Six Tips For Staying Productive In Lockdown
MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses
Books. Failing that, Book Summaries!
"Good Enough" Mentality
"No Dead Time" Mentality
Keep Yourself Busy!
Just a couple of thoughts on how to stay productive during a long stretch of lockdown!
1. MOOCs - Massive Open Online Courses
These are basically a whole lot of courses offered by universities around the world, including Harvard and MIT. There are courses in every possible discipline and all are free for enrolment! Courses typically include videos and lectures to watch, articles to read and some assignments to complete over a recommended number of weeks. If you do decide to enrol in a course, be sure to tell your friends and family about it - that encourages you to finish it (because no one likes telling other people they failed). If you like, you could pay to get a certificate (typically 50 to 100 USD) to put on your Linkedin but personally I don't think it's worth it, as you can still put down the course you've finished without the certificate. Personally, I really enjoyed the MIT's Democracy and Development: Perspectives From Africa and would recommend it.
edX and Coursera are the two biggest providers of online courses:
2. Books. Failing That, Book Summaries!
There are so many great books that I've wanted to read for ages but haven't got the time to. This is the perfect time to pick up your War and Peace (which I've attempted and failed to read for four times, which is quite sad). Branch off into a different genre or try a quirky recommendation by a friend. A great book I've read lately is Why I'm No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which was recommended to me by a couple of friends. Really provocative title, and even more thought-provoking content. But if you'd rather not read a whole book, book summaries are incredibly useful as well. I currently subscribe to Blinkist, which is an app that summarises thousands of books into tiny, readable chapters. It's useful for me to gauge whether I want to read the whole book, and for getting lessons from books in a fast and easily digestible way.
3. "Good Enough" Mentality
This is a concept I encountered when reading a business book. The author lamented the idea of "good enough" and argued that many companies use the phrase to justify mediocrity when they should actually be aiming to be the best. However, I've found it to be quite a useful mentality to have as a perfectionist. I'm always looking at my schedule and thinking, "I've only got 15 minutes until my next engagement, so I might as well go on Instagram. I can only read a tiny bit of my book in that time anyways". I tried to stop that thought process with the "good enough" mentality, i.e. not striving for perfection and instead making use of every bit of imperfect time you have. Even if you can only read 15 pages in 15 minutes, that's quite a significant contributor to finishing the book, and the 15 minutes stack up. Next time you have just ten minutes on your hands, you might want to use that for a brief call with your gran or to fold your heap of clothes on the floor.
4. "No Dead Time" Mentality
This concept is one I encountered in debating, when my coach taught me that a good speech is one with "no dead time". What that means is: every single second of your speech should be proving something that contributes to you winning the debate. I think this can be quite useful, if demanding, when thinking about productivity. I try to apply the concept of "no dead time" to my daily routine, where every second of my day should be contributing to my overall goal of productivity and happiness. That doesn't mean I don't relax at all - relaxing is productive! What it means is I attempt to assess how useful an extra half-hour of Netflixing is, and whether that would actually make me happier than reading a challenging but interesting book. I confess I haven't been very successful in implementing this, but I'm working on it!
I get bored and distracted quite easily - I'm always reaching for my phone just ten minutes into reading. However, I found that breaking my time into very small chunks of 20-30 minutes and alternating between different activities really helps with my concentration. For example, an hour in my day could look like 20 min of reading, 20 min of room-decorating, and 20 min of writing. If I find myself reaching for my phone, I remind myself that I only have eg. ten minutes left of the current activity so I shouldn't procrastinate. Switching between different activities also makes it much more fun than staring at a screen for 3 hours, trying to type my ideas. It's cliché, but variety is the spice of life.
6. Keep Yourself Busy!
To be honest, lots of the things I do aren't really "productive" in that I'm getting more knowledge or experience. I spent more than an hour today putting up my new, massive corkboard and producing more things to pin on it, and it made me feel great when I admired my handiwork after the effort. What that means is "productivity" should be defined much more broadly than is traditionally understood. Anything that makes you feel good and feel like you've been productive should be considered to be so. Clear out your primary school junk, redecorate your room, or build a walk-in closet! (if only I had a spare room lying around...)
Caveat: All this advice is not to say that anyone should feel bad for being "unproductive". This is obviously an extremely challenging time for everyone and lots of people argue that you should actually stop trying to be productive (see https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/01/style/productivity-coronavirus.html, a very good article on why the competitive culture in America and pressure to be productive is damaging). I am really privileged to be able to consider "productivity" when so many people are worrying about them and their loved one's health and financial and social situation. However, I hope this is useful for anyone who also has the privilege of wanting to make the most out of their time or to take their mind off the coronavirus crisis.