Productivity Strategies to Accomplish More During COVID-19
Updated: Apr 23
It's COVID-19, about a month and a half into quarantining in Toronto, and many of us are starting to get bored of relaxing and being online. This is great! There are so many positive things we can use this time for: learning new things, developing skills, working on our business or projects, improving our relationships. With that in mind, I started writing a list of productivity strategies I have learned over the last few years of running a business while trying to juggle fitness, martial arts training, relationships, a social life, and professional development. Not that I've done a stellar job at that balance- but I have definitely come a long way! These are some methods I have picked up from many influences on my journey, and some methods I managed to learn on my own after lots of time wasting. Let's get into it, starting with the big one.
Get your social media use under control.
This is the number one threat to our productivity every day, the number one thing bursting at the seams to get our attention, and the hardest one for us to control. To learn about the design tactics social media companies use to hijack your attention click here. Right now let's jump right into what you should do to limit the distractions, and lower the estimated 60 days a year that the average young adult spends solely on social media. Shocking. But not really.
Turn off all non human notifications. You don't need notifications for peoples birthdays, near by events, likes on your photo, etc. Only let your phone notify you if a real person messages you, or comments on your photo (if needed). The rest you can wait to find out when you actually want to open your phone.
Unfollow people who don't provide any value. There are many reasons you might not want to see daily photos of someone. If someone's content is not interesting to you, leaves you feeling negative about them (or about yourself), or plainly wastes your time unnecessarily, you should stop consuming their content. Life is too short.
Use the instagram mute function (or facebook unfollow) to hush those you don’t want to unfollow or unfriend but still don't want to hear from constantly.
Use facebook newsfeed blocker for desktop.
Shake the urge to post so much on your story. Most of it is really not very important. It was designed to make you think that everything you do is instagram worthy. To get you to open the app constantly throughout the day, invite message responses, and get you back on there every time someone sends you an emoji reaction, which you inevitably follow up with another emoji for the sake of being reciprocal. Trap!
Move your social media app icons off the main page of your phone. You should have to go through at least 1 or 2 swipes or taps to get to your social media apps. This will help it become more intentional when you do, and less from habitually and unconsciously tapping shiny icons. Do you ever decide you've had enough social media scrolling, exited the app, only to tap it immediately again? That's not from a conscious choice to open it again. The motion is so engrained that our fingers just do it. Much like the habitual behaviours of double tapping pictures. We think 100 likes means 100 people consciously looked at our post and appreciated something about us and that reflects on our value. But most likes are simply a learned response that a player executes in .3 seconds before rushing off to keep playing the game of social media. There is so much to unpack here- I am writing about these misconceptions in a separate article but if you want to learn more about it now, click here.
Check email at specific times each day.
Turn off notifications for emails. That way your messages aren’t going to interrupt you, and you can respond to them all together. Some people who use this strategy check email three times a day, but these days it probably just needs to be once a day, if necessary.
Shake the habit of immediate reciprocity.
Most texts are opened and responded to within a few minutes of being received. And if you think that social media companies don't use our natural inclination for social reciprocity as a strategy to entice you to spend more time on their app where they can sell you ads, you're wrong. Our phone serves as a 24/7 portal to our attention. But no one should command your attention and behaviour except you. It is okay to wait until you are taking a break to respond to the messages you’ve collected throughout the day. No one is entitled to an immediate response. Do not let other people dictate your schedule.
Use two lists, the 3 month list and the today list. Longer than 3 months can be futile to plan for on a list, and it is much more productive to focus on what you can do now to get to those goals. The objectives on my 3 month list will inform what I put on my daily list. For example on my 3 month list I have 'new payment system'. On the today list I have 'compare payment software and terms'. Plus crossing things off a list is one of the most thrilling things you can do during COVID-19. Fact. Moving on!
The two minute rule.
Along your day, it is inevitable that things will pop up that require decision making and action. The two minute rule states that if upon learning about the task, you quickly know how to address it, and you can complete that action in under two minutes, to do it right then and move on. If it is something that requires more planning or thinking, or a longer response, then add that to your task list and do it later. When I learned about this, I immediately thought about all the ‘task baggage’ I carried around all the time. The dozens of little things I put off to later that could take hours to address. And then all the things I would forget about in the delaying process.
Have a clear desk.
People often have a lot of clutter. Your working space, your place for creation and invention, for grit and focus, should be clean and decluttered. I take pride in making the room my desk is in as nice and calming as I can. It makes a huge difference in how much time I want to spend there, and the quality of that time.
Put your phone on do not disturb mode.
AND put it OUT OF SIGHT when working at this beautiful clear desk. Studies show that even having a phone present, in the same room, when it is turned off, still have a draining effect on cognitive function. That is how inseparable to these things we are at the very core. No matter how sad that is, we can do ourselves a great favor by getting it completely out of our focusing space. It is almost impossible for most people to resist stopping what they are doing immediately to check their notifications, or to check *if they got any notifications. Get rid of the slot machine.
Drink water from a straw.
This one is random i know. I figured it out by accident. I got braces (yes i’m an adult), and I needed a straw to drink my tea to avoid staining my teeth and causing white spots when the braces come off. I started using them for water, and I found I drank way more than average. The sipping action is much calmer and easier to do repeatedly than the lifting a glass tilting my head and gulping action. Turns out there is some research backing this as well. I recommend reusable silicone straws for comfort and of course, the turtles and environment!
Although we have this idea that the best people multitask and it makes you seem just so busy and important and effective- it actually wastes your time. Many studies suggest that multitasking can reduce productivity by as much as 40%. A better approach is to focus as best you can on one task, and then move on.
No half listening.
