The Delusion of Productivity

It’s been over a month of being at home 23/7.

When I first started this journey, I had the idea that I would be accomplishing “a lot” in all my “free time”. In this original master plan I would:

  1. Have my home cleaned from top to bottom
  2. Get a bunch of boxes of items ready for the thrift store for a future drop-off
  3. File my taxes
  4. Get lots of sleep
  5. Complete major knitting projects
  6. Spend relentless quality time with my children
  7. Stay on top of emails regarding my children’s latent extracurriculars and education
  8. Improve the administrative (unseen) parts of Willow Tree Counselling
  9. Reach out regularly to my friends
  10. Indulge my introverted self’s love of alone-time
  11. Have a dynamic level of involvement with my children’s home schooling regimen

Lofty Intentions, Human Results

You may have already predicted that my time at home has NOT resulted in sweeping productive changes in my life. More about that later.

I didn’t realize, when starting my self-isolation, that there was anything wrong with my expectations—until things weren’t going as planned. I also started to notice some backlash on social media in response to others’ “productive” hobbies, all making me wonder if other people were feeling bad about not being productive too.

And when I was ‘accomplishing’ things like my business-as-usual sourdough breadmaking and posting about it, I asked myself whether my everyday hobbies were masquerading as something special or whether I was doing things to relax. And beyond my hobbies, was I even accomplishing anything meaningful at all?

It started to dawn on me that I was actually becoming less productive than usual and that my strategy seemed to be centring more on surviving than thriving. Note to self: what a bummer.

Survival, My-Style

My definition of survival will differ from yours but it has included activities like:

Transitioning Willow Tree Counselling to to providing solely phone and video counselling

  • Problem-solving technology glitches
  • Learning to relate to clients on screen rather than in-office
  • Having a private, comfortable home office environment
  • Setting an intention each day to provide quality counselling and service, to the best of my ability

Boring self-care. Things like:

  • Showering regularly
  • Dressing in my office clothes when working from home
  • Getting some sort of activity, most days (ok, sometimes it was housework)
  • Eating on a semi-regular basis (lots of snacks passing as lunch)
  • Remembering to drink fluids (sometimes many more cups of tea passing as fluids)

Household operations:

  • Bare-bones housework a few times a week
  • Cooking meals
  • Paying bills and filing my taxes (only because I have to)
  • Loosely monitoring my children’s online schoolwork


  • Talking and checking in with family members
  • Cuddling with my cat Baby
  • Calling friends from time to time
  • Sometimes I just want to watch TV and check in with nobody. That’s a fact.


  • Mostly making bread and watching reality TV, sometimes simultaneously. Score zero for mindfulness.
  • A little iPhone photography when I am out wandering around outside for about an hour, keeping my distance of course.

Assessing Survival

When I looked at my situation I realized that at best, I was operating at 60 percent of my usual (pre-COVID) overall productivity.

The Fun Stuff

My approach to hobbies has changed during COVID. Before the pandemic, I was usually knitting and breadmaking on my weekends but  instead I’m learning that I mostly only have room for breadmaking; surprisingly, I have been baking more than before the pandemic…something I’m still trying to figure out….A need to feel a sense of control? Accomplishment? Relaxation? To flood the house with tasty bread? To give to family members? I’m not sure. Maybe a little of everything.

Two days ago, however, I picked up my knitting needles and knit a tiny little bit. It was nice and I’m not sure where I’ll go with it yet.

Quality time with family and friends – this has varied. Sometimes I’m just too tired and need to rest. I can say, however, that I have never done so many family walks (truly fortunate) during COVID and we are dusting off some old board games which now get sporadically played. I’ve had some pretty nifty phone calls with friends too.

At the very least it seems like all of these things I enjoy, do fill me up and help me to approach the things that don’t.

The Not-So-Fun Stuff

Sleep – Unlike many folks who are getting more during this pandemic, I seem to be getting the same or a little less. I’ve stayed awake or woken up early to:

  • Wait for bread to rise
  • Watch crappy TV
  • Have extra time to myself
  • Incorporate some meditation and light exercise in the morning
  • Continue a meaningful conversation

Housework – Yes, this has been neglected. It’s not a complete mess but I find my energy is generally low and relegated to the basics: clean-ish clothes, keeping the dishwasher going, basic household cleaning and mess-reduction.

Thrifting/Spring Cleaning – Before COVID, this was somewhat of an exciting thing for me. I have a love of ridding my home of things that are no longer being used, but I have had zero passion for doing this. Maybe it will come back but I’m not feeling it right now.

Keeping On Top of School Emails/Kid-Related Activities/Home Learning – This has not gone great: I am averaging about 40-60% reading/responding to emails of this nature and I have relied on my children to be self-directed with their school as much as possible. I am endlessly grateful for their initiative, willingness and maturity. I am also thanking my lucky stars that my children are over the age of 10 and require less intensive support. And, yes, I do feel regret for not being more involved.

A Willow Tree Check-In

And how is Willow Tree Counselling doing? While I had a lot of plans to re-do systems that help run my practice, it didn’t originally occur to me that this work would be mostly related to basic operations and not growing new ideas.

My practice is an entity that needs regular nurturing now, more than ever. This has looked like:

  • Being there for my clients to the very best of my ability
  • Expressing daily gratitude for being able to work through this pandemic and having an income
  • Being grateful for my wonderful clients, including their willingness to adapt to video and phone counselling
  • Learning to counsel by video, something I have not done before; embracing this new experience whenever possible including the opportunity to enrich my skills
  • Problem-solving often-frustrating tech issues.
  • Incorporating client suggestions, whenever possible, about the switch to new technology
  • Renovating my home office to make it a cozy peaceful place for working in
  • Tapping into and communicating with the wider counselling community

Productivity Lessons Learned (So Far):

  • Activities that emotionally nourish me help me to tackle the ones that don’t.
  • Productivity does not equal self-worth (repeat like a mantra).
  • My general productivity has dipped to about 60%, sometimes lower, and that’s OK. Living in COVID is stressful and nothing is business as usual.
  • COVD takes up a lot of mental space: it is an adjustment and intrusion that leaves less time to engage in pre-COVID activities, if these activities are even available to us.
  • Keep self-judgement in check. Relentless self-criticism depletes energy in a time we need it most.
  • There is a difference between productive activities and recreation that ‘produces’ a result, particularly when the intended result is relaxation.

I hope you are all healthy and well. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch if you are needing extra support, including resources, during this time.