The pandemic, productivity and the importance of doing sweet fuck all

The pandemic, productivity and the importance of doing sweet fuck all

Image by Eric Nopanen
Words By Arielle Richards

Guys, just chill.

While the argument “you don’t have to do shit this lockdown” has been highly popularised over the last five or so months, down here in Victoria we’re looking at another five weeks of the toughest stay at home mandates this country has ever seen.

Facing an isolation period stretching well into September, we thought the topic of pandemic productivity might be worth a redux.

Throughout this global pandemic, there has been a steady back and forth over two key movements, first and foremost being an emphasis on a new, lockdown-specific culture of “productivity”. That movement, ostensibly popularised by the pervasive “hustle culture” in the US, quickly trickled across the internet, promoting a skills renaissance of sorts.

We have seen, and many of us have felt, an impetus to master side projects during the so-called “free time” lockdown offers. Counteracting the iso-productivity narrative is a pushback which cries, Please stop telling me to get a hobby.

Now, there is nothing specifically wrong with trying your hand at mastering sourdough, TikTok dance routines, crochet, oil painting – or for that matter, giving up and surrendering the whole enterprise. But the popularity of “pandemic productivity” belies the chaotic effects toxic positivity can wreak on your mental health.

Carmel Pardy, operations lead at SANE Australia’s Help Centre, says that while it can be difficult to ignore the rampant toxic positivity and push to be productive on social media, it’s hugely important we allow ourselves the permission to just say, “it’s shit”, and to stay in bed all day – if that’s how we’re feeling.

“I think it’s actually really dangerous to keep putting this pressure on people to be productive. People are drawing on all internal resources at the moment just to manage and cope. And I think that we just need to have a ‘that’s good enough’ approach,” she says.

It’s difficult to find a balance during the ongoing lockdown. Many of us have been told all our lives to “stay positive” in times of calamity, and social media, the place where we are likely to be spending a lot of our time in iso, is often permeated with a “don’t worry, be happy” narrative.

Of course, we can allow ourselves to be grateful for the things we are grateful for, and we can feel happy if it’s how we are feeling. But the harm in toxic positivity is the pressure to suppress negative emotions, which can have a regressive effect on your mental health, and that of the people around you.

“Let’s lower our expectations, and let’s give ourselves permission to accept the situation,” says Pardy.

“Sometimes you just want to throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘This is crap, it’s awful!’ I think we have to give people permission to be able to say that rather than continuing to put that pressure on them.”

While the stage four stay at home mandates are necessary in this state’s fight to curb the virus, lockdown 2.0 is forecasted to have serious consequences on the mental health of Melburnians.

The Victorian government has announced it will inject $59.7 million into the state’s mental health services sector, to cope with a forecasted surge in demand. The ongoing effects on mental health in Victoria has been labelled the “second wave of the pandemic”, the true scope of which we are yet to see.

The Black Dog Institute has a wide variety of resources available for coping with coronavirus anxiety and stress, including an online clinic, MyCompass, a personalised self-help tool, and a free mental health and coronavirus webinar series.

SANE Australia provides over the phone and webchat counselling services from qualified mental health practitioners for people with complex mental health issues, in addition to an online forum for people with lived experiences to connect with one another.

Feeling guilty for having achieved nothing whilst feeling absolutely no motivation is completely normal, as is “isolation fatigue” – the possible reason for the exhaustion you’re experiencing, caused by the pure stress of life under COVID.

There has been a lot of talk about the importance of doing nothing – the Dutch call this “niksen”, if you weren’t already aware.

Many of us are experiencing different forms of grief, all of which can come on all at once. It’s important to remember that you’re not alone, and it’s ok to feel like pure shit.

This neoliberal idea of having “free time” in iso isn’t only false, it’s dangerous. While lockdown has stripped away all of the things which would usually occupy our days like travel, seeing friends and going out, we are more likely grieving the loss of those activities, rather than reveling in new-found time without them. Rather than “fill our free time”, those activities fulfil our lives.

Pardy says during isolation, we might have lost a very necessary rhythm.

“One of the things I think has been problematic is the lack of access to the world and the kind of incidental connection and interaction with others. I think we’ve been unaware of how much that actually stimulates us,” she says.

“I equate it to breathing in and out – we breathe in and we go out into the world, we get that stimulation, we get that routine and we get that fix of being among other humans. And then we come home and we rejuvenate and recharge our batteries. And that’s like breathing out. We don’t have that rhythm in isolation.”

Rather than really trying to fill our time with projects and the hustle, Pardy says it could be more useful to try and recreate an approachable internal routine. Even if it’s going outside, lying under a tree, looking at the sky and breathing, cooking one nice meal a week, or, particularly for young people, attending a weekly Zoom board game night.

“Humans thrive on routine and rhythm, and we haven’t been able to get a good rhythm nowadays. So if you can just do one thing, whether it’s to have a shower at the same time every day, or, read for ten minutes at the same time every day, just some small expectation. That can be enough,” Pardy says.

Small goals can help to get into a rhythm and give us something to look forward to, while not asking too much of ourselves. In lockdown, we don’t have to do anything if we don’t feel like it, and that’s more than ok.

SANE Help Centre

It’s a really difficult time right now. If you’re worried about your mental health (or someone else’s) SANE’s qualified mental health professionals can provide you with support, information and ideas about what to do next. The SANE Help Centre has counsellors available from 10am – 10pm, Monday to Friday on 1800 187 263 or via webchat or email.

SANE Forums

SANE Online Forums ( are completely free and anonymous, and are moderated by mental health professionals 24/7 to ensure users feel safe and are supported. Users can stay connected to others on two forums – one for people experiencing mental health issues, and one for carers, family or friends.

If you or someone you know is in need of support, please call SANE on 1800 187 263 anytime between 10am – 10pm, Monday to Friday.

Alternatively, you can call Lifeline on 13 11 14, MensLine Australia on 1300 789 978 or Headspace on 1800 650 890.