[A] I can't get anything done & I'm totally in the weeds
[B] Coping and managing most of the time
[C] When people ask how I am, I can honestly say "well"
We've been living through one of the weirdest, strangest, "unprecedented" times in recent history. Collectively this is wierd. In the midst of this mess, we're all looking for ways to not just survive but thrive. We want to keep earning money, stabilize our incomes, and manage our time in a meaningful way. Let's be honest, lockdowns have definitely made these challenges very obvious.
The climate of uncertainty hasn't changed. For many families, kids are back in school then out of school in a hodge podge that's exhausting to keep up with. (I bet many of us feel like we need —not just want, but need— our kids to be back in school so we can be productive and not lose our marbles). This year still has many of the old distractions and stressors.
And the burnout is real. More so than ever before.
Right now, it may feel like it's all hinging on you. Like you need to pull it together, carry the weight of the world, and still meet deadline after deadline. Like you have to cope, manage your time in a new way, and continue to be productive all with less productive time than you used to have.
Trust me, I know those feelings of burnout. I've been there. It isn't pretty.
A year ago, my husband and I were both experiencing serious stress and fatigue. He had spent a year in the police department's homicide department and needed a mental break. He took paternity leave when our baby was born and we decided to buy a trailer, homeschool our girls, and head on a road trip for the winter of 2019.
At the time, I was researching and launching my consultancy business after shifting from corporate work to freelancing. I was overworked and the whole combination was very challenging. I needed strategies to get work done.
By the time we got back from our trip, we all desperately needed space from each other. And that's when lockdown hit.
Ironic how life goes.
With school closures, we went back to our road trip routine. From that constructive journey, I learned practical tips and strategies that actually work for being productive and avoiding burnout.
Grab a blank piece of paper or a sticky note and a pencil (or open your notes app). Draw some pictures, write a couple words down, and take notes.
When you need to be productive but you got a lot happening at once, do this
Deep calming breaths may sound like a pre-recorded yoga video, but taking a minute to simply calm your breath is actually great for reducing stress. Take a few moments throughout the day to close your eyes, breathe deeply, and rest your nervous system. Taking 8 deep breaths will help you to reset. Personally, I incorporate aromatherapy daily into my breath work.
As silly as it is, actually feeling ready for your day to start seriously supports productivity throughout the rest of the day. Having a morning routine is crucial. For me, that routine includes a shower, quick makeup application, and presentable clothes (shocker, no sweatpants!). This way I'm ready to film a video, show up on Instagram stories, or turn my camera on for zoom meetings.
Even if —and especially when— you're home, keep to your morning routine.
How do you best feel ready for your day? Write down some notes and pay attention over the coming days. Because when our mornings start off poorly, the rest of the day can feel a little off.
To manage my time, I set aside time blocks. This involves knowing your most productive times. For most people, their most productive time is within three hours of waking. Try to use this time as much as possible. For me, my most productive times are first thing in the morning and late at night. What works for me is using that nighttime energy boost to lean into creative work.
In its most basic form, this involves blocking time for major tasks and treating that time block with respect. You set it, you stick to it. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
Communicate, communicate, communicate.
When I'm working at home, one of my biggest frustrations occurs when my family doesn't know my schedule or my expectations for them. To address this, we've learned to communicate more.
For you, maybe this looks like a whiteboard for updates or sharing important events via google calendar. Or maybe it's a daily conversation with your partner in the morning or the night before. And for those of us with kids to keep busy, this often involves making sure they have something to do while you work. I like to set out a self-directed activity for my kids. This way they have something to do that isn't a screen.
For my family, it's taken time but we've been able to learn better communication and my kids have learned to be more respectful of my work time.
We're distracted all. the. time. Screen time over the last few months has gone up. Social media is literally making us all go crazy.
But, luckily for you, there are some aspects of your environment that you can control —especially at home. The biggest way to calm your brain and reduce stress is to reduce distraction.
When you set aside time to work, turn off your phone. Read that again. Turn off your phone. Put it out of reach, set it across the room, or actually turn it off.
If you have to work on your phone, here's some tips for reducing distractions:
And truly don't get caught up on social media. No, you don't have to be on Instagram or Facebook or LinkedIn or Twitter 24/7. Smart business people batch their social media posts. Give it a try. Plan your content in a batch then designate it to post. Easy, simple, done, and much less prone to doomscrolling (let's admit it, we all do it).
Even when you've found your sweet-spot time and you're not distracted, there's still the daunting challenge of working through the never-ending to-do list.
Time to prioritize. Do the biggest tasks first. The one or two things that will help you to show up for your work in a real and substantial way. Start there. Assess your time, energy level, and context to allow these factors to inform your work.
Work with the challenges, not against them! Only have five minutes? Perfect, do that small random task that was lingering. Have three quiet hours? Amazing, work on that creative time-loose project.
From a personal example, I find myself at 1 pm when the toddler is napping and my kids are doing their schooling until 3:30; I have my desk, computer, and phone while my energy is about 7/10. What should I do? Well, I'm not going to spend two hours browsing real estate listings or snapchatting my friend. That's not a great use of time. Instead, I'll spend those two hours on a creative task that's important to getting sales or generating income.
As I've learned to hone my productivity, I've found a few resources particuarly useful: