The Struggle to Stay Productive During a Pandemic

Struggling to get work done lately? Why you shouldn’t rush to label yourself “lazy.”

Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash

You Probably Aren’t Lazy

These days, many of us are finding ourselves with more free time than ever before. Business around the world have closed due to coronavirus, and many of the companies that are still open have reduced their hours. In addition, stay-at-home orders have lead to the cancellation of essentially every event from 5k runs to music festivals.

Despite all this free time, many of us are struggling to do anything productive.

My company moved to work at home last month, and shortly after started reducing hours. When I heard the news, my first thought was that I’d use all my new free time to really lean into writing more.

For a few days I stuck with my increased writing schedule, but soon I found myself struggling. Before I knew it, I was writing even less than usual. My motivation was completely sapped.

I’ve read many similar stories online. Around the world, people are struggling with discipline, motivation, and focus. Many have complained that they’re feeling “lazier” than ever.

I’d argue that in most cases though, “laziness” isn’t the real issue, and that framing the struggle in that language could do more harm than good.

Although it’s difficult to get things done these days, it isn’t because of an ingrained lazy habit. It’s because the world is going through a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, and it’s affecting almost everyone’s mental health.

Whether directly or indirectly, the coronavirus has had an impact on every living person on the planet. We’re rapidly changing our routines, reforming our social lives, and changing the way we work. Meanwhile, many people have noticed symptoms of anxiety and depression.

All of these adds up to a situation in which it is nearly impossible to stay as productive as usual — regardless of whether or not we’re being lazy.

Why It Matters

It’s important to remember just how much we’re all doing to adapt to new lifestyles in the face of the pandemic. These changes take a lot of our energy, which means that we have less left for work and hobbies.

It’s natural to be struggling with productivity these days, and it doesn’t reflect any kind of character defect that needs to be fixed.

I’ve suffered from depression for most of my life, and it’s often lead to periods of time when I just couldn’t get much done, no matter how hard I tried. For years, this caused me to characterize myself as lazy. I’d beat myself up over it, wondering why I couldn’t ever stay motivated.

I spent a lot of time back then reading up on productivity and ways to get more done. None of it helped though, because it didn’t address the real issue causing my lack of motivation: the depression.

Over the past few weeks, many people have turned to productivity articles, looking for tips and tricks to get back into the working groove.

The unfortunate truth is that these productivity hacks aren’t going to help much, because they don’t address our shared underlying problem: the global pandemic.

To-do lists are amazing tools, but they won’t destroy the coronavirus.

So what is the solution? I’ve read many articles saying that we need to be forgiving of ourselves, and accept that we won’t get as much done as usual.

I absolutely agree — while the coronavirus continues to keep much of the world at home, we’re going to feel the effect on our mental health.

At the same time, this solution can feel frustrating, because many of us need to stay productive to pay the bills. Even if we can’t get as much done as usual, spending all day doing nothing isn’t a viable option either.

To me, staying forgiving of ourselves is half the solution, but the other half is to confront our feelings about the pandemic head-on. Instead of turning to productivity hacks, we should turn to the traditional resources for mental health: therapy, discussion groups, meditation, exercise, journal writing, and more.

By treating our lack of motivation as a mental health problem, rather than mere “laziness,” we’ll have a better chance of actually making progress.

I’m a lawyer and teacher from North Carolina. I write about sobriety, mental health, running, and more. Buy me a “coffee” at

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