Work Productivity During a Time of Crisis
Well, I will say it’s very odd to be writing about productivity at such an unproductive time. But as much as I would like to say to all my people, take the day off, and for sure wish I could take the day off myself, the world cannot stop because there’s a new catastrophe every day. Maintaining work (and learning) productivity in a crisis can feel a truly Herculean task.
So where does that leave us? Well, trying to find a font of productivity in the midst of absolute and utter chaos. Many of these will work for you, as they work for me. Some won’t work even under the best of circumstances. But if even one helps you get through the next few days, weeks, and months, it will be worth it.
My own pattern seems to be one highly productive day followed by one that is decidedly less so. As the year has gone by, I have had to jump into roles that I hadn’t done in years, and it a much more process-oriented way than I ever had before. Here are the ways I try to maintain productivity in a crisis.
On my MOST effective workdays, I do the following:
Create a #6Things List
This is 1 LARGE task, 2 MEDIUM tasks, and 3 SMALL tasks. The Branchers put these in Monday.com (our project management platform) in a checklist. The goal is to make us each accountable for what we accomplish, as most of our projects are dependent on one another. Note that things like returning emails, making quick phone calls, following up, or making edits do NOT make the cut as tasks. A general rule of thumb is anything that takes less than 10 minutes to complete is NOT worthy of the #6Things. That doesn’t mean they are not worthy of being written down or recorded…
Fill out my Google Tasks
Google Tasks is awesome. I love it and it has made a HUGE difference in my life. Firstly, we have a Stand-Up meeting every morning, where we go through our #6Things and each give feedback and help once another prioritize. That said, usually there are those little miscellaneous things people ask me to do. Follow up, email, bubble something, etc. These all go onto my Google Tasks list. I also snag my emails and add to my tasks list so I can easily refer to them as needed.
Carve Out NOT Appointments
I am constantly on calls. Like ALL. THE. TIME. And those calls are scheduled. Time is blocked for those calls, which means I focus only on those calls (especially now that I am always on video, eesh.) Unfortunately, I didn’t use to afford my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks the same courtesy. That was dumb. Now I make time on my own schedule to work on specific tasks from my #6Things list. I usually carve out the half-hour after morning standups and the lunch hour for miscellaneous Google Tasks stuff.
Follow the 52-17 Rule
Lots of people have time management tools they use. Working from home this past year, 52 minutes of work, followed by 17 minutes of non-work…erm works for me. In 17 minutes you can unload/load the dishwasher, pay a stack of bills, do ~20-40 squats/planks/lunges and pushups, do the laundry shuffle, shower, and get ready (no I don’t always do this first thing, sue me), take your doggo for a walk, do a pretty good yoga flow, read an in-depth article, whip up an easy meal, put away accumulated clutter, watch part of an impeachment trial and yes, doomscroll or online shop. I use my Google Home for this purpose, but I used to simply use the little singing iMac voice on the hour to remind me to take a minute (you can set it to every half-hour as well.)
3 Screens Make Me Better (sometimes)
I do a lot of writing, a LOT of research and need to approve a lot of work. Having three screens (one vertical) makes switching between these tasks much simpler than switching between a lot of tabs (I still have a lot of tabs open, SessionBuddy is great to control this.) While it’s not possible for everyone, most Branchers like to have at least two screens at their disposal, and I believe it saves the company both time and money. However, when I need to do a specific task for which focused writing is necessary, I move to another location and use my laptop and try to keep the open tabs to a minimum, allowing myself to go “heads down” to get completely lost/absorbed in a task.
Leveraging My Weaknesses
I lose my phone. A lot. Like epic phone losing master blaster over here. If I can’t find my phone, laptop, etc. I simply do not look for them. I allow them to stay wherever they are, so I am not distracted by texts/IMs/DMs/etc. Sometimes I also turn off notifications in order to have tunnel vision (which typically is NOT a strength. I also recognize when I need to handle a lot of small things in order to move on with my list. That can look like actually sending a flurry of emails, or simply adding these small irritants or needs to my task list.
