The Current

Pandemic fuelling productivity shaming, but 'now might be the time to actually scale down,' says journalist

Shakespeare may have written King Lear while in quarantine, but according to a panel on The Current, one shouldn’t feel pressured to make social distancing productive.

We had a 'pandemic of overwork' long before COVID-19, says Nick Zarzycki

Many people will need to work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters)

Read Story Transcript

While it may have been intended to be motivational, a tweet about Shakespeare writing the tragedy King Lear while in quarantine was met with backlash, with critics saying it shamed people into overworking at a time when health should be paramount. 

Instead of using pandemic-induced downtime to accomplish something significant or make it big yourself, some people say we should be more concerned with helping one another.

"I think people who see the plague like a commercial opportunity are horrible people and that they should calm down and try sleeping more," freelance journalist Nick Zarzycki told Matt Galloway, host of The Current.

"If you aren't in a position where you have to hustle to literally survive, now might be the time to actually scale down," he said. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in mass layoffs, economic standstill and thousands of deaths. Around the world, politicians and health officials have urged people to stay home whenever possible to avoid spreading the virus. 

A 'pandemic of overwork'

"I think we've been at a pandemic of overwork and productivity shaming for a long time and now might be a good opportunity to re-evaluate," Zarzycki said. 

Nick Zarzycki is a freelance journalist and tennis writer. (Courtesy Nick Zarzycki)

He said hustle porn — a fetishization of working long hours, often to the point of exhaustion — drives overworking by guilting people into productivity rather than inspiring them. 

"It's weird because people who actually work super demanding, life-saving jobs … when they have to work really long hours, they do. You don't usually find them bragging about it. They're exhausted," he said.

"People who brag about how busy they are and the number of hours they work a week usually don't have anything else to brag about."

Be productive by helping others

Amanda Armstrong, a speaker, entrepreneur and career coach, said it's more important to brag about the good one is doing than the amount of hours they put in or the profits they make. 

She said she supports being adaptive and productive during these difficult times, but not in the way some people might think. 

Amanda Armstrong is a social entrepreneur, a career coach, small business consultant and speaker. (Courtesy Amanda Armstrong)

"I definitely think that in the corporate world, there are a lot of people that are out hustling a little too hard to the point where it's affecting their health, their mental health, their family relationships, et cetera," she said. 

"When we're talking about being productive, I'm talking about being productive with things that are going to help other people and are going to help the world."

If that's what someone is doing, now's maybe not the time to slow down, Armstrong said. 

Zarzycki said he supports people making positive opportunities out of negative situations.

"But don't feel shamed into doing something that you don't think is productive unless you're literally saving lives. I don't think overextending yourself, under-sleeping, overworking, yourself is a particularly responsible thing to do right now," he said.

Most people 'just trying to get through each day': writer

As for the bard and King Lear? Andrew Dickson, culture writer and the author of The Globe Guide to Shakespeare, said it's "fairly likely that Shakespeare did use his quarantine time to write the greatest tragedy of all time."

That being said, Dickson said he's not supportive of using Shakespeare to shame people who are social distancing. 

Writer and journalist Andrew Dickson is the author of The Globe Guide to Shakespeare. (Sarah Lee)

"Shakespeare would not have seen quarantine through the plague as a positive experience," he said. 

"I mean, most of us, you know, it'll be great if we learn Spanish or how to play the guitar properly or indeed write a play if we want to write a play. But I think most of us are just trying to get through each day only." 

Written by Justin Chandler. Produced by Caro Rolando.

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