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The Real Reason Your Productivity is Suffering and 5 Things to Do About It

If we're being honest with ourselves, most of us have seen our productivity go in the dumper and that is leading to a lot of stress and anxiety to what is already a stressful situation. Many of us will point to apparent reasons: threats to health, the economic situation, changes to income, changes to the way you do your work, political instability, kids at home (if you have any), etc. That being said, I think it's more helpful to go meta on this topic and understand why that effects your ability to produce work as efficiently. The meta reason is this: your previous level of productivity was based on many peripheral aspects of your life being far more predictable than they are right now. It's as simple as supply and demand of your physical, mental, and emotional resources.

Think of it this way, let's pretend you had a physical/mental/emotional battery and assume it starts each day at 100% full. Maybe doing your morning routine and getting to work takes 5%, work takes 50%, you go home and make dinner and use 10%, then spend some time with loved ones (20%), do something for yourself (10%) and get ready for bed (5%). Now let's imagine during COVID all of those activities generally demand more from you - you're going to have to pull that energy from somewhere or do everything less well to use less energy.

Previously you had a well-oiled machine and many things took very little energy to maintain so that you could spend a lions share of your energy on work and loved ones and hobbies. In the era of COVID, everything we do has more steps, is less predictable, and therefore demands more of your mental energy to do: grocery shopping, what to do with the kids, how I do my work, did I remember my mask or sanitizer, how does this restaurant/coffee shop/barber do things during COVID, the status of my job in 6 months, how are other people feeling about my level of COVID compliance, where to go if I want to get out of the house, etc. Nearly everything in life right now requires more brain power from you and as a result you're simply not going to have the same ability to produce work as you did before. Maybe eventually things will be more predictable again, but there is an adaptation period you go through as you are figuring out how to live your life under the new rules of the universe. Frankly, the rules and circumstances are also fluid right now and so we have to keep re-adapting.

So how can we most effectively adapt?

1: Work to accept that you are a finite being with finite mental and emotional resources.

You are (I'm sure) a hard worker, but you (nor anyone else) is the limitless beast that America wants us to portray ourselves as. When you have more demands of you, it means you have to draw mental and emotional resources from something else you have been giving them to - for many of us it will be most noticeable at work (more distracted, less output, less drive, more irritable, etc).

2: Work at trying to shift your self-expectation

Primarily this is a result of you being finite as well as the fact that the world around you is less predictable than it was. Therefore more things demand your energy and it is very likely to pull from work and emotional availability to your loved ones. You simply will have to be more mediocre at everything or maintain your former level of achievement with less things.

3: It's time to get lean (in the business sense)

Get rid of all the extra fluff and non-essential things you engage in. Prune down your commitments to necessities and you can build back up once things have stabilized. This is especially true if you don't have an option to reduce your output in the workplace. It's hard to say no, but treat it as essential. If the economy and other things do worsen, you need to be more emotionally available to give/receive support from your loved ones. Also, you'll need to maintain your value to your company so that if they have to choose who to keep and who to lat off you're more likely to be in that pool of people kept. Delay that marathon you were training for, plan simple meals with less steps, take less trips, skip the new painting hobby you wanted to take on, etc. That being said, know yourself and what keeps you feeling healthy and restore. Keep doing those things, but also, be prepared to live life less than optimally and be ready to make tough decisions about how to allocate your time and energy.

4: Choose to adapt sooner than later.

It appears that things will be like they are right now (or at least not back to "normal") for a while. Work to accept that and plan accordingly. If things revert sooner you already know how to do life the way you used to and you can go back to that, but waiting to adapt at this point will make you feel more like your life is on hold, suspended in time.

5: Whether personal or professional relationships, adjust your expectations of others.

They are going through many of the same things mentioned above. Therefore, they'll need want more support and may be less able to offer you support. They might be irritable and overwhelmed and struggling even more if they aren't taking the above steps mentioned in this post. If you think it'd help, encourage them to read this post!

So there you have it - let's put this into action! If you have already done these things and you're still feeling down or overwhelmed, it might be time to explore things like counseling to see if there is something else going on.


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