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How to Stay Productive During the Pandemic, Despite Break in Routine

A little over a month into formal “social distancing,” people all over the world have already felt negative reverberations of the virus in their own lives. It seems like all the changes— working from home, online-schooling, spending more time alone— have led to the general decline in efficiency and a break in previous healthy habits.

Here are a few strategies to boost productivity and put the free time to use during this unprecedented time. 

Create (or join) a virtual accountability group.

Accountability is critical to achieving goals, both career-related and personal. Chances are, your boss or coworkers are already sufficient motivators for high performance in the workplace, but personal goals— especially in times like these, when all focus seems to be on a bigger issue— can quickly get sabotaged without someone keeping track.

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According to Thomas Oppong, founder of blog AllTopStartups and contributing writer for Forbes, “When you are accountable to someone or a group of people for doing what you said you would…, you can easily get [things] done because you engage the power of social expectations.”

Despite the current limitations to physical interactions, social expectations can remain just as strong for sustained productivity and goal-achievement. The key is to pick a willing group or individual whose philosophy aligns with the goal you are setting and who will be able to “check-in” virtually at certain intervals of time to monitor your progress.

The Association for Talent Development found, in a study of accountability, that accountability appointments with a committed individual increase the chance of goal achievement by up to 95%. 

Many apps (like Gretchen Rubin’s empowerment platform “Better”) and social media outlets (Facebook Groups, for example) offer a chance to stay accountable without face-to-face meetings. 

Set boundaries.

While it may seem like all order has been thrown out the window, colloquially-speaking, stability in an uncertain time can, and should, be cultivated as an individual decision.

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Setting boundaries can be as simple as defining what is “off-limits” during days spent at home and what is allowable. For example, the coronavirus lockdown has led many people to gain weight due to a lack of external cues for when to eat and anxiety-inducing conditions. This can be offset by the simple verbalization of the word “no” in regards to both stressors and eating behavior. “No” as in “No, I will not stand inside of my pantry finishing this pack of Nilla Wafers.” “No” as in “No, I will not allow what I hear in the news negatively affect my portion sizes.”

Another essential component in setting boundaries is tracking behavior down to its fundamental cause and then eliminating the root trigger. This might mean dedicating free time for yourself to alleviate stress and making it clear to your family. Or, it might mean swapping a news-binge early in the morning for something more situation-neutral, like a podcast on wellness.

“Immediately ask yourself: Was I exposed to stress? Don’t panic. Pinpoint cause and effect. Clear it quickly,” writes Dr. Judith Orloff, assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCLA, in regards to curbing cravings amidst emotional pressure.

Reinforce yourself with relevant rewards.

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Prior to the coronavirus outbreak, parents might have applauded a high test score by treating their child with a visit to an ice-cream shop or favorite store. Successful job interviews might have been celebrated by dinner parties or meetings at a bar with friends.

Since these options are not as readily available amidst physical distancing guidelines in many countries and cities around the world, it is important that progress and productivity are still being rewarded.

In this context, though, rewards might take on a different form: a walk around the neighborhood, a tasty homemade breakfast, or downloading an audiobook you were eager to listen to.

The key is to keep rewards consistent with your own positive behaviors: this has potential to create a “positive feedback loop” that will motivate you to work even harder for your goals and thus create a sense of accomplishment, which can subsequently alleviate some of the uncertainties and fears we are all currently susceptible to.

While it is tempting to think of these months during quarantine as a punishment, a simple mindset change may help you realize that all this newfound time can serve a greater good: to make you into a more well-rounded, forward-thinking, and goal-oriented individual. All from the comforts of home.


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