In addition to your existing responsibilities, you’re probably also worried about the COVID-19 pandemic, social unrest, and the uncertainty of the future. It’s fair to say that feeling overwhelmed is the new normal. But, it’s okay not to be okay. You can still work.
Obviously, “not being okay right now” is going to interfere with your work. And, here’s where it becomes a vicious cycle. You can’t focus and fall behind — then it’s A LOT worse — and you’re even more anxious.
Here’s the thing though. It’s okay to not be okay right now. There’s a lot going in the world and you have every right to feel this way. At the same time, you can still be productive — even if it’s not at the level you’re accustomed to.
Clear your calendar.
When you have a minute, pull up your calendar and give it a look. Are there any tasks that could be delegated or deleted? Any upcoming meetings that could be rescheduled or replaced with a quick phone call? What about recurring events or commitments that no don’t fit into your schedule?
The point of this exercise is to clear the clutter from your calendar so that only your priorities are booked. The reason why this can be effective is that your day may not seem as overwhelming since there isn’t much left on your plate.
And, whatever is left can then be broken down into more manageable pieces. That makes getting started a whole lot easier.
Meet in the middle.
Sometimes we tend to get stuck in the linear trap. What exactly does this mean? Well, take writing a blog as an example. If you’re generating a top ten list you start with one and follow the sequence until ten.
But, sometimes when you’re stuck, that can be overwhelming. That’s why a writer friend suggested to Therese Borchard to start in the middle.
“There is less pressure in the middle,” explains Borchard in an Everyday Health article. “The beginning and the end are too weighted.”
“I’ve been using this wisdom not only when I am stuck as a writer,” Borchard adds. “But also when I’m paralyzed by the laundry, when the dishes chase me, when my cluttered desk scowls at me, when I can’t concentrate at work, when socializing is less enjoyable than a dental cleaning.” And, you can even apply it “to larger things, too: choosing a career, navigating a stagnant relationship, figuring how I’m supposed to parent.”
Why is this effective? Because life isn’t always linear. “As much as I want to place it between bookends, it’s messy and confusing, absurd and irrational,” states Borchard. “It lacks a beginning and an end, a straightforward path with an explanation” and is “full of questions with few answers.”
Lean into the wind.
Raymond DePaulo, M.D., author of Understanding Depression has a phrase to use whenever you’re trying to work while depressed: “You have to lean into the wind.”
What on Earth does this mean? Well, there are several ways to interrupt this phrase. But, personally, I think it’s about reminding yourself that this is temporary. And, more importantly, using these changing patterns to your advantage.
For example, when you’re in a good place and feeling uber-productive, get as much work out of the way. If you do happen to fall into a slump again, you’ll be ahead so that you won’t have that anxiety of falling behind.
On the flip side, when you’re feeling down, use that time to attend to yourself. Maybe engage in a little self-care, recite positive affirmations, or just take the day off.
Spruce up your workspace.
When was the last time you cleaned and organized your workspace? If you can’t recall, then right now is a great time to do so. After all, a tidy workspace saves you time, reduces stress, and can even fuel creativity.
And, while you’re at it, decorate and personalize your workspace as well. A study in The Journal of Environmental Psychology discovered that this can increase productivity and overall energy. Additionally, you may want to invest in a standing desk and ergonomic furniture.
Deactivate the “Me” centers of your brain through meditation.
What exactly is a “Me” center? Well, according to Rebecca Gladding M.D., this is “the part of the brain that constantly references back to you, your perspective and experiences.” It’s referred to this “because it processes information related to you, including when you are daydreaming, thinking about the future, reflecting on yourself, engaging in social interactions, inferring other people’s state of mind or feeling empathy for others.”
Since this is the default mode network (DMN) that’s responsible for mind-wandering and self-referential thoughts we want to turn this off. After all, it’s been found that mind-wandering is associated with being less happy, ruminating, and worrying about both the past and future.
Thankfully, meditation can deactivate these “Me” centers. As a result, this will help pull you back into the present and encourage you to focus on the task at hand.
Don’t believe the 8-hour workday lie.
Prior to social reformer Robert Owen calling for “eight hours labor, eight hours recreation, and eight hours rest,” factory workers put in a brutal 12 to 14 hours. While that’s definitely progress, this remains that standard for employees well over a century later. And, that’s not conducive to most modern gigs today.
“It’s all but impossible to actually work for eight hours a day in the jobs so many of us now have,” writes Lizzie Wade opines over at Wired. “Like most people writing hot takes and think pieces about productivity, I’m focusing on knowledge workers here—those of us who work at desks, mostly in front of computers, in offices or from home.”
Wade is right on. According to a study from Stanford, working long hours doesn’t make you more productive. In fact, once you’ve clocked in 55 hours per week, productivity plummets so much that it’s pointless to work any more.
So, I propose that you change that mindset. If you’re able to knock out your top priority for the day, some administrative work, and a video meeting in around 4-hours, I would say that you had a productive day. In other words, focus more on the quality of what you’re doing instead of the hours you’ve put in.
Phone a friend.
If you have someone that you trust a friend, family member, or colleague, call them up when you’re not at 100%. Mainly this is because talking can lead to catharsis. In turn, you feel a sense of relief and have cleared your head so that you can focus.
What’s more, talking to someone else gives you the opportunity to spitball ideas or solve a problem together. Even if you aren’t using these ideas at the moment, you can use them to steer you in the right direction. For example, if you’re struggling with fresh content for your business, you and a co-worker could at least develop a list of ideas to work from. They may not be developed just yet, but it’s a starting point.
Cut yourself some slack.
I can’t stress this enough if there was ever a time to be kind to yourself, it’s now. So what if you only worked for 4-hours or took an hour-long walk outside? Is it really the end of the world if you didn’t respond to an email today or cross-off all the items on your to-do list?
Give yourself a break here and do the best you can. Giving yourself a break may mean admitting that you’re not perfect. It’s about making yourself a priority and practicing self-kindness. And, it’s the perfect time to reevaluate your goals to make sure that they’re reasonable.
But like David Kessler says — “You don’t have to find a meaning.” Sometimes you just have to go through this “meaningful moment.” (I just watched David Kessler at a grief conference – Open to Hope. Amazing.)
Stop chasing productivity.
“Every waking moment of your life does not need to be optimized to make you a better, more profitable you,” says career coach Meghan Duffy. “Pandemic or otherwise, you have worth outside of your output.”
Personally, I’ve found that between the pandemic, social issues, and a lot more time to myself, that being included in the 48% of Americans who considered ourselves “workaholics” was no longer a priority. There are just more important things in life besides work.
In fact, I’ve cherished the moments of literally doing nothing as of late.
“Sometimes doing nothing, lounging on the couch and relaxing are great forms of self-care,” explains Elizabeth Beecroft, LMSW. That may sound counterproductive. But, having disconnecting and unplugging have done wonders for the mind, body, and soul.
Ask for help.
Finally, if you are truly struggling then please meet with a mental health professional. Since many of them provide online or phone sessions, it’s never been easier to fit a session into your busy schedule. Most importantly, you have someone to talk to and they can offer strategies to help you cope and manage your anxiety or stress.
Some of your productivity right now, in this current moment, may be taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself will mean that you can get back to your work.