This pandemic work-from-home sprint has become a marathon, with little relief in sight. If you feel you’ve fallen into a productivity slump, you’re not alone. Early on, experts reassured us that it’s OK to not be productive during a pandemic.
“We are going through a collective trauma experience,” productivity expert Racheal Cook told The Washington Post back in April. “Anxiety is up, depression is up. From a productivity standpoint, it’s challenging, because we’re navigating these huge emotional hurdles with an uncertainty that most of us have never really experienced in our lifetime.”
“Some of the time you feel you are ‘wasting’ is due to having to learn to do new things in new ways,” wrote Karen Nimmo, a clinical psychologist, also back in April. “You’re learning new routines; you have different challenges and distractions. Adapting to all that counts as work so give yourself a break — and time to upskill.”
Months later, we haven’t seemed to move forward much. So how do we make it work? Let’s look at what the experts are saying now—months later—about getting our groove back while still in crisis mode.
Look on the bright side
Research shows that 98% of us are interrupted at least a few times during out workday, and 73% of us feel the days fly by without feeling like we accomplished anything. And that was pre-pandemic.
While productivity may not look the same as it did when everyone was in the office, you can remind yourself that it wasn’t perfect then and it’s not fair to expect it to be perfect now. In fact, you may find that some things have improved.
In a worldwide poll conducted by Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at London Business School, 47% of managers revealed they believe productive collaboration seems stronger than before the pandemic.
“They talked about the positive impact of dismantling bureaucratic processes, using newfound digital skills, and unleashing the energy of shared goals,” she wrote. She offers advice on transforming this momentum into a sustainable model of productivity for three different types of workers in a recent article for MITSloan Management Review.
Focus your attention
Slack is pinging, the dog is barking, your current Zoom meeting is dragging on, a news flash appears outlining the next crisis for humanity. There’s no wonder we can’t manage our time and increase productivity these days.
“We’re hung up on the old-fashioned idea of managing time, but to live the lives we really want to live, what we actually need to master is managing our attention,” Maura Nevel Thomas, an Austin-based productivity speaker, trainer, and author, writes in her latest book Attention Management: How to Create Success and Gain Productivity—Every Day. She advocates for using productivity tools to be more efficient with tasks, but to also unplug regularly and resist the urge to multitask. She offers a roadmap on redirecting your attention during the pandemic here.
Understand your anxiety
Nimmo, the clinical psychologist we cited earlier, writes about anxiety often on her Medium page. Take a look at a recent post in which she lists symptoms of anxiety that you might brush off as simply being distracted.
“One of my kids told me this week she was over having to be resilient. Fair call. We all are,” Nimmo writes. The pressure to be chronically resilient right now—to make artfully crafted lemonade out of 2020’s lemons—can be a huge anxiety trigger. Instead, she offers realistic, practical ways to help reduce this pressure so you can focus better on important tasks—like organizing one drawer a day or making something you know is going to be bad, like a #nailedit cake or a structurally questionable birdhouse, to release physical and creative energy as well as the need be perfect, especially right now.
Now that there’s no clear end in sight for the new pandemic work world, it’s critical to rethink how to sustain your productivity in a work-from-home or hybrid model. It’s different. In some ways, it might be better (remind yourself of that). You may need to rethink how you work—and how you unplug from work—as well as what emotional support you need to keep going.
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