Ask Doist: How Is Anyone Being Productive Right Now?

A reader asks about striving towards long-term goals in the face of an uncertain future

Illustration by Margarida Mouta

Ask Doist is a regular column answering real readers’ questions about work and life, from the philosophical to the practical. Got a question? Email us at

I would like to ask you guys how it has been for you to keep productive in spite of the times we are living in and the sensation that there is nothing really happening out there? What should anyone be focusing on right now? 

 I feel that one of the biggest struggles for everyone nowadays is to reorient ourselves toward our goals, because everything seems to have changed so much and the long-term is not really something easy to visualize anymore.

We understand all too well the challenge of staying productive, focused, and motivated in the middle of so much uncertainty. In the face of an ongoing pandemic, it’s tough to align ourselves toward the future when what’s ahead feels unpredictable. Everyone’s approach is different and what’s helpful for one person might not be for another. I decided to open up your question to members of the Doist Team, asking them “How have you stayed productive this year?”

I received quite a few responses, so buckle in for a longer read or skim through to find the response that most resonates with you. 

From Stephen Barkan, our Marketing Designer:

It’s important to remember that we are not our work or the things we produce. For most people it is crucial to be productive for the sake of their paycheck and sustenance but it is not crucial for the sake of their value as a human. If it especially feels like there isn’t a point to things now, we can remember that there never really was one anyway. Recalling this helps me keep things in perspective and not get too existential about how I spend my days.

It’s been helpful for me to find things in my life outside of being productive that bring me joy so being fulfilled at work isn’t the only way I can find happiness. Lately, that has been reading books about topics I’m curious about, doing lots of yoga, and cooking. This way, even if I have an unproductive or demoralizing day at work I still can find happiness and peace in other aspects of the day.

My larger belief is that maybe it’s okay to not be very productive right now.

From Jackie Ortiz, our Community Manager:

Focus on prioritizing balance and your own well-being as much as possible. It’s been easy to free fall into the anxiety-inducing “what ifs” and expectations of our own productivity during times of uncertainty. For me, it’s been a day-to-day practice of listening to what I need in order to tackle that day’s work as productively as possible (and accepting that my productivity will ebb & flow). That’s manifested itself in many ways: a non-negotiable hour of solitude in the morning, calling a friend, or an impromptu trip to buy soy wax candles.

From Aer Parris, our Product Marketer:

This past year has been a really great chance for me to reexamine my values, my politics, and my priorities. It seems that many of us have faced similar tremblings in the foundations of our beliefs.

The values that I was raised on, namely individualism and capitalism, place an undue burden on the future––if I can just be more productive, I will be more worthy of happiness at a later date. Of course, a later date never comes, just more striving and more desire (and more suffering).

At the same time, it has become clear to me that the future of this planet (and thus my own personal future) will likely not be terribly bright. Thus it is not worthwhile for me to obsess about this kind of consumerist productivity that’s solely focused on an unpromised future.

This deeply pessimistic view of the next ten to twenty years has paradoxically freed me to be more present in the now. 

  • How can I show up today fully, for myself, my loved ones, and my community? 
  • How can I deprioritize things that are unimportant? 
  • How can I place care at the center of everything I do?

This restructuring of my mindset has allowed me to be more productive. By prioritizing the value that matters most to me––care––I can make sure I’m working on the things that matter most right now. And by sitting squarely in this moment, instead of hoping for an uncertain future, I can give my all to the task at hand. Tasks that I know are worthwhile, not for a future goal, but for the time being.

From Chase Warrington, our Head of Business Development:

Being kind to yourself is of the utmost importance right now. We are generally the harshest critics of ourselves, and it’s important during tough times to give yourself the same leeway you would give your best friend or a coworker. Expect a bit less of yourself if needed, and find ways to sprinkle some joy back into the process. t 

Re-prioritize happiness over focus, and then let the former take care of the latter in due time. 

From Rikke Lohse, our Support Specialist and Help Center Writer:

My advice is a bit counterintuitive: Prioritise doing activities where the only goal is enjoyment.

I’ve always struggled with doing things purely for enjoyment’s sake. I think this is true of most highly productive people; we like to think we’re always learning something or making something, even when we’re not at work. In the past that has impacted what I choose to read or watch, what new hobbies I decide to try out. This is fine when you still have other ways to “switch off” and enjoy yourself, like seeing friends, going to the cinema, going for a pub lunch on a Sunday.

But during lockdown it’s just not sustainable. Anyone who has struggled with anxiety can tell you that even on your best days your mind is constantly going. So if you keep putting pressure on yourself to be productive while simultaneously having the activities you enjoy taken away from you, your mind won’t ever get to take a break and you’ll end up with burnout.

Over the last year I’ve become much better at considering “what do I feel like doing with my free time”, rather than “what do I think I should be doing”.

The days where I’m the most productive at work––and where I feel the best mentally––are the ones where the night before I managed to find something that took me out of my own head for a few hours. Most of the time this isn’t something I would classify as a “productive” activity like learning a new skill, but rather something where the only thing I’m gaining from it is enjoyment, like rewatching a favourite show or reading a book I find exciting rather than educational.

From Amir Salihefendić, our Founder and CEO based in Chile:

I appreciate how the old stoics looked at uncertainty, like this quote from On the Shortness of Life by Seneca

“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today…The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”

From Neil Vidyarthi, our Senior Product Marketer:

It’s a tricky question, because productivity isn’t always the goal. But sometimes, it needs to be. On days where I need an energy boost, I always focus on the people I’m working for. For the family, for my fellow Doisters, for the people that use this app to stay sane. 

“What can I do to make someone’s life better?” 

We’re all connected, even now, and that can be a powerful motivating force.

Additionally, integrate your practices of self-motivation with rejuvenating non-productive time too. Unfortunately, browsing the web, playing games, and TV don’t quite do the trick. On the other hand, meditation works. Disconnecting is probably the most important thing to do to find some balance. 

From Christoph Krenn, our Software Developer:

Here’s a mix of practical and inspirational advice that I’ve found useful and may help you too. 


  1. Always remind yourself which events are in your control and which aren’t. Focus on the former.
  2. Reduce news consumption to a minimum, consume intentionally.
  3. To fill the vacuum of long-term plans gone awry, substitute them with long-term plans you can fully control.For instance, learn a skill the pandemic doesn’t have an effect on––focus on things you can read, take an online course, or practice at home.
  4. Practice the self-compassion break where you go through three distinct steps: mindfulness, common humanity, and self-kindness. 


I find myself often re-reading this letter from Seneca “On the futility of planning ahead”. It’s letter 101 in Volume 3 which can be downloaded for free here. Here’s one of my favorite parts:

“Therefore, my dear Lucilius, begin at once to live, and count

each separate day as a separate life. He who has thus prepared

himself, he whose daily life has been a rounded whole, is easy in

his mind; but those who live for hope alone find that the immediate future

always slips from their grasp and that greed steals along

in its place, and the fear of death, a curse which lays a curse upon

everything else.”

Everyone has their individual approach to navigating productivity in times of uncertainty, but there are also commonalities: mindfulness, self-compassion, and anchoring yourself in the core values that matter to you. We hope you’ll give yourself permission to re-think productivity and find goals that are less about striving and more about thriving.

Have you taken a totally different approach to productivity this year? Share the things you’ve found most helpful in the comments below and keep the crowdsourced wisdom coming.

Best of luck!

– Fadeke

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