Remember when lockdown started, and you promised yourself you'd make the most of it? With all these extra hours you’d have – from either not commuting, or not working at all – you were going to (delete as appropriate): learn After Effects, practise your painting, speak a new language, fix those niggling DIY problems around the house, master a musical instrument, write that novel or screenplay…. But let us guess: none of that has actually happened.
We could offer you some well-meaning advice about to organise your day better, motivate yourself more fully, and commit to your goals. But you know what? We’re not going to. Instead, we’re going to argue the opposite.
Why you need not to be productive
Even at the best of times, the idea of being ‘productive’ with your entire day is a suspect one. It’s one thing to optimise the time you spend at work. But if you extend that thinking to the whole of your life, you’ll live an a constant state of anxiety that means you’ll never really have lived at all.
Trying to be productive with your life during lockdown is even more senseless. This present moment is probably the first time in your life when society will praise you for sitting home and doing nothing. So why on earth wouldn’t you want to take advantage of that?
The problem is, most of us have programmed ourselves to feel guilty if we're not being productive. So how do we go about breaking that programming? In this post, we suggest five practical ways to change your mindset.
01. Switch off your screens
Our devices are currently playing a vital role in keeping us connected and sane. But they’re also a double-edged sword, bringing us constant reminders of all the things we could be doing with our time: the online exercise routines we could be following, the free courses we could be taking, the art clubs we could be participating in… Even in lockdown, it seems, FOMO is impossible to escape.
Of course, it’s a good thing that all these activities are available, and we’ve publicised many of them ourselves on Creative Bloq. But if you’re feeling anxiety or guilt for not taking part, that’s less healthy. So trying spending time each day with all your screens switched off, allowing your body and mind to reset to their natural rhythms, and letting you enjoy, rather than feel guilty about, the idea of 'not achieving'.
02. Listen to nature, not podcasts
If you’re able to exercise outdoors during lockdown, it’s tempting to use this time to catch up on your podcast listening, which for most of us is significantly down because we're not commuting. Again, the instinct springs from the urge to be productive, but it can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially with so much talk on podcasts at the moment about lockdown itself.
It’s also a waste of a good walk, run or bike ride, because getting out of the house isn’t just about getting a change of scene visually, but aurally too. And with car use reduced, it’s possible to enjoy the sounds of nature at the moment, even in the big cities. So we’d heartily recommend that you unplug those headphones, and start listening out for that birdsong instead.
03. Practise mindfulness
Even once you accept intellectually that you don’t have to be productive, there’s often still an underlying anxiety that you just can’t shake. At this point, mindfulness techniques can help you go the extra mile, making you feel able to 'let go' of being productive on a physical and emotional level.
Mindfulness is all about bringing your attention away from the past and future (which causes stress and worry) and focusing it on the present moment (which allows you to focus and feel properly balanced, physically and emotionally). Mindfulness techniques range from meditation to colouring-in; even playing a game like Candy Crush Saga can be mindful if approached in the right way. These mindlfulness apps are also worth checking out.
One of the simplest mindfulness techniques is called 5-4-3-2-1. This is a way of calming your mind if you feel anxious or overwhelmed, by engaging all five of your senses. First, slow your breathing and pay attention to the breath coming in and out of your body. Once you’re a little more relaxed, look around you and identity five random things you can see (a cup, a table, a book, anything at all).
Next, identify four things you can touch. After that, think of three things you can hear. Then, two things you can smell. Finally, hone in one thing you can taste; any taste you can identify inside your mouth. Try it, it really does work in helping you to feel calm, relaxed and free of worry.
04. Start a gratitude journal
Many of the instincts that propel us towards being productive are about wanting more from life. We want a better salary, nicer things, more respect. But often we’re so caught up in pursuing these goals that we don’t realise how much we have already. Starting a gratitude journal can be an effective way to remind us of that, and make us feel better and more relaxed about our life in general.
A gratitude journal is quite simply a book in which you write down, on a regular basis, things that you are grateful for. It’s the regularity of doing so that’s important, and studies have found that those who are habitually grateful are happier than those who are not.
You can just use a regular notebook, or you can buy a pre-prepared gratitude journal that includes prompts to guide you through the process. We’d recommend The 90-Day Gratitude Journal, Good Days Start With Gratitude, or the Instant Happy Journal: 365 Days of Inspiration, Gratitude, and Joy. It can also be helpful to attach other relaxing habits to your journal ritual, such as lighting a candle, relaxing music, having a bath and so on.
05. Revisit your childhood
The idea of using every waking hour productively was alien to most of us as children, when we lived in the moment and took each day as it came. So one easy way to return to get back in that carefree state of mind can be to act like a child again.
When we were young, we all had thoughts along the lines of: "When I grow up, I’ll be able to have choc ice and chips for dinner if I want." Well, now you can; so what’s stopping you?
Think of the things you loved doing as a child, whether that’s doing puzzles, playing board games, colouring in, watching cartoons, reading a joke book, making papier-mache animals, singing along with the TV… whatever they are, we’ll bet you haven’t done them in years. Spend some time doing them again, and any stress about not being productive will soon start to melt away.