Building off that, refrain from the very strong urge to listen to youtube or podcasts during your work time. This one is the hardest for me. I am always listening to something. It got to the point where I realized I had some kind of audio or video playing almost always- and minutes without noise felt wrong. I would play youtube videos about something i'm interested in, often educational, but still it was impossible to deny that it distracted me from my task. YouTube is my media/app/distraction of choice, so of course I still use it. But I try to limit it to when i’m doing something that doesn’t require complex thinking: cooking, eating, bathing, cleaning, you’d be surprised how much time that already takes up during the day.
What about music?
When focusing, listen to music without lyrics, or music with lyrics in a different language, or to songs you’ve never heard before. This will stop you from having a portion of your attention on the lyrics and singing along. Some people prefer white noise or sounds that resemble a coffee shop.
Batch your tasks together.
Keep your momentum going by arranging things of a similar nature together. Like when scheduling your time to respond to messages, you can see to your emails, texts, dms, all at once, instead of spread throughout the day. Same with cooking- prepare ingredients, meals, wash dishes, you can do a lot of these things together. This will make your day and work process flow more smoothly, instead of choppy parts that you attend to randomly when they come up.
Invest in an audio book service for driving or commuting.
When I first got my car, I felt like such a boss, that all I wanted to do was drive around blaring my music and singing along. There’s something so rewarding about that. After about 8 months it finally got boring. So I got audible and I was shocked at how quickly I devoured books. You don’t realize how much time you spend commuting that can be used for your development. If you commute two hours a day, you can easily finish one audio book a week. I personally thought $15 a month was a bit much (i’m an over-saver, or what my friends call boring), but I thought about how it was little in comparison to the time I would be wasting commuting if it had a dollar value. And how the knowledge from those books could really help my personal and professional success over time.
Use the library.
Speaking of reading, I like the library for ordering books. Not only is it in line with my saving money value, but it gives you a time limit of 9 weeks. It puts some urgency on finishing it, which can be effective in making you read more pages before putting the book down. Deadlines have proven to be highly effective in compelling action. Which is one of the reasons I suspect many people are getting less done with all this free time during COVID than they expected- maybe even less than they were getting done before. I just looked at my public library service, and it turns out they have tons of audiobooks for free- look out audible! I may not be back after the coronavirus after all (I paused the subscription since I'm not driving much and have tons of physical books I want to read during quarantine).
Regular exercise improves memory, focus, and thinking ability. There is tons of research on this if you take a quick google.
"Researchers found that regular aerobic exercise, the kind that gets your heart and your sweat glands pumping, appears to boost the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning."
-Heidi Godman, Harvard Health Letter.
I personally do best at staying active in group settings like martial arts, dance classes, squash, and group training sessions. Find what works for you and try to manage exercising 3-6 times a week. Your productivity will thank you for it.
Everyone burns out. Except Elon Musk. He just dims. But normal humans have a tank. HP. A limit. And if you think brain power doesn’t take a lot out of the tank, you’re wrong. Complex cognitive thinking is one of the most energy demanding of our functions. After two hours of high focus, take a 15-30 minute mental break to help refresh your brain. This is the place for zoning out into youtube or facebook, responding to messages, napping, taking a walk. Back to peak production when you get back.
Everyone knows you need sleep to be at your best. Athletes, doctors, teachers, children. Even Elon Musk! Although he probably invented something that makes sleep redundant. Anyways, adequate sleep is incredibly important for our health outcomes and our productivity. Eight hours seems to be the minimum suggestion, but it is perfectly fine and even recommended to get more if you can. We can do a few things to ‘hack’ this demand.
Charge your phone somewhere away from your bed, even in another room. Having your phone sit right beside your bed is a dangerous temptation that encourages you to stay up later, and in bed longer, checking messages and going online. Try to uphold some bedroom boundaries with your social media accounts.
Try not to be on your phone for the hour before bed. The reason for this is the dangerous ‘blue light’ that interferes with our melatonin creation and impedes sleep. This is especially important for teenagers, some of whom wake up in the middle of the night to check their profiles, and it is even more damaging to their development than adults.
Use voice notes instead of texting.
Isn’t texting so 2019? Zip into the future, do yourself a favor, and start voice noting. You convey so much more meaning, intention, and information more quickly than texting, and it’s less likely for it to be misinterpreted leading to further clarifications at best, and hurt feelings or damaged relationships at worse.
Unsubscribe from email newsletters instead of just deleting them.
Most people delete newsletters they don’t care about instead of taking the 14 seconds needed to unsubscribe, because that’s too long- we have instagram scrolling to do. But then you have to do the same thing a few times a month, with several sources, and that’s not effective. Clean out your inbox and say good bye to unhelpful sources.
Don’t fixate on the beginning.
Most people avoid things they want to work on because they don’t really know where to get started, and the uncertain chaos of that is enough to make us retreat to easier investments of brain activity (i.e. social media, TV). Tons of writers, creators, filmmakers, artists, they don’t start at the beginning, they start where they can, and go from there.
I feel like a fool for how long it took me to put templates together for emails and documents. If there are certain emails you send to many people (thank you email), documents you use often and change a certain variable (invoice), bits of texts or photos you send out often (blurb/media kits), you should have these already written and filed in a template, ready for you to copy, paste, adjust, and send. This will save days at the end of your life.
Use keyboard shortcuts.
My mind was blown away when my friend Danika showed me a keyboard shortcut that allows you to search for a certain word on a page (Command + F). Mind = blown. Learning your computers secret commands will have you feeling like a silicone valley master hacker in no time, who operates slightly faster every day!
That's it for today's list of productivity strategies!
To read our collection of fun activities for kids and teens to learn about situational awareness, safety, and building confidence from home, see our Family Quarantine Activities.
Author: Gemma Sheehan
Founder of Girls Who Fight Inc.