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Productivity in the Time of Coronavirus

As I’m writing this, I’m on day 38 of self-isolation. It’s hard. It sucks. I’ve been outside maybe five times since I started. I’m anxious and scared, but I don’t want to talk about that, because what I’ve gone through is truly, absolutely nothing compared to doctors, nurses, hospital personnel, grocers, cashiers, and everyone else keeping society running so the rest of us can stay healthy at home.

I’m working hard not beating myself up over anything I do to get through this. I drink more than I would prefer under normal circumstances. I watch entirely too much television, and especially too much news. I spend far too much time on my phone looking at my Twitter feeds and other social media. I’ve got eight tabs open in my browser that allow me to track Coronavirus statistics.

The big thing not to beat myself up over is productivity. Back in November 2019 I had set March 2020 as when I would leave my then-current now-former employer. I had decided to take three months off, giving notice right after my 3-year anniversary. (My former employer’s 401k match was set up in a cliff model – which I had never heard of before – in which all matching kicks in at the 3-year mark.) Since I was scheduled to deliver two presentations at LiveWorx, I would plan on not working (for someone else) until mid-June. I would develop my presentations, write 2 or 3 Creo Parametric books, create videos for the Creo Parametric 7.0 release, get some professional certifications, and maybe finish that long-gestating screenplay.

Here’s the thing: some days I do a lot. Some days I don’t. Somedays I absolutely have to distract myself with writing, filming, editing, reading, and a bunch of other tasks related to my business. Other days, I go back to bed after breakfast and am mostly or completely useless the rest of the day.

I read a tweet that really explains the situation, and I’m paraphrasing here: “We’re not working from home. We’re at home trying to survive a crisis while getting some work done.” We’re not going to be at 100% mental acuity when so much of our brain power is exhausted from anxiety, worry, uncertainty, and sadness.

Tobi Lutke, the CEO of Spotify tweeted the following back in December 2019:

“For creative work, you can't cheat. My believe is that there are 5 creative hours in everyone's day. All I ask of people at Shopify is that 4 of those are channeled into the company.”

I’ve found that he’s pretty much correct about that assessment. Even on days where I’m charged up and ready to expend all my efforts towards writing or video work, there is a point of diminishing returns. You do reach a point where you’re trying to squeeze blood from a stone.

Under normal circumstances, you could exercise, hang out with friends, recharge with art, a movie, or even a simple walk outside. Since I’ve been robbed of that, I’m pretty much left with streaming services, reading, playing with the kitties, and attending to the business of my business. (I’m trying to avoid television since so much is centered around that buffoon who’s killing thousands for his ego.) And drinking. (Which I notice tracks with how much network television I’m watching.)

But the point is, I’m trying to be productive when I can, and when I’m not, I’m trying to cut myself some slack.

(And yes, the title is a play on the Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel “Love in the Time of Cholera.”)

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