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The Struggle for Productivity during Coronavirus

Ella explores the different meanings of productivity during lockdown.

Banana bread baking, daily walks and the dreaded Chloe Ting two-week shred: we all remember the various phases of lockdown number one with bittersweet nostalgia. These fads reflected the world’s ubiquitous desire to remain productive despite the absence of responsibilities, and whilst they created an uplifting sense of camaraderie, as the longevity of the lockdown became apparent, feelings of solidarity soon turned to anxiety.

Whether it be learning a new language, taking an online course or finally learning how to play the piano, lockdown has perpetuated the omnipresent concept of relentlessly furthering yourself. And if it’s not a new skill you want to pick up, it could be one you already have. The first lockdown presented itself as a unique opportunity for musicians, artists and writers to focus on their work free of all distractions; a chance for pure, unadulterated productivity. But when commitments and responsibilities disappear, so does our tether to the framework of time- lockdown doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, so you may as well just do the Thing tomorrow, right? Inevitably, you keep pushing it forwards and forwards until it becomes cemented in hypothesis, never coming to be. And so the satisfaction of productivity is never felt, only a dread which eventually fizzles into guilt; a guilt which is compounded by an incessant stream of ‘glow up’ videos on Instagram and Tik Tok.

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However, the situation feels different during the second lockdown. It has become apparent that the coronavirus is here for the foreseeable future, and consequently we must make long term, sustainable changes to our lives. Several cafes and shops remain open (for takeaway), and companies and schools have adapted to the new online environment. As a result, this time around, society has not come to a complete halt, and responsibilities have not disappeared. Nonetheless, for many uni students, the combination of online learning, social restrictions and an intense workload can be overwhelming. Particularly for freshers living in halls, facing coronavirus restrictions from a 3×4 metre room can become stifling. The fact that these small rooms simultaneously function as a place of relaxation as well as one of study can inhibit productivity, especially when combined with the limited study spaces available elsewhere. Hypothetically, the lack of social events and hungover morning should make it easier to focus on studying, and the torrent of deadlines should generate motivation to work, but there’s something about the fact that it is possible to get through your whole day without walking further than the trip from your bed to your desk that is not massively motivating.

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So, what can we do about it? First of all, we need to stop viewing lockdown as the only opportunity there will be to further ourselves. The emphasis should be on how we are feeling rather than what we are doing. That being said, we do have a certain responsibility to adapt to the situation, as no amount of self-care can stop the approach of work deadlines. The key is to distinguish between the pressure to learn new skills during lockdown and academic pressure. One is a reflection of society’s toxic inability to relax, and the other is a normal and important means of progression. For many of us, the pandemic has blurred the lines between the two.

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