Productivity Tips for the Apocalypse

Joanell Serra
4 min readFeb 15, 2021


So, you aren’t being as productive as you had hoped during the apocalypse?”

This is literally what I say to clients who somehow feel they aren’t accomplishing enough.

If life was a video game, the initial world we had all been playing in dissolved in front of our eyes in early March. A new world appeared with all the avatar’s wearing masks and a host of new survival games: Instacart lottery; PPE procurement (bare fisted brawl); Corona ball bowling in which you are the pin and a favorite–Break out: freeing your ancient loved ones from the nursing home.

None of us knew the rules, had the right tools, or could find an accurate score card.

Overnight, we shifted our jobs, our health practices, our food supply, our connections. Many lost their livelihoods, others their health, or even worse, a loved one. All lost confidence in at least some of our leaders.

And then came the toxic positivity, “We can all learn a language while knitting masks! Zoom with loved ones, while creating immune boosting smoothies! On-line dating gone wild!”

We were told to treat it like camping/ a spiritual retreat/a bread baking marathon.

And so, every week, I get the calls from past clients who want to “come in,” (which is to say, get on a virtual video call) because they are distracted, and feel they are not accomplishing enough. I ask them:

Are you distracted by the racial oppression being examined publicly (finally) or the loss of your grandmother?

Are your thoughts tied up in a knot about the threat to our democracy or the rampant fires closing in on your town?

Are you feeling down in the dumps about your children’s broken education or the death of your judicial hero?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Look, I can write pages about the positive things that can happen during this time. And trust me, a lot of positive things are happening. We have engaged voters, growing awareness of racial disparities in healthcare and education, an enormous force of incredibly brave and resourceful fire fighters, an upspring of spiritual awareness and a commitment to taking better care of our planet.

But just for today, what I want to say to you friends, readers, clients, people I love and people I don’t, is Give Yourself A Break.

When we watched movies about the apocalypse, we weren’t thinking, as the actors ran for their lives from fire: Wait did they download their French lessons first? Before they fought off the mummies we didn’t wonder out loud– did anyone bring the starter yeast? As they built new societies underground, safe from the toxic air, no one was thinking, “I hope someone brought a copy of the great books”?

No, we were rivetted by those stories because the daily concerns were blown off. getting ahead at work, meeting a love-mate, decorating the breakfast nook — all became irrelevant. Everyone in the movie had one basic motivation: to survive.

We aren’t quite at the place of fighting zombies yet (actually, I am not sure, based on recent images on the news), but we do spend enormous energy during the pandemic surviving.

Do we have the masks, hand sanitizer, wet wipes and awareness before we leave the house? Where can we get food safely? How do we live without power for four days at a time, or where do we go when we are evacuated without being exposed to Covid? Those are the things we are considering actively in California.

That’s separate from: how do I see a doctor about lingering Covid consequences, or how to bury your dog if no-one will come to the house? How to hug a loved one with severe mental health issues when you can’t go to them, and how to support local businesses that you can’t enter?

Most of our problems are ultimately solve-able. But they are also exhausting.

This time will pass. We will gather and write and create and work too hard again. We will get jobs or get ahead in jobs. We will decorate the breakfast nook, badly. We will write poetry. We will help a student get into college and actually go to college.

But right now, in this pandemic, maybe survival means gathering our scraps of self-care?

Turn off the news. Run a bath. Wonder how Brad and Angelina’s kids are doing.

Accept macaroni and cheese as a health food.

Walk the dog and wave to someone from a distance.

Read a novel that will change no-one’s life.

Put extra ice cream in that insta-cart order.

Skip a rock on a body of water. Watch the ripples closely. Do it again.

Call your grandmother and tell her this too shall pass.

She will say, “I know.”

“Right,” you’ll say. “You know.”

She will back me up on this:

“Darling,” she’ll say, “Give yourself a break.”



Joanell Serra

Joanell Serra MFT . Writer/therapist/ consultant/social change maker/ bio/adoptive mom. The Vines We Planted debut novel. May 2018. (Wido)