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How to Get Things Done During Uniquely Challenging Times

You’re working from home right now. But not exactly. Because you’re working from home amid a global crisis—while caring for your kids, overseeing their online schooling, keeping the house (somewhat) clean, and attempting to stay sane as your world has completely shifted.

This is critical to remember. Many articles have advised us to stop trying to be productive and to take it easy on ourselves instead. This is valuable advice. But for those of us who are fortunate to still have jobs, we also need to get things done. We need to perform, and yes, we need to be productive.

Below, you’ll find actionable, accessible tips and tweaks for being productive during the pandemic.

Create an office space—no matter how small. Paula Rizzo, author of the book Listful Living: A List-Making Journey to a Less Stressed You, lives with her husband in a one-bedroom apartment in New York City. She had The Container Store design a workspace, with a small desk and shelves, inside her closet. Recently, therapist and mindset coach Kate Crocco created a podcast studio in her closet with items she had in her house.

In addition to providing a place for a computer, office supplies, and equipment, these types of setups also create a tangible boundary between work and life.

As Rizzo noted, it’s very easy to write just one more email and work all day and through the night. “This physical barrier helps to curtail that.”

Be realistic. “We’re not working in our normal settings with our normal resources,” said Katelyn Denning, a mom to three young kids and a coach who helps busy, working moms take control of their time so they can feel less overwhelmed, be more present at home and at work, and do more of the things that they love.

She’s advising her clients to cut their to-do lists in half or pick three tasks they’d like to accomplish each day. This strategy sets you up for success, Denning said.

“Think about what would feel great to have crossed off,” do those tasks first, and “prove to yourself that you are still getting work done.” You can always add more items, if you really want to—or “call it a successful day,” Denning said. The key is to feel empowered instead of demoralized.

Triage your workload. Both Denning and time-management expert Laura Vanderkam stressed the importance of identifying which work tasks require deeper focus and which can be done in short bursts or in the nooks and crannies of your day when you’re with your kids.

Push all the work that requires you to focus to the times when you actually can focus, said Vanderkam, who has five children, including a newborn, and has penned several books on time management, including Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done.

These might include: early morning, during nap time, after the kids go to bed, or when your partner is with the kids, she said.

Over-communicate with family. “Tell your family what you need from them and what your work hours will be,” said Rizzo, founder of ListProducer.com. Every Sunday night, Denning and her husband create a spreadsheet with their work schedules.

“We make sure each day is split as evenly as possible depending on what commitments we already have scheduled.” On some days, this means each person works for 3 to 4 hours; on other days, this means switching every hour.

They also stay flexible as deadlines and unexpected conferences calls come up. “It’s not perfect, but it has been working for us so far these last 4 weeks,” said Denning.

Get dressed. Rizzo encouraged readers to get ready for work like you used to—take a shower, get dressed, put on makeup. This helps you to shift into work mode. And “if video calls, which are becoming the norm, pop up, you’ll be prepared,” she said.

Capitalize on mornings. Currently, Denning gets up at 5:15 a.m. to work on a project that requires her full focus or do something that boosts her energy throughout the day, such as journaling, reading, or exercising. “Especially if you have kids at home, this time of the day can be gold for helping you make progress without interruption,” she said.

Create a commute. In Productivity Hacks: 500+ Easy Ways to Accomplish More Work—That Actually Work! author Emily Price suggests leaving your house to walk around the block. If walking isn’t feasible, try another small ritual that conveys it’s time to work: sip your coffee at your desk, light a great-smelling candle, or give yourself a pep talk.

Take refreshing breaks. Vanderkam suggested having lunch with your family or even with a colleague over video chat. “It won’t be easy to do family lunches in the future when this is over, so best to enjoy it now!”

Denning suggested taking a walk, which can serve as “a reset for your mind, help you to slow down, and give you a quick boost, so… you can have a clear head and some extra patience to continue working in this new normal.”

Listen to music. “Background noise can be exceptionally useful in drowning out sounds like a neighbor mowing his lawn or the kids fighting over the TV,” writes Price in Productivity Hacks. For example, to stay focused, listen to classical music, ambient music, or nature sounds, such as ocean waves or a babbling brook.

Make tasks fun. One way is to make bets about how long a task will take, Rizzo said. Another option is to give yourself mini prizes for each task you accomplish, such as calling a friend or watching your favorite show, she said.

Of course, everyone’s work and life situation is different. So, take the tips that work for you, and skip the rest.

And while your workdays might look nothing like they did in the past, you can still make progress on important tasks, Denning said.

Yes, that progress might be slower and require a bit more creative planning and pivoting. “But you don’t have to throw everything out the window or put life on hold,” she said.

How to Get Things Done During Uniquely Challenging Times


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Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. is an Associate Editor and regular contributor at Psych Central. Her Master's degree is in clinical psychology from Texas A&M University. In addition to writing about mental disorders, she blogs regularly about body and self-image issues on her Psych Central blog, Weightless.


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APA Reference
Tartakovsky, M. (2020). How to Get Things Done During Uniquely Challenging Times. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 29, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-to-get-things-done-during-uniquely-challenging-times/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 20 Apr 2020 (Originally: 21 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 20 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.