That’s right. Prison. I said it.
If you used to derive joy at the intersection of helpfulness and productivity, like I did, then anything else feels bad. And let’s face it, working at home with kids during a pandemic is the opposite of that. So, unless we rethink productivity, we end up in a race against our pre-pandemic selves, we can’t win.
And It’s Uncomfortable
I prided myself on getting a LOT done each day pre-kids. And the thrill of moving through a mountain of to-dos sustained me. I used to believe that good days were productive days.
Organizations now hire me to help their employees, usually caregivers, cope through Covid. And during live sessions, the most frequent question parents ask, is how to reclaim productivity under Covid conditions.
We Need to Redefine What Productive Means
I relate, because I still struggle with this. No one wants to be ‘pandemic-productive.’ When the days feel edgeless and uncertain, they want something tangible from their time. They want to measure themselves against the way it was, pre-Covid or maybe even pre-kids.
But of course, we can’t go back.
During a recent live session, a Dad asked me how to help him fit in 8 hours of work-time at home with young kids. And I told him that is not the right goal. The hours don’t matter, the outcomes do.
Three Things to Consider if You’re Grappling with Productivity
1. Change the bar.
And yes, that might mean lowering it. But it typically means rethinking what a productive outcome is.
The standard of busy we hold ourselves to often makes true productivity more elusive. If you’re cranking through your inbox, sitting through every meeting and answering every text right away, it’s unlikely you have any space to create.
By that I mean, write presentations, solve the big problems you’re paid to solve, forge the relationship or enter the new market that would catapult your business to the next level.
Make your new ‘measure’ movement towards something that has a meaningful impact on your organization’s success. And it’s okay if it’s slow. During a pandemic, play the long game and forget about ‘winning’ the email race each day.
2. Take breaks.
I know, I know, no one wants to hear this. But our minds are not wired for this onslaught of information nor do we have time to process it. We’re all managing the mental load of Covid and the usual mental load at home. If you’re doom scrolling or finding yourself reading that same paragraph that you have read 5 times, get up. Take a walk. Meditate. Or better still, if it’s feasible, take a nap.
3. Set boundaries.
Whatever the fifty-five things were that you committed to, they aren’t getting done, because you’re constantly interrupted. Kids are beautiful but tend to be a wellspring of distractions.
My children consider me a utility. I’m not Mommy the worker, the business owner or the person. I’m the source of hugs, meals, baths and stories. And even if you have childcare, many of us still have to navigate remote learning and interact with our kids’ education throughout the day.
So, you may need to have a direct conversation with your manager or colleagues about priorities. And to limit projects and communications that aren’t mission critical for the foreseeable future. It might mean, getting aligned on what a realistic level of output is.
If it’s age appropriate, it’s okay to create new work-from-home expectations for your family. If you lack physical separation (like a room with a door) then create a time boundary (i.e., please wait until after 5:30 pm to approach me with Star Wars® memes.) Or put up a visual reminder for everyone in your home that you are ‘closed for household business’ during your meetings or deep work times.
Try to Embrace the Chaos
You can’t control the pandemic. But you can redefine productivity and give yourself grace during this surreal time. The pandemic has altered the career trajectory for many people and it’s scary to feel trapped in an impossible situation.
But if there’s any silver lining, it’s that I’ve seen organizations not only embrace but actively seek, new more flexible ways to work and support their employees.