In many ways, things haven't changed a lot in the Hardy household since the quarantine started. My husband and I already worked from home, and we don't have kids to home school. The biggest change for us is not leaving the house and going out to eat. You'd think being trapped in the house wouldn't affect us as much as others, but it has.

Like everyone else, we've had good days and bad, stressful days and productive ones. We're processing the crazy times we live in and dealing with it as best we can. We have family in the medical field we worry about. We have family in highly infected areas. There are two people in my house with high-mortality risks for COVID-19, so we're not taking any chances. Oddly enough, that makes it easier to stay put.

But it does make it harder to focus and be in the right mindset to write.

Writing has been a job to me for over a decade now, so I've learned to write when I have to write. But I've also learned that sometimes, having to write doesn't mean I can write. Forcing the issue just adds stress and the writing stinks and needs to be deleted and rewritten, so delaying the writing really doesn't affect much.

Before I sold my first novel, I was a creative director for a magazine publisher and ad agency. My entire professional career has been in a creative field of some type. When it comes to being creative under stress and on a deadline, I've lived that life for years and years. Which means I know what I'm talking about when I say...

On the days when writing feels impossible, don't write.

And the even harder to accept...

Don't feel you have to be productive during a stressful time or you're a failure.

We're dealing with situations that are both scary and frustrating. Things are uncertain and that's going to fill up a large portion of our brains at any given moment. Of course you're going to have days when:
  • The words won't come
  • You don't feel like writing
  • You get 100 words done all day
  • Everything you write stinks
  • You miss a deadline
  • You just want to sit and read
  • You aren't able to read at all
  • You need distraction
  • Everything feels pointless

When bad days hit and when you can't be productive, don't beat yourself up about it.

Staying home feels like we have all this extra time and we should put it to good use, but we're forgetting all the extra stress that's underneath it. That stress is going to affect our ability to work.

I've had to remind myself of this lately, too. I wrote maybe 200 words yesterday morning, and after lunch, did nothing. When I felt that stress over not getting anything done start to build, I shrugged it off and told myself, "Hey, I got a little done this morning. I took a step ahead." And I felt better.

Don't put extra pressures on yourself by expecting life to be normal.

Life's not normal at the moment. It's not time off, it's quarantine. For many, it's layoffs and cutbacks and worries that go well beyond the fear of not getting a chapter written. Maybe that's you or someone in your family. Maybe it's friends or colleagues. Maybe you've been lucky and haven't had anything bad happen to you, and you're worried bad luck might hit at any moment. No matter what's going in in your life, the pressure is enough to handle without worrying about being productive.

Take the time you need to deal with whatever you're dealing with.

I've discovered that I never know what kind of day I'll have until I wake up. Some days I feel good and I'm productive all day. Some days I wake up and don't feel like getting out of bed. I do, but I know those are days when writing just isn't going to happen, so I don't try. Some days I know productivity of any kind is useless, so I take the day off.

And that's okay. It really is.

Is this blowing my schedule? Of course it is. I've postponed my online workshops, and accepted that tasks on my To-Do List for 2020 aren't going to get done. I've been updating on articles on the site because it's been hard to write new ones. Some days I don't post at all. It's hard not to stress over all that, but I'm trying to just take a breath and thinking, "It's okay, I'll try again tomorrow."

Instead of saying, "What do I have to do today?" try "What might I get done today?" And if that's "Nothing" so be it.

I've been doing this the last few weeks and it's helped. Some of the pressure has lifted and I feel better overall. I make my to-do list each morning, and if I get a lot done, great! If I don't, oh well. I obviously needed the mental break that day.

I understand not everyone has the luxury of doing nothing, but if you're feeling stressed or think you're failing because you're not "taking advantage of all this time off," you're not.

Times are hard. Times are stressful. It's okay if you need time to deal with that and need to let things slide a bit.

Hang in there. Writing will be there for you when this is all over, and the world will get back to normal eventually. Do what you need to do to take care of yourself and your family, and don't add pressure you don't need.

How are you guys doing? Hanging in there?


  1. Janice, thank you so much for this very timely article. You've articulated all the things that have been of concern. Having closed our yarn and picture framing business (my husband does the latter while I take care of the former) and being in that 'vulnerable' age group, I thought having all this spare time would be a heaven-sent opportunity to catch up with writing. Unfortunately, that was not the case. The early weeks passed with very little productivity because the focus was just not there. So what did I do? Angry and frustrated at all this wasted opportunity, I tidied my desk, sorted out my research papers, brought up my WIP and forcibly blanked my mind of everything except the lives and loves of my characters and their world. So far it has seemed to work. We all have to do what works best for us. While self-isolating, I find cooking, baking, stitching, knitting, gardening, listening to classical music, talking to and emailing friends and family and of course READING help me get through each day. I also count my blessings.There are so many people far, far worse off. I do recommend minimum time spent on social media and watching or listening to Covid news. Tomorrow's news will be along much the same lines as today's or yesterday's. Nothing of value can be gained. In fact, precious non-refundable hours will fritter away and time, once lost, is lost forever.
    Remain positive, stay safe and keep well. :-)

    1. Most welcome. Sounds like you're not too dissimilar to my household right now (but with more to do!). I've avoided social media as much as possible, and we even put limits on how much we talk about virus stuff and politics. Some days we even have a no discussion rule. That's helped a lot.

      Glad to hear you and yours are staying safe and riding this out. All the best to you!