Credit: GG Illustrator Emma Garcia-Melchor (@emmitagm)

The pressures of pandemic productivity

By Rachel Campbell

Feeling less motivated to take up hobbies this lockdown than you were back in March? Don’t worry, Rachel Campbell assures you that you aren’t alone.

During the first lockdown, all of my classes, exams and hand-ins had been completed or cancelled. Working in non-essential retail, I didn’t have work to fill my days anymore. I had all the free time I’d always said I needed, so I started reading more books, writing more songs. I learned to knit and to upcycle clothes. I took up running and yoga. Then, when the abundance of hobbies I’d taken up wasn’t enough, I started feeling the pressure to advance my career. When else was I going to have all this extra time to add things to my CV? I started emailing about lots of volunteer jobs and internships. I uploaded some writing to a blog. It felt as though if I didn’t use this time I suddenly had, I’d somehow be falling behind, despite the fact I wasn’t even totally sure what career I was aiming for.  When uni started up again, the pressure mounted; I not only had felt the weight of the restrictions that plagued us all mentally, particularly as the days got shorter, colder, and duller, but I’d added the extra pressure to myself of feeling like I had to be doing so much more because I apparently had more time. 

And yes, technically, I did have more time. I didn’t have to travel to uni. I didn’t waste hours between classes catching up with friends about their night in Firewater or planning trips away. I had so much time to sit, alone, and type, all day. I had the time to go to every lecture, and there was no worry of distraction afterwards, with that red “Leave Meeting” button ensuring no chats after class. I had the time to take part in an internship conducted solely over email, never seeing the faces or hearing the voices of those I was working with. In fact, I had so much spare time that I could have been, or maybe even should have been, doing something more productive than watching Grey’s Anatomy all over again.

The hobbies I’d started in the first lockdown now stared me down from across the room. “How’s the blanket coming along?” my knitting needles taunted from the bottom of a drawer. “Still feeling zen?” my yoga mat mocked. My guitar was out of tune. Any books that weren’t for uni lay unread. The extracurriculars I’d taken up to prove my passion and commitment felt like they now proved the opposite as I struggled to put effort into anything except getting through the academic year with passing grades.  

We don’t have as many things to look forward to this time around, and the media is just as filled with bleak statistics that can send you into a nihilistic pit. The Zoom quiz/Tiger King/Tik Tok dance era of lockdown seems a distant and naïve past, back when we were unaware of how long we were going to be affected. If we were unfeeling robots, the amount of extra time this pandemic has given those of us without caring responsibilities would best be utilised by learning to play piano or to cook something other than ramen, or figuring out what career we want and how to get there. But, as emotional beings who crave social interaction of some kind, how can we be expected to be as productive as our pre-lockdown selves, never mind more so? 

I’ve been trying to organise more group calls with friends so we don’t fall into the easy pattern of going to Zoom classes, discussing the reading, and missing out on any real interaction. In one of these calls, we all talked about how we’re struggling just to keep up with uni. The feeling is that the novelty has worn off, and with uni work no longer balanced out by the social side, the idea of trying to pick up a new hobby seems far more banal than half-watching the same show while endlessly scrolling through Twitter. 

Just because we have more time doesn’t mean we need to be using every second of it being productive; energy is being used just getting through these times. I’m not saying it’s healthy to lay in bed all day every day, but we shouldn’t feel like we have to fill the time we would’ve spent socialising by advancing our career or learning new skills. Let’s just focus on getting through the global pandemic, and we can worry about how much we can achieve after that weight has been lifted from our shoulders.


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