What ‘productivity’ looks like in a global pandemic

Productivity in a pandemic

This Twitter thread by Canadian National Security expert academic Professor Aisha Ahmad was sent to me yesterday and it was everything I needed to hear.

While it was written for academics, I could see how it applied to my work and my peers too.

If you’re having trouble thinking straight, feeling overwhelmed and not exactly sure what you ‘should’ be doing in the midst of a global pandemic, this is for you.


The following was adapted from a thread by Canadian National Security academic @ProfAishaAhmad on Twitter, with additional commentary from me.

Source: twitter.com/ProfAishaAhmad/status/1240284544667996163

1. Play The Long Game

I’ve lived through many disasters. Here is my advice on “productivity”. First, play the long game. Your peers who are trying to work as normal right now are going to burn out fast. They’re doomed. Make a plan with a longer vision.

(OK: don’t go discounting everything, giving everything away for free, pushing yourself to create a whole new suite of services, saying ‘yes’ to things you don’t want to do. Instead, consider how you serve your existing clients with what you already have, staying mindful of your values and boundaries.)

2. Stabilize Your Home Environment

Your top priority is to stabilize and control your immediate home environment. Ensure your pantry has sensible supplies. Clean your house. Make a coordinated family plan. Feeling secure about your own emergency preparedness will free up mental space.

(OK: We are all hyper-vigilant right now. Getting your most immediate and important needs sorted is your top priority. You can’t work on anything else if your most primal needs are not met.)

3. Flush Non-Essential Work

Any work that can be simplified, minimized, and flushed: FLUSH IT. Don’t design a fancy new online course. It will suck and you will burn out. Choose the simplest solution for you & your students, with minimal admin. Focus on getting students feeling empowered & engaged.

(OK: Don’t let trying to perfect new tech get in the way of experimenting. Conversely, maybe you don’t need different tech, maybe just stick to what you know works).

4. Allow For An Adjustment Window

Give yourself a proper mental adjustment window. The first few days in a disaster zone are always a write-off. But if you give yourself that essential window, your body and mind WILL adjust to the new normal. Without that mental shift, you’ll fall on your face.

(OK: This adjustment window will be longer from some of us than others. And the window might keep opening and closing. And that’s OK. Give yourself grace. This is an evolving landscape that may take a few months to get through.)

5. Priority #1 is a stable home

AFTER you experience the mental shift, build a schedule. Make a routine. Put it on a weekly calendar with time blocks. Wake up early. Put the most important parts first: food, family, fitness. Priority 1 is a stable home. Then add windows for achievable work goals.

(OK: A printed weekly calendar that you can physically display in your house will help everyone have a vision for the new normal.)

6. Cooperate With Your Brain

For me, I need to ease into heavy-duty academic writing. So I do admin in the morning, and then dip my toe into papers and book projects around noon. Tick off accomplishments, no matter how small. Trust and support your mental shift.

(OK: Small wins, for the win. Notice your own rhythms of what works for how your brain works. I do admin stuff during the day and get creative juice happening either late afternoon/evening or predawn.)

7. Lower Your Expectations

It’s unraeasonable to demand your body and brain do the same things under higher stress conditions. Some people can write in a war zone. I cannot. I wait until I get back. But I can do other really useful things under high-stress conditions. Support your continuing mental shift.

(OK: Acknowledge that all the things we normally do on autopilot without thinking are taking a huge cognitive load to rethink i.e. buying groceries. Work within the diminished capacity we all have right now. There will be things that can wait.)

8. Allow Our Work To Be Challenged

For my PoliSci colleagues: This phenomenon should change how we understand the world. So let this distract you from your work. Because the world is supposed to be our work. May this crisis dismantle all our faulty assumptions and force us into new terrain.

(OK: Not everything about disruption is destructive. We are being forced to reevaluate everything in our world right now. Allow your assumptions about what’s possible to be challenged, and give yourself permission to reimagine a potential upside on the other side of this temporary situation.)

9. Keep Connecting

And finally, we can check on our neighbours, reach out to isolated people, and volunteer or donate as we can. Because at the end of the day, our papers can wait.

(OK: Phone a friend each day, smile – from a distance – at other people, offer help where you can. Deepening connection while maintaining physical distance is what will get us through – not how ‘productive’ we are in our work. Be kind to yourself.)


Also check out Dr Ahmad’s full article on this topic here:
Why You Should Ignore All That Coronavirus-Inspired Productivity Pressure

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