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Productivity, Quarantine Fatigue and Burnout with Drew Zaitsoff

June 8, 2020

Drew holding a bookWhen you’re considering your productivity, most of us think of readings and papers. Equally important is the basic day-to-day things like keeping up with friends and family, keeping a regular sleep cycle and doing all the little things that take care of you and regenerate your energy. You may well find that you can’t get as much done as you would like, and that is a part of being human and having limits. It is far more rational to recognize those limits and work within them than it is to be angry that they exist. 

It’s nice to get a lot accomplished. I get a little thrill out of seeing “This task list is empty” pop up on my screen. It’s also been taking me more and more effort in the past few weeks to get even comparatively simple tasks done; I have all the time in the world, and yet the dishes are piling up in the sink. And the pressure from that only gets worse when we’re told by well-meaning friends and bosses that we should be making use of all our time to get ahead on the things I couldn’t do during the school year. Read a book! Begin that research project! Start training for a half-marathon! 

Dishes are hard enough, and I’m supposed to get even more done than normal?

I think there are several reasons for why, but there are two I’m talking about here. The first is the most obvious; we’re simply not in situations that are designed to be productive in. There are plenty of resources in my office that I wasn’t able to take home with me, and without them I feel like I’m working with a hand tied behind my back. Those of us sharing space with partners or children have those extra complications as well. And communicating by phone and video calling, while useful, just isn’t the same thing.

The second reason is quarantine fatigue. Working from home and everything that goes into taking sensible health precautions requires effort and energy to keep up, and even things that we would have done without thinking about now take extra work. This sort of sustained effort is exhausting, and it can lead to burnout that makes it harder to get anything done.

“I should be doing more” is us beating ourselves up for not meeting a standard that would have been challenging at the best of time. In its place, I’d like to suggest honesty with, and compassion for, yourself. Make an honest evaluation of your time, your energy and what you can feasibly get done before you run out of both. It would be great to be able to begin training for a race, but if you don’t have the energy to do it then you’re holding yourself to an irrational standard. Compassion means understanding what you need, and caring enough to act on that need rather than shunting it aside. This can be as simple as recognizing that staring at a screen for another hour isn’t helpful and giving yourself a break!

Drew Zaitsoff, Ph.D, HSPP