On being … motivated?

By Ingrid Sapona

Being productive has always been important to me. Indeed, it’s kind of a coping strategy I use when I’m feeling bogged down or stressed. I find that if I stop and do some unrelated task, I feel better. The key is the task has to be something discrete and that has a definite ending. Cleaning (or some other household chore) is a great productivity salve. That hit of accomplishment renews my faith in my ability and is usually the motivation I need to resume whatever I was feeling anxious or incompetent about.

Being productive is also a way I hold myself accountable for the passage of time. It might not seem like much, but when I’m feeling tired or worn out at the end of the day, I think about the different things I accomplished. My internal dialog goes something like this: “Hmm… I did this, this, this, and that today… no wonder I’m tired!”

At the start of the pandemic none of us knew how long we’d be relegated to home. (I refuse to call it being “in lock down” – that’s always seemed overly dramatic to me.) But, here in Ontario, at the outset we were told the schools would be shut for three weeks, so that timeframe got me thinking about various projects that I might tackle. You know – the kind of things you put off because they’re going to be a bit messy or maybe emotionally draining.

I didn’t actually write out a list, but a number of things quickly came to mind. I started by doing the Marie Kondo thing with my closet and drawers. (Not physically hard, but deciding what sparks joy can certainly be emotionally draining!) Feeling buoyed by culling and tidying up my bedroom, I moved on to doing touch-up painting in the living room – areas that only I knew needed touching up but that I had been meaning to get to for about a year.

When it became clear that all you could say about the pandemic “sheltering in” timeframe was that it was definitely indefinite, I realized that to get through it, I’d have to ramp up my tried-and-true coping mechanism. I needed to put some thought into real projects that – in a year’s time – I could point to as being something I accomplished during the pandemic.

A couple weeks ago I took on what I saw as the LAST project on my COVID list. It was last on my list for good reason: because it was daunting and something I’d been mulling over for at least a half-dozen years. I decided to re-finish my bedroom furniture.

I got the courage to tackle that project after a friend mentioned she was refinishing her bedroom set. In awe, I picked her brain about the process. And, when I knew they were out, I popped over to see it for myself. (I have a key to their place and I had asked if it would be ok if I let myself in to see it.) It looked terrific and she insisted that it was easy and virtually “smell free”. I did some research (read: watched lots of videos about it) and I decided to try. Besides the fact that almost any treatment would be an improvement in the way the furniture looked, I figured that in the end I’d have something substantive to show for how I spent my time during the pandemic.

As it happened, mid-project, I had a funny email exchange with another friend. When I told him I was working on the last item on my COVID list, he seemed suitably impressed, but couldn’t pass up the chance to tease me by asking, “But what if COVID goes on for some time yet?” Without skipping a beat, I jokingly replied, “Well, there’s always something else on my to do list”.

After I sent that email, the truth of my response hit me. The furniture refinishing was not the last thing I’d been meaning to get to for some time. A project I had started a few months ago but put aside out of frustration immediately came to mind. Then another project I didn’t get to last summer popped into my head. Then another, and yet another. Suddenly my head was spinning with projects I’ve either started but not continued or have been too afraid to even try.

A week or so after that email exchange, my bedroom furniture was dry enough to put back into place and to refill with my clothes and stuff. I’m thrilled to report that not only does it look great, the project gave me a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. I’ll always remember it as one of the productive things that got me through the pandemic. But more importantly, it helped me realize that the only thing standing between me and those other daunting projects is the courage to stop putting them off.

None of us would have chosen to have life turned upside down by a pandemic. But I have to say, I’ve found it oddly motivating. And though not knowing how long it may go on is unsettling, that fact can be liberating too. After all, no reason to limit the items on your to-do list – just finish one and move on to the next…

© 2020 Ingrid Sapona


Post a Comment

<< Home