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The myth of more ‘free’ time during the pandemic — and how pressure to use it productively might hurt

On Monday, they came for me with sourdough starters.  

On Tuesday, with a body weight exercise. 

On Wednesday, it was signing up for a virtual yoga class. 

And on and on as the days turned into weeks and weeks into months, with jigsaw puzzles and tie-dye clothes — physical, creative and ambitious pursuits through every scroll. 

Throughout the waking hours, I am bombarded with social posts, advertisements and influence from friends and relations, that the time is nigh, that this is an opportunity I must seize, that the excess of “free” time I have been given during this global pandemic is a gift, and I must not squander it. 

They double down, saying that if we have ever complained about the lack of time for doing what we wanted and we’re not getting it done now, then we must not have wanted to do it all that much in the first place. If you can’t, in this time of crisis, manage to get fit, write a bestseller or completely overhaul the organization of your home, well, then, what exactly are you doing with yourself?   

A widely shared post on social media spreading the message that those not harnessing their time during the pandemic adequately had only themselves to blame has since found competition with this ‘edited’ version. (Instagram)

But here is the thing: between working from home and anxiously trying to keep tabs on people and the worldwide situation, I don’t seem to have any more free time than usual. 

Everyday tasks have begun to expand rather than contract. Things like grocery shopping, which I neglected to acquire any real skill in completing before, has now become a primary skill — and I am floundering. How am I supposed to gather the supplies for crafting and new recipe building when all I can seem to manage to do is panic-buy 10 over-ripe avocados before sprinting to my car in a mist of sanitizer spray? 

Sure, I have less to do on a weekend day, but now the days bleed together and it feels like I’m spending more time doing less. Before I can even consider what hobby to attempt, it’s Monday.

Where are the sourdough people getting their time from? From whom are they borrowing? Do they not obsessively refresh news websites and read think-pieces on the state of the world? Are they experts at multitasking? Have they finished all 11 seasons of Murder, She Wrote?  

I try to be as productive as them, but the puzzle I’ve started remains hilariously unsolved.  I’ve started to pull together my home life since I don’t have the escape of going to the office anymore, but that seems like a very basic step. I treat little things like vacuuming and taking out the garbage as small victories. 

Puzzle-mania has swept many of those feeling cooped up at home during the coronavirus pandemic. (Daniel Dalman)

For some, it might feel better to be as productive as possible, to stay busy. But for others, it may not be possible. 

We are told there are two options: fight or flight. Fight the problem or run from it with a ton of busy work. But maybe there is a third option, one we’ve chosen and feel bad about picking. Can’t we just freeze?  Simply stay still and quiet until this is over?

In the early days of isolation, I read about all the tips and tricks to get you through it as unscathed as possible. It was about setting up a routine that closely resembled your regular life: get up at the same time every day and wear your work clothes even to your home office; do all the things you would have regularly done minus some major events. 

However, as things have progressed, I hope that we have learned that there is more than one way to cope with things, and no one way of coping is more right than others. So, if it feels good to bake into oblivion, that is fine. But if you’re like me and if it feels right to do as little as possible to simply get by, that is OK too. We just have less to post online about.

This column is part of CBC’s Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.

Interested in writing for us? We accept pitches for opinion and point-of-view pieces from Saskatchewan residents who want to share their thoughts on the news of the day, issues affecting their community or who have a compelling personal story to share. No need to be a professional writer!

Read more about what we’re looking for here, then email sask-opinion-grp@cbc.ca with your idea.

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