Skip to content

Avoiding the trap of being too productive

Productive checklist

When life, schedules and unplanned things (COVID-19) happen, it's easy to forge ahead to get things done but sometimes we find ourselves in a trap of being too productive. Like many businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, we have our team working remotely. We're trying to stay as productive as possible on work projects, adapting to new environments, checking things off our lists at home and even trying some new hobbies. But I wonder. Are we trying to be “too productive?” 

*This blog was written in 2020. The start of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

As we enter our second month of remote work, I don’t feel like I am accomplishing enough. I’m not taking that daily walk. I’m not getting through the work and home to-do lists – both continue to get longer the more I am home. I’m not getting all the spring cleaning done and I’m certainly not embarking on all those renovation and landscaping projects that stare me in the face daily. (For the record, though, I am developing some serious bread-making skills.) I figured all the time I gained in the evenings and weekends due to kid sports cancellations would give me a ton of time to work on the extra stuff. (Sound familiar?)

Admittedly, I have kept busy with work deadlines and other necessary tasks – emergency planning, PPP applications and the like. But I feel like I should be doing more. However, when I take a moment to think about it, I’m probably trying to be too productive.

Most of us are used to having a full schedule and having little extra time at home. So, when we’re given this extra time, we think we need to fill it. Why do we feel the need to be productive in times of crisis? I’m not a psychologist, but this is what I think.

We’re trying to take control of a situation.
I’ve been on calls with some of the smartest people I know about what next steps should be for work, nonprofit projects and more as we work through this pandemic. And no one has concrete answers because we’re all working with the unknown. So, when we have opportunities to take control – painting that room, doing that project, baking bread – we feel better and even comforted.

We’re not giving ourselves time to breathe – or better yet, take a break.
As a society, we are very used to being on the go. And now, many areas of our lives have just stopped. We’re filling that time on social media and gathering news. We’re trying to stay more connected via Zoom (and other platforms). We’re staring at computer screens all day. With our new-found free time, we’re trying to pack it full of all those other projects and binge-watch shows. We’re not giving ourselves ample time to breathe, rest and recover.

We’re likely doing more now than we were before.
Unless you have smaller children (or animals that won’t leave you alone), it is likely that there are fewer work distractions during the day. You don’t have that co-worker who stops by every morning to chat and the boss who says “hey do you have a minute” in your house. So, you pound away at the work. That’s great for checking things off the list, but the constant focus for weeks on end can get exhausting and leave us drained and too tired to do other things.

If you find yourself relating to the above observations, what can you do about it?

Structure your workdays and weeks similarly to pre stay-at-home order routines.
Get up and go to bed at the same time. If you showered and had breakfast every morning pre-COVID, do that too. Dress up in work clothes on occasion to feel more normal. Get up and walk around during the day. Are you used to eating lunch out? Get in your car and drive to a local restaurant and get carryout for lunch. Set up a short daily call with your team or your friendly co-workers to talk about things other than work.

Give yourself permission to deal with what is going on.
I think we are all trying to be strong right now. But the changes like we are experiencing are tough. It’s normal to struggle with the unknown. If you lead others, it’s common to question your own leadership. If you’re new to working at home, it takes time to adjust. If you are a social person that needs connection, being at home without people around is hard. Talk about it with your friends, family and others. They are likely dealing with it too. And if you are really struggling, there are many trained professionals that can help – even via telemedicine.

Make new routines without adding new things.
In his book “Atomic Habits,” author James Clear talks about how changing your routine is a great way to develop new and positive habits. While having a familiar routine is important when adjusting to work from home, sometimes changing the routine can have added benefits. Maybe you’re been wanting to switch up your morning routine or add meditation minutes to your schedule. Now’s a great time to do that so you have developed a new habit and routine that is in place when stay-at-home order are lifted.

Ask yourself… would I really have…?
Would I really have done that big project this weekend if I wasn’t under quarantine? Would I really have picked up that new hobby? And most of all, if I did, do I even like it or am I just feeling like I need to be productive in some way. Would I really have put all these meetings on my calendar or am I just trying to fill time?

We can only paint so many rooms, binge so much Netflix or bake so much bread. (Though my family likes the bread part.) We need to take time to be, not just do.


Like what you read? Subscribe to our weekly blog and it will be delivered directly to your inbox!