2020 was an unconventional year for all of us. The coronavirus forced us to change our lives in many ways — how we work, how we pass the time, how we hang out with friends and family.
There were differences both externally and internally, and everyone was affected differently.
For me, 2020 absolutely destroyed my productivity. Before last year, I thought that my ideal life was one where all I had was free time. After all, if I have 100% of my time under my control, then I can do what I want, right? I can do all of the writing and passion projects I previously wanted to but never had the time for.
Except that didn’t happen — quite the opposite, in fact.
I got practically nothing done. Looking at my Medium stats for example, I went from writing 47 articles in 2019 to just 12 in 2020.
Overall, a lot of things changed and got worse for me on both a personal and public level. It wasn’t fun, but it also taught me many important lessons about productivity, work, and myself.
Last year, I wrote an article on January 9th, the one year anniversary of when I started writing on Medium, detailing what I learned during my year on this site. With that time coming around now, I want to continue the tradition and take some time to reflect on what this year has taught me, for the benefit of all of you.
Lesson #1: The busier you are, the more you get done
As I mentioned in the introduction, my productivity collapsed once I was given full free reign of my time. This is why.
I got this nugget of wisdom from my parents, but generally the more you have to do, the more you’ll get done. That’s because when you have all the time in the world, there’s never any urgency to do the one thing you have to do right now, so it never gets done.
Think about how you spend an entire afternoon on the couch watching TV, knowing you have one single page of math homework to do, but you never get up to do it. Even though it’s so short and easy, it just doesn’t seem like a big enough deal.
So instead, 6 hours pass and all you do is binge a season of House of Cards before all of a sudden it’s time to go to bed and the homework still isn’t done.
On the flipside, when you have a packed schedule, there is far more urgency to do things, so more gets done. I noticed this during the summer months of quarantine, as then I had a summer job and Spanish classes at the same time.
6 days a week I would get up at 9 and until 4 I was in class, then at 5:30 it was time to work, and I didn’t get home until usually 8:30. At that point I would be tired, and have maybe 3 or 4 hours before I had to go to bed and repeat that cycle.
This is a far less intense schedule than some people have, but for me it was incredibly busy, especially in contrast to the previous freedom of quarantine.
Nearly my entire life was scheduled, and that meant I used the little free time I had more wisely. I didn’t just watch Netflix during my 1 free hour in the afternoon, I instead found work to do, which during that time was doing more independent Spanish study.
And during the evening after work, I also didn’t just watch movies, instead I found friends to hang out with, as I otherwise would’ve been socially starved.
Being busy meant I did more with my time, and overall I was happier with my life even if, on paper, it was further from the ideal than it had been at the beginning of quarantine.
Lesson #2: Routine is Everything
When it comes to getting things done, starting is always the hardest part. You have to make the concerted decision to stop doing whatever you’re doing and start working.
It’s never an easy barrier to break, and if you always have to make a conscious decision to work, there will be days when you fail.
That’s why routines are key. Routines break down the barrier to work, as they fit it right into your regular schedule. You have this time and place where you know it’s time to write, or time to work out, so you just do it. No thought, no struggling inside your own mind, it’s just done.
They make life so much easier, and keeping them intact was very hard during quarantine. A major reason for the falloff in my productivity was that my routines did collapse.
One thing about routines is that they’re all connected. If one falls, they all fall, because once your routines no longer work, you end up in a failure mindset. It feels like everything is going south, which causes you to stop your other routines, and then it all just stops working.
For me, this started with me stopping exercise. With that, then I stopped writing, then I stopped doing homework, and soon I could hardly do anything but mindlessly scroll YouTube and Instagram. The thought of doing any small amount of work at that point seemed excruciating.
Reestablishing those routines helped to bring me back this year, and eventually get back on Medium and start writing once more.
Routines matter a lot, and making sure they’re established will help you not just survive quarantine but also keep yourself moving and motivated once we return to normal life.
Lesson #3: Sometimes a break is necessary
I’ve so far blamed my drop in productivity and decreased article production on just my laziness and not being able to discipline with so much free time, but that’s not the entire picture.
Another big part of why I stopped was just that I wasn’t getting as much out of article writing. I still enjoyed it, don’t get me wrong, but I was starting to produce a lot of very similar articles, and I felt boxed into a certain writing niche. After writing articles for a year and a half, it seemed like I’d established myself and I was just writing what worked rather than experimenting.
The break, while initially caused by lack of discipline, also turned into a helpful way for me to disconnect a bit.
I was able to examine the situation from the outside and realize that my writing had gotten blocked off, partially because I myself had gotten blocked off. My interests had become limited, so I let myself explore more.
I developed new interests, such as football and learning languages, and I dedicated myself to working harder with my extracurriculars in school (what was left of them online, at least).
I became a more well-rounded person, and this allowed me to return to writing with more to say.
Everything wasn’t magically fixed, but I added some new tools and topics to my arsenal, and had an increased awareness of myself. I now know when I need to take a step back and recalibrate what I’m doing, and I wouldn’t have gotten that otherwise.
Everyone can benefit from this in some form or another. If we all do what I did, and having some time to step away, even if just briefly, can be incredibly beneficial.
Lesson #4: Medium is an echo chamber
After having spent years reading and writing articles on Medium, my mindset started to change a lot from it. I developed a very singular picture of the way the world works and how people think, because on Medium certain ways of thinking seem to prevail in terms of popularity.
This warp wasn’t as severe as it could’ve been, but separating myself from Medium for some time did give me the chance to break out from that. I was able to consume content from other places, and realize that there is more intellectual diversity and less sheep-like behavior than I had thought.
Now, this isn’t to say that Medium is bad because it’s an echo chamber. Any social media network or publication becomes an echo chamber if it’s all you consume, so the primary lesson from this is that you need to diversify your social media diet.
You shouldn’t only read Medium, just like how you shouldn’t only use Twitter or only watch InfoWars or only read the New York Times. Diversity in sources of information and perspectives is vital to not developing an incorrect view of the world.
With everything said and done, 2020 has not been a straight line. For me it was a year where a lot of things didn’t go right, and from that I had to learn a lot of lessons.
Hopefully the knowledge I gained can be helpful. Hopefully you can understand your own productivity and life better, learn to be someone who gets work done, has a full perspective, and knows their own limitations.
I will continue forward with these lessons, but I still have much to learn. My second year on Medium taught me things I never would’ve expected after my first, and this year will likely bring the same. It has been a great journey so far, and I look forward to continuing it here.