Productivity in a Pandemic, Expectation vs. Reality

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Woman Working on Bed Perri Kersh Pandemic Productivity Advice Blog

Week 1: The internet was alive with Pinterest- and Instagram-worthy schedules. Overachievers shared ambitious home organizing projects, online workouts seemed fun and “Quarantini” recipes were all the rage.

Week 2: People looked at their toilet paper supply with some level of trepidation, yeast was the “must-have” ingredient, Victory Gardens were planted, and everyone realized they had put on four pounds since last week.

Week 3: What day is it? Is everything I need to buy available curbside? My kids realized that I’m not as smart as I thought I was. I’m totally over Zoom meetings.

Week 4: When will this end? There is no more normal. Can we pass/fail on everything? Stretchy pants forever.

As a productivity expert, I have lived by my calendar since college. I always know what time it is, I cross things off my to-do list like a boss, and I strategically set goals for the short term and well into the future. My family makes fun of me because I can tell them what I have going on in September … of 2021.

I now find myself completely adrift. I no longer set an alarm. Every day feels like a Sunday because there is an underlying sense of dread of what is to come. I haven’t opened my calendar in weeks, and I no longer wear a watch. Everything is canceled.

Some of this stems from the bleak reality that things will soon be overwhelmingly grim. With our eyes on Italy and New York, we worry about what next week might look, feel and sound like. There’s the feeling of being adrift because there is no shore to aim for. We have no idea when this ends. June? August? Next April? COVID-19 is an unknown that makes us all feel uneasy. It’s hard to schedule practically anything. If the NFL can’t figure out its schedule, how can we expect ourselves to? How do you get things done when there are no more calendars, deadlines or even to-do lists?

I’ll share a few ideas:

Go easy on yourself. The old race to the finish line, get 10 things done, “I win a medal for being busiest” days are over. We’re all just trying to get through. My new mantra is “give me grace” … go easy on yourself and set low expectations.

Get back to paper. I’ve always loved my paper calendar, but even that is too much for me right now. I now keep a simple spiral notebook handy and jot down two to three things I expect to get done each day. Some days it’s just one thing, like, “get dressed,” or “go for a walk,” or “cook one meal.” Setting the bar low means I’m not setting myself up for disappointment.

Every day feels like a week, and every week feels like a month. Set yourself up for success by taking things slow and just going day by day. Long-range planning (currently defined as next week) is impossible, so don’t try.

If you’re working from home, taking care of your family and educating your child(ren) full time … all I can say is, “God bless you.” These are not normal times, and you cannot expect yourself to do all, or any, of this well. This is not the time to be an overachiever.

Be yourself. If you weren’t into baking before the outbreak, don’t go out searching for yeast. I honestly wouldn’t know what to do with yeast if I found it. If you’re not a master gardener, you don’t have to start tilling soil and attempt to grow a whole salad’s worth of produce. Read, watch TV, bake, make music, make art, cook, grow, clean … stay in your lane and do what you know and love.

These times are challenging enough as is. Many people are trying to stay employed or are dealing with unemployment on top of worrying about their health or the health of a loved one. Setting an artificial bar for productivity right now just adds stress on top of stress. Go easy on yourself. Give yourself a gold star for just being. Seek out gratitude and thank those around you who are holding us all together. We don’t know when this will be over, so every day can be a productivity win no matter what!

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Amanda MacLaren

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