Four ways to be productive in the worst of times aka in Covid-19

I started writing this article with a very serious tone around productivity and then quickly realized that there is so much out there already (both on productivity and in a boring tone).

Pre-covid, I remember reading so many opinion pieces on working from home. Many companies were divided on whether their employees were more or less productive. Jump to 2020, and either party no longer can pick or choose where they work from. But work from home isn’t the glorified vacation it’s thought to be.

I thought this would be the best time to pen this productivity article down as we are headed to the second wave in India so we are able to get a. better at managing our time and b. feel better about the work we do.

  1. The king of all: Zero inbox

Living at a zero inbox means that I have “attended” to all the fires or at least taken action. There’s something psychologically pleasing about seeing that you close your day at zero emails in your inbox. It provides a sense of completion, achievement and most of all closure to my day which was hard to find when I am working away from the team. 

There are three categories of emails at large:

Type A: For emails that need a response, this closes the matter.

Type B: For emails that need work, are deemed urgent – this forces to take an action

Type C: For emails to do with long term projects- this forces you to communicate the status of your project to the team even if work is delayed or happening on the side. But most of all, also keeps you accountable.

You just need 15 minutes to do this and here’s the guide to help you.

  1. Check yourself: the OKRs and Agile sprint model

Unless you were a grade obsessed teacher’s pet in high school like I was, these OKRs are just annoying tasks that make creativity go out the window. However, for complex projects, OKRs help re-establish the goal every week or every time you revisit your quarter/month or day. The deadline is actually favorable for the creative minds because it helps you formulate the below equation:-

Days I can procrastinate (X) +  Days I need to be productive to get it done (Y) = Sprint to achieve Goal (G)

Here’s an example of what my Objectives look like at the beginning of the quarter :

  1. Get this finance project ‘a-b-c’ completed by April 15th
  2. Hire and train someone to be the “next to me” so I can work on strategy
  3. Ensure the auditor answer are on the same page

Here’s what they really mean:-

  1. Get this finance project ‘a-b-c’started on April 14th & deliver something that looks like 15 days of work on April 15th!
  2. Hire and train someone to be the “next me” BUT it will take a year and I’ve fit this into this quarter cause I need to increase my bandwidth
  3. Eat some protein everyday cause you’ll be screaming at the auditor a lot

However, all jokes aside, what’s really key is that once you are working alone and away from the team, the tempo, rhythm and breathing the same values goes away. Covid-19 really pushed this on. We were all of a sudden away from the four people sitting across from us who helped develop a sense of camaraderie around the work we did. To be able to keep yourself going, you have to see deliverables and deliverables is what makes you confident, perceptive and conscious about the work you do. 

What’s worked for me is the 14-day sprint because I no longer worry about something that doesn’t exist for two weeks on my agenda. However, for longer-term projects too, if you give yourself time and break it down into smaller units, you have to only worry and solve for that one part which makes this work more gratifying.

3. Embody: Continue being a solution

When I started as a young analyst at my first job in the Valley, this was one of their mottos. It took me a while to understand what this means. Even in a pre-covid world, people did not want to hear problems of why something can’t be done. Every team member is solving for something and dealing with their own set of problem statements. So when, someone says statements such as “this can’t be done”, you can almost hear the frustrated collective sigh in the room. I knew I had re-wired myself 5 years hence on when the Suez canal had the ship stuck perpendicularly and I remember spending some time drawing and thinking about what could be a solution having no background in physics whatsoever.

Now, jump to the Covid-19 era where we are surrounded by just negative news around the world. This news isn’t limited to covid cases but also companies going out of business, layoffs, etc. The general sentiment is just to feel optimistic. This is the time to switch gears to being solution-oriented. Funnily enough, just training yourself to think in a solution-oriented manner is enough even if you don’t have a solution. This is because your optimism will definitely rub off on someone who will have an answer to the problem. 

You’d be wondering how this relates to productivity, but I think it’s quite simple. If you feel optimistic about your work, your productivity will automatically shoot up. This happens twenty- fold when people around you feel optimistic around you. So quick guide below:-

  • How to suddenly become an optimistic person in less than two minutes:

Instead of saying: “this can’t be done”

Say: “This couldn’t be done that way but I think it can this and this way”

  • How to suddenly become an optimistic person in less than two minutes and ALSO indispensable for any team:

Instead of saying: “this can’t be done”

Say: “This couldn’t be done that way but I think it can this and this way and I tried it and it didn’t work so I’m trying this now so we can succeed”.

4.  Work that energy off: Physically and Mentally

Who thought we’d ever miss our boring hour long commute to work. Remember commuting to work? Me neither. However, what that did for us is so many things all at once. It got us on our feet, reading in subways, burning calories, time to think alone, and listen to songs. All that has gone from the day which means we are one-hour less from some down time. 

It’s so important for everyone on a team to continue being healthy mentally and physically for productivity. You can easily lose sight of your day, month, even year and be feeling 15 lbs heavier, agitated, and in a poor mental space. The fact is that it is not the health that is bothering you, it’s lack of control. The fact that Covid-19 is dictating your days, months, years have you feeling low and restless about what is truly in your control?

What I have done below , is not tried to be one of those annoying people who say you have workout 2 hours and talk to a therapist but rather a guide for me to follow which is honestly simpler than most:

In a typical day:

  1. Eat 1 very healthy meal a day
  2. Practise just 15 mins of yoga at the start of the work-day
  3. Go for a walk/run/gym on alternate days for however long you want
  4. Call a friend(any) for 10 mins on alternate days

This is the easiest guide to get you started and moving. Each of these help you feel in control in tremendous ways. 

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Aparna Saxena

Aparna Saxena