Social media has been a surprisingly fantastic tool for staying connected during this time of lockdown. Once a source of distraction and comparison, it is now the place that we can feel seen, felt, and not so alone. One thing I have noticed while keeping up with friends and accounts that inspire me is the incredible surge of “quarantine projects.” Baking bread from scratch, building compost bins, reorganizing the garage, finally writing a book—now that there is time, why not spend it getting to the things that always seem to get put off?
I’ve asked this often, and it seems like a good time to ask it again; how is all the To-Doing going?
A recent New York Times article addressed the “project obsession” that has taken over as our lives have moved indoors and how people are actually finding it harder and harder to get things done.
“It’s tough enough to be productive in the best of times, let alone when we’re in a global crisis,” said Chris Bailey, a productivity consultant and the author of “Hyperfocus: How to Manage Your Attention in a World of Distraction.” “The idea that we have so much time available during the day now is fantastic, but these days it’s the opposite of a luxury. We’re home because we have to be home, and we have much less attention because we’re living through so much.”
He’s right. There will be no awards for who “quarantined the best,” and while Shakespeare may have written King Lear while he was isolating from bubonic plague, he wasn’t also attending Zoom meetings or homeschooling his children. The point I’m making here is you can let yourself off the hook, and if you genuinely desire to be productive during this time, I’ll offer you the immortal words of Duke Ellington:
I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.
Let’s say I told you that you have until the end of the summer to finish your home improvement projects, how motivated would you be? That seems like a lot of time, right?
How about if I said, you have until August 1st at 9:00 am to get every single thing you aim to complete, perfectly finished. It still feels doable, but I would bet that a majority of all that work—the work that you’ve waited to have all this time to be able to complete—would all get magically done the week before your deadline.
Now, I am certainly not saying that everyone is procrastinating, and I am definitely not saying that you should give up on setting goals. In fact, there has never been a better time to focus on and set goals that inspire you.
Powerfully Declare Your Goal
If you want to do something solely because you think that you should be productive, your results are likely to be as mixed as your intentions. Remember, it’s okay not to be productive during this time. However, if you are feeling an impulse to complete something, declare it powerfully because according to science, goal-setting has a profound effect on our self-identity. Our brains can’t distinguish between what we want and what we have, and as we set a goal, our brains integrate this goal into our reality.
If we haven’t completed the goal, it creates a consistent experience of tension that drives us toward achieving this burgeoning self-image. This also explains why, if we set lukewarm goals, that motivating tension likely won’t be there. So set a goal that you are deeply excited about.
Use a To-Be List
What goal did you set? Do you want to plant a beautiful garden in your yard? Do you want to write a screenplay? Do you want to renovate your bathroom? Whatever it may be, now that you’re clear, it’s time to bring to that new self-image to life by asking yourself who you would have to be to achieve this goal. In order to achieve our goals, it is vital that we act in a way that creates an environment in which we can succeed. Your choices and your priorities dictate your success and this is why it is important to create a To-Be List before you create a To-Do List. For example, if you desire to be a writer, then your To-Be List should say “writer,” and your To-Do List should say “write.”
Give Yourself a Deadline… Or Five
The magic of deadlines is explained to some extent by the Yerkes-Dodson law. This law states that a person’s performance increases as their arousal increases, but only up to a point, after which performance starts to suffer as the person becomes overwhelmed or distracted. We can take “arousal” here to have the same meaning as the tension created by setting the goal. The more tension you feel, the more you are motivated to complete your tasks until that tension becomes too high.
So why not set a handful of deadlines? Instead of “I want to have my garden completed on X date,” your list of deadlines can look like this:
Deadline 1: Plan out a full garden layout
Deadline 2: Build all garden boxes
Deadline 3: Have all seeds, soil, equipment, and supplies
– start seedlings inside
Deadline 4: Prepare the location and soil properly
Deadline 5: Plant all vegetables
Each deadline keeps you inspired, and as you accomplish one, you build the confidence and momentum to continue onto the next one. Once all of your smaller deadlines are complete, your project is finished, and you are left feeling fulfilled.
Just because we are quarantined and going through an exceptionally challenging moment in time, does not mean that we are suddenly without purpose. Our purpose endures through all things, and you can still be who you are meant to be right now. You can still reveal your purpose.
We owe it to ourselves to spend as much of our free time creating things and experiences that bring us joy. The more joy that can be cultivated in times of darkness, the more Light we are bringing to ourselves, our loved ones, and the world. No matter what you do during quarantine, whether it is productive or not, let it be soaked through with joy and love. If it doesn’t bring more joy, and if it isn’t essential, allow yourself to release it. If it brings you joy and is possible, you owe it to yourself to see it through.
What are you creating right now? What is your vision? Share your projects, to-be lists, and deadlines, and let’s support and inspire each other.