Here’s What To Do When You’re Feeling Unproductive

07 Aug 2020
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If you’ve felt less productive lately, you’re not alone.

According to a Thrive Global survey, over 75% of employees feel overwhelmed and significantly less productive due to working from home and pandemic-related distractions. Our focus and sleep have suffered, and despite working longer, we’re finding it tough to make progress in this chaotic environment, so we also feel frustration and guilt.

In trying times like these, here’s what to do when you’re feeling unproductive:

Redefine what productivity looks like

Have you found that despite your best efforts, you’re just not able to move the needle like you used to? Living and working in this new normal post-Coronavirus world means finding new ways of defining and measuring productivity. That might look like getting through a team Zoom call without your toddler or dog interrupting, or managing to connect with all of your clients to see how they’re holding up.

Take a break to gain perspective

Sometimes the best way to be productive is to take the time to rest. Though it seems counterintuitive, taking a break is one of the best ways to make progress. Research shows breaks are essential to improving our moods, overall well-being, and performance capacity. And in a world where a cacophony of noise bombards us, taking the time to turn inward and reflect allows us to leverage the one aspect we can control: our perspective.

Remember to cut yourself — and your brain — some slack

It turns out that our inability to focus during the pandemic has nothing to do with laziness. Dr. Amy Arnsten, a Yale neuroscience professor who has done extensive work on the brain’s response to stress, says it’s how our brains are wired. Arnsten says that during periods of ongoing stress and uncertainty, our brain’s prefrontal cortex — which helps us focus, think critically and make decisions — actually shuts down to make way for the more reactive, impulsive parts that protect us in times of danger.

Even so, Arnsten says that this can lead to a vicious cycle of losing focus, beating yourself up about it, which makes your prefrontal connections even weaker. To counteract that, she suggests reminding yourself that it’s just your normal neurobiology and being kind to yourself, practicing a little self-compassion.

Distinguish between ‘busy’ and ‘productive’

When you spend your days (or weeks) putting out fires and jumping from Zoom call to Zoom call, you certainly feel busy. But being ‘busy’ is not the same as being ‘productive’ and can leave you wondering what you’ve accomplished. To feel more productive, establish boundaries by saying no to those non-urgent and unimportant ‘tasks and asks,’ and take back your calendar to manage your time, treating it like the valuable and precious commodity it is.

Take one action toward your goal, however small

When it comes to being productive, it rarely comes down to grandiose gestures; it’s the small actions, done consistently over time, that matter most. As the old adage goes, slow and steady wins the race. Instead of chasing instant success, focus your efforts on the long game, taking one small action every day to move closer to your goals.

Don’t forget to track and celebrate your progress

It’s easy to get caught up in the pandemic frenzy and forget to acknowledge your accomplishments. Keep track of the small wins by recording them in a journal or electronic file. The next time you’re feeling like an unproductive failure, refer back to your notes to give you a much-needed boost of motivation and encouragement, and remind you to celebrate your progress.