Motivation & productivity in quarantine

I wrote this post about a month ago, and while some of these thoughts hold true, the whole situation gets more maddening by the day. But since we’re probably going to be in this state for awhile longer, I wanted to share my quarantine experience. Maybe you’ll find another way to look at it. -Adam

The luck and blessing of quarantine

Back in May, I retweeted Kathryn Vetter, which said: “If you’re ‘enjoying’ quarantine then you were burnt out pre-pandemic.” Having barely started emerging from an intense bout of burnout, I related to this hard. 

I am fortunate to maintain a steady, full-time job that allowed me to work from home for most of Quarantine (Part 1?). My wife unfortunately had to go on unemployment, which did make things tighter financially. But we are still able to survive.

I’m sure this is the case for other people, but the quarantine period allowed for a few blessings:

  • No commuting, so an extra ~5-6 hours a week
  • More steady schedule
  • Daily walks with the two of us + dog


I’m sure I’m not alone in having some trouble with motivation at times, but on the whole I think I was better adjusted and ready for the quarantine than most.

Some of this is personality–I’m an introvert and a homebody. But a lot of it is prior experience being my own boss at home, while writing my dissertation.

The year I worked on my dissertation wasn’t quarantine, but it was similar in the long chunks of time to devote to my work. I did have weekly meetings with my adviser, and taught class several days a week. But otherwise I could schedule my days as needed. Of course I goofed off here and there, but I still finished on time. 

This year I didn’t have one big goal like a dissertation. I had some smaller goals. At work, I still needed to help students see their projects through to the finish line, produce online events, and create “farewell” materials for our graduates. On the personal side, I had several projects in progress that I wanted to finish before baby arrives in the fall.


There are so many tips and tricks out there for remaining productive. I have used the Pomodoro Technique in the past but didn’t use it this year. If you don’t know, it’s basically work hard for 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. Repeat and eventually take a longer break.

I still use the Pomodoro Technique subliminally, allowing myself frequent short breathers. It’s more about not allowing long breaks than never taking breaks at all. But taking frequent breaks (like 2 or 3 an hour) keeps me chugging along all day. Just don’t turn on Netflix for a “short” episode!

Working at home can lead some people to working all the time. I was surprised to see work emails sent at 9 or 10pm. Granted, some of my colleagues were juggling childcare and home-schooling duties. But I’ve heard from others that work hours just kept creeping.

Since I’ve burned myself out at my previous job (which did not have clear boundaries), I’ve been very strict about my work-life balance. My office has a team meeting at 9am every day, and I definitely turned off Outlook by 4 or 5pm. I didn’t try to force any more out of myself than I could, and guess what? I still got everything done.

Personal Development

One of my “breaks” was using DuoLingo. I’m slowly re-learning Spanish, and that has been a nice 5-10 minute break, either just after lunch before I really get into things, or mid-afternoon.

The daily walks with my wife and our dog helped a lot, too. While some people gained weight from eating take-out, I’ve lost a few pounds. We’ve cooked 99% of our meals and the daily walk (plus daily choice of yoga, kettlebells, or yard work) has definitely helped!

The lack of a commute gave me some extra time to pursue personal projects. I finished a rough draft of my book, remixed an album, and finished writing and recording another. Getting these knocked out fueled my energy and productivity.


I know not everyone has had the same experience during the pandemic shutdowns. I recognize I’ve been lucky, and having lived through some precarious years working odd jobs, I feel for those scraping by on unemployment. 

This is not a blog saying “why haven’t you been productive, you lazy slob!” What I am trying to show is how I harnessed this time for personal enrichment. I stayed productive without going crazy about it. Best wishes to you as you find your way through These Uncertain Times.

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