In certain ways, the pandemic has forced us all to get really good at prioritizing. Especially during the early days, we were all grappling with questions about what mattered most. What items did you really need from the grocery store, and what could you live without? What rules did you need to set up in your home, and what could you let slide? Whose health were you most concerned about, and what changes were you willing to make to protect those loved ones?  

Now, several months on, we continue to grapple with those big questions while also moving ahead with the business of day-to-day life. Productivity continues to be a big challenge for a lot of people, and for good reason. One thing that may help you maintain focus and combat time management challenges? Being very intentional about how you approach prioritizing. 

Why Prioritizing Matters—And Why It’s Hard Right Now 

Prioritizing is a huge component of good time management, both in the short term and long term. In the short term, it allows you to look at everything on your plate today and pick the right thing to focus on first. In the long term, prioritizing is about aligning what you’re doing this week or this month with your long-term goals. It’s like checking your compass on a hike through the forest, to make sure you’re still headed due north and not drifting off course. From a time management perspective, prioritizing helps you defeat overwhelm and use your time effectively. 

In our fast-paced world, this stuff is always hard!

But it’s so much harder right now because basically all of us are under chronic stress. Stress is a normal part of life, and you’ve probably had a lot of experience working through stress in your professional life. Normally, stressful circumstances come and go. The end of a stressful work week might mean the beginning of a relaxing weekend with family and friends. Periods of relief would let you unwind and rest up before the next thing comes along.  

The pandemic has changed that, putting all of us in a state of unrelenting stress. It’s harder to figure out what you need to get done today, and what you can ignore today, when you’re constantly worrying about… everything.  

For Better Time Management and Productivity, Try These Four Steps

None of us can control the pandemic, or speed up its conclusion, so some of that chronic stress is going to be a constant presence for the foreseeable future. What you CAN control is how you approach time management and prioritizing your tasks so you are productive. Even if “productivity” looks different right now. There are four simple things I want you to keep in mind when juggling stress and work right now.  

  1. Notice the stress instead of trying to fight or ignore it. When you’re sitting at your desk and feeling overwhelmed, take a minute to acknowledge what’s stressing you. Is it short-term or long-term stress? Feel those feelings so you can move on to giving your full attention to something else. 
  1. Give yourself more space than you normally would. These are unusual circumstances, so it’s not useful to compare yourself to your pre-lockdown standards. This might mean scheduling 45 minutes for a task that you would normally do in 30. Be gentle with yourself and realistic about how long it’s taking you to accomplish things these days.  
  1. Set up structures that will pull you into your important tasks. Stress is distracting, and there may be many things pulling your focus away from your priorities right now—especially if you’re sharing space with kids and/or other adults working from home. If you’re struggling to start work at 9 a.m., can you schedule a 9:15 appointment that will require you to sit down at your desk on time? 
  1. Keep asking for support. When you’re having a bad day, or feeling really discouraged about productivity, get those frustrations and negative conversations out of your own head and share the burden with someone else. Whether it’s a long phone call with a close friend or a short vent session over text, reaching out to others is a really critical piece of managing chronic stress. None of us can do this alone. 

Remember to count me in as part of your support circle. You can reach out to me directly, or join my weekly Community Call on Facebook.  

Join me for this weekly virtual gathering by clicking here. Bring your questions about how to create focus and set up your “normal for now” and I’ll answer them. I’m always here to support you in whatever way I can.  

Be well, 

Sarah 

Sarah Reiff-Hekking
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