Productivity during times of (personal) crisis: how to cope with challenges

by Nov 11, 2020

I spent at least an hour trying to figure out whether to put the word “personal” in the title of this article. On the one hand, if I didn’t include it, it might feel like I’m writing about a financial crisis of some kind, which I am not. On the other hand, it feels that including “personal” precludes me from touching upon the nasty, massive, diseased elephant in the room—Covid-19.

After all, wouldn’t it be too self-centred to consider the pandemic a personal crisis?

In the end, putting “personal” in parentheses feels right, as I will mostly be covering the issue of staying productive at times of personal crises but also addressing that elephant that is affecting all of us.


Acknowledge the Crisis

The first thing you will need to do in a personal crisis is to actually acknowledge it. You may feel like the best course of action is to power through it as if nothing is happening. But, as every movie and TV show teaches us, this is the surest way to have a breakdown down the road. The effects of difficult problems linger and simmer beneath the surface, breaking it sooner or later and causing far more damage than if confronted straight away.

When facing a crisis, don’t hide from it. Don’t try to bury it in work or distractions. Acknowledge it. Accept that it is real. This acceptance is your starting point.


Embrace Self-Care Habits

Different people react to crises differently, and for many, the response often leads to bad habits. For example, they start eating too much or too little. Or, they stop sleeping healthily. Often, they will also stop working out and socialising. 

If you’ve recognised yourself here, this is not a failure on your part. Stressful events cause emotional and even hormonal responses that can make it difficult to sleep properly and that can make you crave unhealthy foods.

Your primary goal here is to try to establish some healthy self-care habits.

Get Your Sleep in Order

Besides being crucial for your overall health, healthy sleep is essential for productivity too. Do everything in your power to get your sleep in order:

  • Try to get at least seven hours of sleep every night.
  • Set regular times for going to bed.
  • Create surroundings that promote healthy sleep.
  • Unplug before sleep (using tech before bed can be a huge negative).
  • Consider sleep-promoting foods, beverages, and supplements – you might even want to consult a doctor or nutritionist.

Establish a Healthy Diet and Exercise Regimen

This will ensure that you stay healthy and that your brain chemistry is spot-on at least from the physiological standpoint. Nutrition and exercise can have a huge impact on your overall mood and your ability to take on certain tasks.

Unless you are prevented from doing it for some reason (e.g. because of a Covid-19 lockdown or an injury of some kind), make sure to go outside regularly, at least for a short walk.

Stay in Touch with Your Loved Ones

It may feel like a challenge when you’re feeling especially low and you want to spend time alone, but it’s important not to close yourself off from others. Many people also find it easier to deal with a crisis when they share about their situation. You might even consider talking to your colleagues about your problems. You might find a sympathetic ear (more often than you’d think), and they might even help you find a way to contribute when you’re not feeling 100 per cent.

Find the Time to Relax and Do the Things You Love

It doesn’t matter if it’s cooking, painting, or playing video games. The point of it is not to better yourself (or engage in some other kind of self-improvement BS) but to unwind and give your mind and soul a chance to recuperate on a daily basis.

Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Professional Help

This is why we have therapists and support groups. There’s still a certain culture out there, both in academia and some professional settings, that glorifies pushing through everything and burying ourselves in work rather than looking for help. This is nonsense at the best of times, but in times of personal crisis, it can be outright harmful.

These self-care habits provide a crucial layer of support once you start tackling the productivity issue more directly. Without them, it will be near impossible to stay productive during a crisis, especially long-term.


The Cold, Calculated Productivity Side of It

Most of us have also heard of dozens of productivity hacks and tips such as minimising distractions, eating the frog, avoiding multitasking, and so many more. There is really no point in going over these yet again. Instead, we can focus on those that are likely to work a bit differently in times of crisis.

For example, the concept of eating the frog, or tackling the biggest issue first, may not work great for some people experiencing a crisis. In a situation where you find it difficult to move a finger, it may be a better idea to start off small and tackle the smallest tasks first. Consider it as giving yourself some momentum before you start working on the big stuff.

Maybe you’ll discover that your best working hours are completely different from your old schedule and that you like to work in smaller chunks rather than in large, uninterrupted ones. Or you might find that the vice versa works best for you.

Listen to yourself. Talk to the people who work with you or share a similar experience. Try out different stuff.


Covid-19: a Different Kind of Crisis

Covid-19 is the kind of crisis that most people in the industrialised West have not had the displeasure of facing – an ongoing crisis that changes absolutely everything and that cannot be ignored. This sustained nature of the Covid-19 pandemic has its own way of affecting people.

I talked to a friend from the Balkans who lived through the civil wars in the 1990s. She was fortunate enough that no one from her immediate family was killed, but she did have to flee her home eventually. She lived through sustained stress, changing living conditions, economic uncertainty, people dying unnecessarily, and much of what we’re seeing with Covid-19. 

She tells me that the best way to deal with it all is to accept this new reality. Hunkering down and waiting for it to end is not a feasible solution for something that lasts so long. It is a changed reality, and we need to live in it.

It is okay to fear, it is okay to be insanely angry, it is okay to despair (if it lasts too long, talk to someone, please). It is 100 per cent okay to feel a bit off when it comes to your work.

It’s a new world, and new rules apply. One of the most amazing things about humans is that we adapt to new circumstances when needed. Well, it is needed now, and we are adapting.


Instead of a Closing Word

I feel like I should have included this disclaimer much earlier and on a few occasions at least – It’s okay not to be productive during a personal crisis!

For some people, the advice I’ve shared will work marvellously. But not for everyone. And if that’s the case – please, do not feel bad if you are not productive at all during a personal crisis. You are hurting, and getting stuff done is nowhere close to being on your mind. This is perfectly normal. There’s a reason why we call it a crisis.

It will get better, and you will get back to your old productive self. Just give it time and don’t neglect the importance of acknowledging what you’re going through and how you’re feeling in the first place.


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Natasha Lane

Natasha Lane

Natasha is a lady of a keyboard and one huge geek. She has a rich history of working in the branding, small business, and career growth related fields, so she is always happy to collaborate with awesome blogs and share her knowledge all around the web. To see what Natasha is up to next, check out her Twitter Dashboard.