How to avoid the ‘Productivity Trap’ during the coronavirus pandemic

OPINION: Blue Telusma believes that you do not need to do something epic, cure cancer and obsess about productivity during the quarantine

A person walks outside the Madison Square Garden while wearing a protective face mask as the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States on March 17, 2020 in New York City. The World Health Organization declared coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic on March 11th. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, March 11, the World Health Organization declared that the COVID-19 strain of the coronavirus was a global pandemic and in the month since that fateful day, the entire world has changed before our eyes.

Gone are the days when we took little things like going outside or having gatherings with friends for granted. And now instead of promoting flat tummy teas, social media influencers are now clamoring to sell high fashion face masks made out of interesting fabrics.

Everywhere we look from the virtual dance parties on Instagram Live to the endless Zoom sessions with friends and colleagues, a “new normal” is emerging.

People move through the streets of the Borough Park section of Brooklyn which has seen an upsurge of coronavirus patients on April 03, 2020 in New York City. Hospitals in New York City, which has been especially hard hit by the coronavirus, are facing shortages of beds, ventilators and protective equipment for medical staff. Currently, over 75,000 New Yorkers have tested positive for coronavirus (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

READ MORE: Coronavirus is hitting Black America at a staggering rate

And in the midst of all that, a specific type of “motivational” meme has emerged’ one that essentially says, “If you come out of this quarantine without a new business plan, new life skill or a book written, you weren’t busy before… you were just lazy.”

The first time I saw this heavy-handed sentiment I cringed and hoped it was a fluke. But after four weeks of seeing some iteration of it pop up on my timeline, I think it’s time we all have a talk about why saying stuff like that – during a global pandemic no less – is a bad look all around.

Below, are three ways to ensure that we all side-step this painfully over-simplified rainbow-colored mindset that I like to call “the productivity trap.”

Be honest about what you need most

Some of you may be reading this and wondering, “what’s wrong with telling people to use this time off to get a new skill?” and I can totally understand why to the naked eye it’s tricky to see any harm in that.

But first, let’s be clear – that’s not all these memes do. In fact, had they said, “Hey, this might be a great time to learning something new” and left it at that, there’d be no need for this article.

But instead what these memes tell readers is they need to do something epic during the quarantine or they’re lazy – and in there lies the rub. First off, this sentiment makes a huge assumption about people’s lived experiences.

READ MORE: Michigan’s Black residents disproportionately impacted by coronavirus

Many people, particularly single parents and those who have immunocompromised family members, are tasked with overwhelming responsibilities now that everyone they love is all stuck under the same roof. A lot of those people are exhausted, burned out and probably already feeling a bit depressed and/or disillusioned by the unexpected turn their lives have taken.

Who does it benefit to shame them by calling them lazy on top of all that?

Not to mention, even those of us who don’t have people to take care of, may be experiencing epic waves of burnout from our old lives and see this shelter-in-place mandate as a once in a lifetime opportunity to rest and hit the reset button.

Are we lazy for finally giving our bodies the time outs they need?

The healthiest thing anyone can do right now is to be honest about what they need superficially and do everything in their power to gift themselves that thing, even if it includes spending a whole week on your couch watching funny movies and keeping your anxieties at bay.

Survival is NOT “once size fits all.”

Be wary of toxic positivity

mural kissing coronavirus

Palm trees stand behind a street art piece by artist Pony Wave depicting two people kissing while wearing face masks on Venice Beach on March 21, 2020 in Venice, California. California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a ‘stay at home’ order for California’s 40 million residents in order to slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Californians may still go to the beach without violating Newsom’s order as long as they maintain social distancing and adhere to other public health measures related to the coronavirus. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Another reason why “you better figure out the cure for cancer while you’re under quarantine” motivational messages fall short (and in some cases can be more triggering than helpful) is that they often unwittingly promote something called “toxic positivity.”

For those who may be unaware, toxic positivity is a culture of portraying yourself as only being happy and switching off the ability to acknowledge anything viewed as negative. It encourages people to only focus on “the bright side”, push away any messy feelings, and act as if all your problems can be fixed simply by pretending they don’t exist.

In essence, toxic positivity robs you of the opportunity to openly unpack pain and learn from it and instead prioritizes performing “joy” as a way to appease others. This is an understandable byproduct of social media culture where most people only share the highlight reels of their lives and keep the more unsavory bits to themselves.

Repressing feelings that could actually be transformative and help you experience a breakthrough of understanding and self-mastery, is toxic AF and yet several toxic positivity sentiments have wormed their way into our daily lexicon, such as the ever popular (and woefully unhelpful) “Good Vibes Only” mantra which quite brazenly warns you not to dare show any feelings aside from the “good” ones.

During this quarantine when many people who have used their busy schedules as an excuse to run from their feelings will finally have a chance to be still and introspective, now more than ever we need to be mindful NOT to shove “everything is fine, you just need to work harder” sentiments down their throats.

Look out for vulnerable loved ones

Family Coronavirus

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS – MARCH 15: Travelers arrive in the international terminal at O’Hare Airport amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The last, and perhaps most compelling reason to focus on a more compassionate (less preachy) response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a sobering one.

The truth is, even if you are stuck in the house with people you get along great with, or are perhaps loving this bit of solitude and using it to rest, even from the safety of our homes we all need to be mindful of keeping an eye out for the more vulnerable people around us.

Is there an elderly person in your building you could volunteer to buy groceries for in addition to your own when you go to the supermarket? Is there a broke college student in your family who is now home and hungry and could use a CASHAPP donation to help them get the bare necessities? Do you hear alarming noises coming from the apartment above you that hint that there may be domestic violence or some other form of abuse happening in your vicinity?

These are all really difficult situations that highlight how even in times of self-isolation there are still ways that we can safely look out for each other instead of putting on our blinders and obsessing about productivity.

In fact, just this month it was announced that Rihanna’s Clara Lionel Foundation had teamed up the Twitter CEO to send a $4.2m grant to the Mayor’s Fund to help abuse victims in Los Angeles.

READ MORE: Rihanna and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey donate $4.2M to domestic violence victims

This has become a necessity because the extreme conditions exacerbated by the stay-at-home mandates have resulted in an alarming spike in domestic violence attacks around the world. Countries like New Zealand, France, China, and the UK reporting a spike in the number of cases reported to police after lockdown.

And I share this to make one last general point, we already lived in a world that glorified “busy” prior to the pandemic, why not use this rare moment in history to instead focus on finding peace and looking out for each other… the way we used to?

And if that does include working on a business plan or finally writing that book you’ve been meaning to, do that because it made sense, not because a bunch of people on the internet told you you had to.

Follow writer Blue Telusma on Instagram at @bluecentric