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Staying Productive During the Pandemic
As we all continue quarantine, you’ve probably seen some aspirational quotes floating around about how this is the time to write that book, paint that painting, finish that hulking DIY project! While it’s good to stay productive because for many reasons, this article is not about writing the next classic or painting something that will hang in a museum someday.
Staying productive can be very beneficial to your mental well-being, especially if you’ve been laid off or you’ve felt your anxiety increase because we’re still stuck in a pandemic. If you have tried to remain productive and failed, do not fear, we’ve got some tried and true strategies to help you stay focused and creative, even if it feels like the world is on fire around you. If you’re looking to spark more creative energy, you can also check out our article about getting out of your comfort zone.
We’re also dealing with time feeling incredibly out of whack right now. You probably have days where it feels like the week slips away from you in seconds, and other times it feels like this will never end, and you will always be stuck in this space. If you’re wondering why it keeps going back and forth, here’s your answer.
It’s okay to want to produce things during the pandemic, but it’s also essential to give yourself a bit of grace and remember…We’re in the middle of a pandemic, if all you manage is to outline that next classic novel, well, you’re doing great!
There are tons of names for this kind of cycling. You could use the Pomodoro Technique. With this technique, you cycle productive time with break time, usually in 25/5 minute sessions, but it’s really up to you. If you’re struggling to focus, it’s okay to cut your productive time down to 15 minutes and up the break time to 10 minutes. An hour down the road, you are likely to have accomplished at least 30 minutes of productive work, which might have felt impossible without productivity cycling.
Another way to do this is block scheduling or timeboxing. For this method, you take a look at your day hour by hour and block out or ‘box” times when you want to be focused and times when you want to take a break or do household tasks. If you are consciously planning to take a break, it’s not really “off-task” behavior.
With either method, it’s important to remain flexible where you can. Sometimes things come up and we can’t keep our focus on a creative project. It’s okay to set it down and come back to it later when you have time to focus on it.
If you feel like you still aren’t sure where all your time is going, you can try an app like Rescue Time. This software tracks your productive and unproductive time, and each week it sends you an email telling you where your time went. If you feel like time is getting away from you, it’s a great way to look at what you’re doing when you sit down to work on something.
Humans are social creatures and most of us crave to be seen and acknowledged by others. An accountability buddy works with this concept. This strategy is pretty simple, find a friend who is willing to check in regularly with you. I’ve done check-ins every 30 minutes, or hourly, once a day or even once a week. You can use email, Slack, or Discord to check-in, whatever works best for you.
Here’s the basic structure for a check-in. My buddy and I establish when we’re going to check-in and then we share what we plan to work on in the meantime. Then we work, knowing that when this time is over, we will have to tell each other what we managed to accomplish.
When you check-in, you report what you managed to do during your work time. There will be times you check off everything on your list, and there will be times you barely got anything done. Be honest with your buddy. Hold each other accountable, but also remind each other that sometimes you need to rest to be productive.
Track Your Tasks
For me, there are few things as great as the dopamine hit I get from crossing a task off a list. There are a ton of methods you can use to track the tasks you want to finish. Half a decade ago, I used to write down what I wanted to accomplish on a sticky note each morning and cross it off as I went.
Eventually, I upgraded to bullet journaling. Sticky notes worked fine, but I threw them away once I was done and ended up having no reference to tasks I finished or tasks I wanted to repeat.
If you have a hard time keeping track of tasks and love to remove them from your list, bullet journaling is a great way to get yourself in the habit of writing down everything you need to do and organizing it. You can also get fancy with your journal spreads if you wish to, but I mostly just used boxes with the occasional sticker because I rarely had time to make an artistically please page spread.
You may find yourself opening a bunch of different tabs while you’re working, if this is the case, then an app like Momentum may be helpful for you. Momentum is a browser extension that displays a page where you can put what task you want to focus on and a to-do list, every time you open a new browser tab.
I recently moved to digital planning, which is easy if you own a tablet/stylus. You can by a pre-made PDF planner and get a notes app and go wild. Digital planning can be the perfect compromise between a fancy layout and something easy to put together. It’s also a space-saver because your planner lives on your tablet, so you don’t have to lug along your extra notebooks if you are travelling or working at a coffee shop (Oh, how we miss being able to do either of those things).