How to Stay Productive When the World Is on Fire

For many of us, the habit of doomscrolling crept up on us without our noticing. “So many of us massively increased our news intake in March, and then we realized that the only way we were going to be less anxious and stay sane was to start detaching from it,” Saunders explains.

“I unsubscribed from having the news sent to my email and have no phone alerts so that I wouldn’t see the news until I went and looked for it.” Saunders also reminds us to put the news in perspective: that while terrible things are indeed happening around us, all we can do is take whatever protective measures we can and look out for those closest to us. In short, do what you can and focus on what you can do—don’t overextend yourself.

Part of the solution is to practice a little self-compassion to push back that urge to always be in-the-know. “I try to remind myself that I’m doing the best job I can to be informed, especially about the topics I cover for my job,” Ho explains. “There’s a lot of information masquerading as news that I really don’t need to know. Finally, I try to focus on specific actions I can do, such as donating money, helping others, reminding myself of my real limits (time, energy, labor) and getting more sleep,” she says.

It’s also important to remember that not all the news is bad news. “I also create my own list of ‘positive headlines,’” Saunders says. “Every time something good happens, I make a specific note of it. For example, two friends who had been unemployed for a year or more found great jobs in the last few weeks. I added that to my phone note of ‘positive news.’ Two friends recently sold their homes for full price and were able to buy new homes they’re really excited about. That goes in the positive news. And so on. I try to make my brain specifically look for, record, and recall the good that is still happening right here, right now.”

Speaking of friends, now is a good time to spend a little extra time with them. Even if you can’t see them physically because they live far away or you’re self-isolating, video chat like Zoom, Hangouts, or FaceTime goes a long way towards making you feel less lonely and less likely to turn to social media for social connection. Many of us have Zoom fatigue at this point, but if you can trade a few work video calls for virtual happy hours with friends, they—and your mental health—will thank you.

Remember, You’re Doing Fine

Finally, just remember: You’re not just trying to be productive, you’re trying to be productive while there’s a global pandemic, while dodging the latest political uproar in government, during an election year in the US, in the middle of a modern civil rights movement, and amid a social reckoning on a variety of topics. That’s a lot going on, and a lot for anyone to think about and deal with. If you’ve been productive at all, whether it’s at work or just in your personal life, you deserve a pat on the back.

The goal of productivity is to get the things you have to get done finished so you can spend more time on the things you want to do. Don’t fall into the busy trap, where you judge your self-worth by how productive you are or how much you’ve contributed to your company or manager. We’re all just trying to keep our heads above water. I hope these tips will help you do the same.


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