How can I be productive despite pandemic-related depression & children?
October 16, 2020 4:01 PM   Subscribe

My productivity at work has slipped greatly since March 2020, and has worsened in the last month. I'm wfh in a role that involves moving pixels and data around. Help me come up with strategies to turn it around.

I have worked from home since March 2020, as required by my employer. I have two fairly small children and a partner who primarily cares for them while I work. The children are not in childcare due to coronavirus-related concerns.

The thing is, despite having the good fortune of still having a job and having a partner to care for our kids, I am becoming pretty depressed. I think it is partly because I never have to go anywhere and am unable to socialize much due to coronavirus. Also, as with all parents at this time, we have an extreme lack of free time. I'm pretty much either working or caring for children, without much 'me' time.

TO top it off, due to distancing, I am now doing some boring tasks at work as my primary tech-related work is more on hold. I am grateful to have a job! Yet I'm doing a lot of boring mindless work with a lot of clicks on this and that, not much challenge. Despite this, I am procrastinating due to the dull nature of the work.

I know what I should do! Take the initiative to start a new, interesting project using my skills. But instead I sit in a dark attic procrastinating and feeling gloomy and low-energy.

DO you have suggestions for how to break out of this cycle? I am looking into, at least, taking on some childcare during the day so I have a reason to get out. This would mean that I would start work earlier, and have a long mid-day break.
posted by dog-eared paperback to Health & Fitness (8 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
I am really depressed too. I am in a similar situation except I have been working from home for almost 10 years. The depression and anxiety is real, and they limit your activities and productivity like many other illnesses.

Maybe consider you can’t be more productive. That’s ok. I can’t be more productive. The anxiety is too much for me. Even if your boss doesn’t like it, I won’t judge you for not being 100% during a pandemic. Even 60% is amazing.

What worked for me to dull the pain was to find an outlet for my anxious energy. I built an Amateur Radio station and am trying to talk to 100 countries. Rather than doom scroll when I feel bad at work, I go play radio for 15 minutes and come back at least able to handle the next hour or two.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 4:24 PM on October 16 [11 favorites]


Antidepressants can help even if there are legit situational reasons to feel depressed - might be worth talking to your doctor.
posted by songs about trains at 6:10 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]


I personally think that the dull nature of work is a red herring here and the real issue is your limited time to recharge. I know that I often start phoning it in when I really really need a break. I recently read an article that suggested that we need to create space for daily breaks, weekly breaks, and monthly breaks. I would talk to your partner and see about how you can create a system where you each get breaks everyday, week, and month. For example, my partner handles 730pm-930pm childcare each day. He gets a break after work and is also free past 930pm (he’s a night owl). We also split the weekend so each person is on childcare duty only on Saturday or Sunday & the other day is for them. We haven’t worked out the monthly break yet. The biggest flaw in this system is that it leaves very little time for the two of us to connect. We try to talk everyday for 15 min once the kid is asleep. Because that’s the other thing I’d recommend to recharge: focused connection time with your partner.
posted by CMcG at 6:21 PM on October 16 [12 favorites]


PS: just in case this wasn’t clear: I would definitely approach this conversation with the assumption that your partner also really really needs a break.
posted by CMcG at 6:23 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]


I am now doing some boring tasks at work as my primary tech-related work is more on hold. I am grateful to have a job! Yet I'm doing a lot of boring mindless work with a lot of clicks on this and that, not much challenge.

This sounds like what my job has turned into in recent months. I don't have children and I realize that makes my situation quite different from yours, but I know a lot about dull, monotonous work. What used to be a bland but decent office job with nice coworkers has turned into a mind-numbingly tedious and lonely WFH job. I have to force myself to do the work rather than wandering off to do just about anything else in my house. Sometimes I'll clean the toilet just to add some excitement to my work day.

You said you sit in a dark attic. Is there anything you can change about your environment to make it a more positive place to do boring work? Improve the lighting or move to a different room? Are there podcasts or certain kinds of music that you can enjoy listening to while working? Are there any teas that will help you feel energized and focused?

My suggestions sound mundane, but they are things that have helped me get through the last few months. The way I try to see it is, if your work requires so little thought that you can listen to other things while doing it, that can help it to feel a little more like "me time" and not just time spent doing mindless work. It works at least sometimes.
posted by wondermouse at 6:45 PM on October 16 [1 favorite]


Do you have any leave at all? Could you take a few days off? When I just started getting burned out of work and childcare non-stop, I took a week off to recharge. First half of the week was just tuning out work and doing fun things with my kid or napping. Second half was tidying the house and my office so it felt refreshed when I got back. It helped me feel more energized when I was back, including finding the energy to occasionally go on a walk or switch up my work routine on some days.
posted by inevitability at 8:13 PM on October 16 [5 favorites]


I never have to go anywhere and am unable to socialize much due to coronavirus. Also, as with all parents at this time, we have an extreme lack of free time. I'm pretty much either working or caring for children, without much 'me' time.

As you are discovering, this is not a sustainable situation. You and your partner need to sit down together and figure out how each of you can get some me time consistently as well as couple time after the kids are asleep, even if it is just watching funny videos for 15 minutes one night a week.

Humans crave variety. wondermouse has some suggestions above. A friend of mine is constantly striving to gameify his horrible job tasks and it helps him. Sometimes that helps me, sometimes not so much. This is a really, really hard time. If your boss seems happy with your performance, maybe that is good enough for now. CMcG and everyone, really, has some good advice. I do think the number one thing you can do for your work and your family is to carve out some time for yourself (and yeah, if you can take off some time from work, go for it). We need our capacity for joy, our energy, our whatever to be replenished from time to time. Sounds like you are running on fumes. Please, please take a break if at all possible to figure out a more sustainable system. Good luck!
posted by Bella Donna at 11:15 AM on October 17


Does your employer offer COVID FMLA? If so, you might be able to take up to 12 weeks off for childcare at 2/3 pay. I’m holding onto mine for true emergency (my child is high risk), but when my spouse was cruising toward flaming burnout I hoped he would take it himself as a sort of sabbatical.

That said, I feel you, I see you, and you are not alone. I am depressed and working from home with a distance learning 2nd grader and a burned out mostly work from home spouse, and it is so, so, so, so hard and depressing almost all of the time. I unfortunately am working on a stressful project so the work stress is amped up this month, but I hope to start taking more vacation in November and December once it is over.
posted by Maarika at 12:42 PM on October 17 [2 favorites]


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