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Stop trying to be productive 24/7. Do this instead.




If you are a “non-essential” worker, you are sheltering at home. Many of you are working remotely. Some of you are laid off or working reduced hours. Regardless, you suddenly have massive amounts of free time that used to be taken up by commuting, long office hours, restaurant meals and time with friends.

When the stay at home orders came out I made a list of 105 extra things I could get done “right away”.. Cleaning out the closet filled with things unused for the past 10 years. Finally painting all of the walls in the house. Organizing my electronic files. Purging my paper ones. Finishing that book. After the first week, I put the list away and concentrated on getting through each day the best I could.

Our Facebook feeds and the internet are encouraging us to be more productive. Providing tips and strategies to achieve more, use this extra time to accomplish tasks and stay focused.

It won’t work. Before you read any further take a nap. Seriously. If you are back, here is why being focused and productive is proving to be challenging and at times exhausting:

· Anxiety is a common complaint. It is understandable and you are not alone. Whether you are anxious about money, your job, your health and/or the economy you have joined 77% of women and 61% of men reporting personal stress in a recent poll.

· Sleeplessness. Insomnia, difficulty falling asleep, middle of the night awakenings with a racing mind and difficulty falling back asleep are typical results of stress. Fewer hours of sleep equals increased anxiety causing a vicious circle.

· Difficulty focusing. Humans have evolved to focus our attention on threats. Handy when we could face a saber tooth tiger at any moment. Covid 19 threatens our health and wellbeing. We are consumed by reading and watching the news about it. Our brains can only do so much, so we become less able to concentrate. Making remote working, homeschooling children and video meetings exhausting.

· Forgetfulness. This is not knowing where you put your keys x 1000. We are having problems remembering and managing relevant information. These tasks are called working memory and anxiety adversely affects such memory.

· Increased irritability and anger. Yes, cabin fever, challenges working with children underfoot, the closed gym and lack of options can be the cause. Anxiety also fuels these emotions and can create issues with productivity and our primary relationships.

· Absolutely everything takes more time. Tasks that you could do in an hour take several to complete. Everything has changed practically overnight. We are having to learn new ways of working, parenting, creating social contact and finishing essential errands. Our lack of focus and increased anxiety makes this particularly difficult.

· We are grieving what was. And scared about what is next. Uncertainty is making it difficult to plan or feel safe. It is way to easy to drift to a place of fear, concern and “what if.”

Here are some tips to being reasonably productive while remaining kind to yourself and reasonable in your expectations:

· Acknowledge that you are anxious, scared, uncertain and stressed. Share your feels with a trusted friend, family member or mental health specialist. Be conscious of breathing deeply several times a day. Engage in cardio exercise – walking outside or riding our bike – while following social distancing recommendations – jump on your treadmill if you have one, or go up and down steps.

· Create a schedule that is flexible and reasonable. Block off time not just for work, but also for taking a walk, having lunch with your family, doing an art project to unwind or a virtual yoga class. Be balanced and include what time you will be waking up and going to bed.

· Organize your workspace or office. Less clutter equals more productivity and a quieter mind.

· If you are working from home take breaks every 45 minutes or so. Get up, walk around, drink some water or do some easy stretching exercises.

· Do something creative. Doodle, grab that adult coloring book, use an IPad drawing app, start a quilt or create a vision board. When we focus our attention on something without expectation, our brain can get to work regulating our underlying anxiety.

· Remember social distancing does not mean social isolation. Check-in with neighbors, friends, and family. Set up virtual coffee or happy hour dates so you have something to look forward to for keeping connections strong.

· Focus on your priorities. Not everything is important right now. Evaluate what is of top importance and don’t be surprised if family time or self-care suddenly rivals the importance of completing a work related project.

· Be kind to yourself. Set reasonable expectations for yourself remembering that we are living through a time unlike any other. Stay present-centered – we don’t know what things will look like next week, month or year. We can only address today. Create a gratitude journal to remember to be grateful.

· Make a daily list that will move the needle forward at least a little for the things you reasonably want to accomplish.

· Make “good enough” an awesome outcome. We won’t be able to be perfect right now. The best outcome possible right now is perfect.

We will all get through this. I suspect that we will all undergo some change s and transformation as a result of the experience. Which is ultimately a good thing – we don’t grow nearly as much when things are easy. Be open, be grateful and be safe.


Our author is Megan Apple, founder of A Virtual Certainty (avirtualcertainty.com), and Co-Work Oberlin's Community Coordinator and Business Advisor.

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