Black Coffee and IF FTW
Like Vegans, Intermittent Fasters cannot help but talk about it. Guilty 🙂 Intermittent Fasting (IF) is the process of only eating within a specific window of time, only allowing water, black coffee, or unflavored tea. Adherents often speak to the benefits of focus that are a byproduct of NOT thinking about food during a significant portion of the workday. There is also something called Autophagy but IDK how that impacts me. All I know is that, keeping my stomach empty (save for water and coffee) for the majority of my workday, allows greater focus and concentration (and do NOT worry, I most definitely get enough calories during my eating window.)
Really Real Notes
None of my children can read the letters and notes I write to them. In fact, very few people can read my chicken scratch hand-writing BUT, I am a big believer that writing things down with a pen and paper helps me to remember them better. Sometimes I type important things to follow up on, but during the most important calls like a potential new client or a new project I am working on or a pivot, I take actual notes. Sometimes, I draw out concepts for my team (they LOVE it because I am even worse at drawing than I am at penmanship) in order to get my thoughts across. I tried using a Remarkable but in the end, I always go back to pen and paper (a good notebook is *chef’s kiss*)
Thoughts on Managing Distance Learning Productivity in a Crisis
I am by NO means an expert. For one, my kids are much older (one in his first year of high school and the other in his first year of college) so you can take these with a grain of salt. However, I have learned a few things about trying to manage distance learning while also trying to keep a company alive during a global pandemic.
Write Things Down
You may remember from your own transition to high school that it’s the first real time you’re meant to remember all the things from all the classes. We struggled with this in my home. Because my son was in an upstairs bedroom (because I am always on a call) he was not paying attention to assignments, taking notes or remembering obviously important things like notes. Now we date a sheet of paper at the beginning of the day and he has to write down three things his teacher says from EVERY class plus the assignment. This helps later on when we go through his day.
Pump Up The Volume
Although we tried to separate the learning environment from the work environment, it just wasn’t working. One thing my kiddo needs is a good example and some common sense in order to maintain his productivity in a crisis. Because his school doesn’t require the kids to be on video, it’s very easy for an imaginative kid to just turn down the volume and let his mind wander. By bringing him down to where I am (and my judicious use of headsets) I can tell him to turn up the volume so I can point out when he needs to pay extra attention and hear things the teacher is saying. While this isn’t sustainable, it’s necessary for him at the moment.
Go Over The Day
Once school is out, he gets 15 minutes of screen time, and then it’s time to go over his notes, the assignments tab (of the seven websites he needs to collate his homework and notes) and plan out how and when we’re going to get them done. I also ask (and I always have, and they’ve always hated it) “What were your learns?” Knowing that they have to say what they learned that day does help reinforce some things. (This is also helpful when you’re examining your own habits! Kids have a way of helping us be more productive in a crisis.)
NO. PHONE. DUH!
Look most adults can’t stay off their phone during the workday. Asking our little digital natives to do so is bonkers. His phone stays right next to me for the entire day, and he simply cannot have it if there is work to do. Does he hate it? Yes. Did I get attitude for it? Yes. Is he over it and dealing with it now? Yes.
I co-parent with my ex-husband (who is also a partner in Red Branch Media). We work together to remind one another and keep everyone accountable for overdue assignments and focus on important tasks (like scholarship deadlines for our older son.) We have a family calendar that lists out where the boys will be, what their school schedules are and more. I’ve recently read about parents using Trello, Asana, or other task management platforms to manage family meetings and needs during this incredibly chaotic time. We may look into how Monday.com can help with managing family uh strategy?! In addition, we sometimes enlist the help of his older brother to help with homework that is frankly, out of our league. His father and I divide and conquer (I take English, History, and Science, while Jeremy is responsible for Math and German.)
Keep in mind that these may not work for you and that is OKAY. At Red Branch Media we’re trying really hard to process all this information and attempt to keep productivity in a crisis, and the same goes for every global citizen, every kid, every parent. Just…all of us. Be kind to yourself. TAKE PTO. Learn before you get there what your breaking point is.