How to Stay Productive While Managing Coronavirus Fear, According to a Productivity Expert

A productivity expert weighs in.

By fizkes/Shutterstock
By fizkes/Shutterstock

It’s a scary time right now — you certainly don’t need me to tell you that! But with fear and anxiety comes a decrease in productivity and that is something I hope to help you with. Particularly as we embark on these next few weeks, which will not be resembling our normal day-to-day whatsoever. 

Research shows that fear enacts a “fight or flight” response in humans. According to a 2019 article from the Harvard Business Review, fight-or-flight mode is something that occurs when we feel threatened. The primal, more emotional parts of our brain take over and our ability to think long-term, strategize, and innovate decreases.

To lower stress and remain productive, it’s more important than ever to actively choose peace over panic. I know it’s easier said than done to get out of that negative mindset when we’re dragged into it. But we need to stay calm and keep focused if we’re going to get through this tough time. Here are a few pieces of advice on how to stay productive during this fearful period.

Silo your stress

We cannot control the spread of COVID-19. We can only do our part as individuals: wash your hands, eat healthy, get enough sleep. The number one thing you can control — which I’m guessing is wreaking havoc on your productivity — is your intake of news. 

Do not spend your entire day sucked into the 24-hour news cycle if you’re hoping to get anything substantial done at work. Instead, I recommend devoting a specific time or two of the day to check the news. Whether that means checking a reputable news source in the morning or sitting down in the evening to your preferred nightly news program, let that be your update for the day. Refreshing your Twitter page every 10 minutes to see what the latest development is will not decrease your chances of contracting the virus, but it will negatively affect your productivity.

There’s evidence that choosing a “worry time” and isolating your worries to that designated period can be a beneficial thing. By choosing a timeframe to take in the news, you can help control your stress. In fact, I suggest after reading, watching, or listening to your news update for the day, immediately follow it up with something that boosts your endorphins, makes you feel good, and takes your mind off the stress. Take a walk, read a book for a few minutes, or call up a friend. Switching your mindset to a positive place before going back to work will help you focus when you need to return.

Prioritize: Do less, but do it better

A blessing in disguise that comes from this is we have less to do. Literally. With the closings and cancellations of activities, sporting events, and public venues, it limits the list of things we are able to do with our time.

Take this time to tackle something you can do that is tied to your business or career goal. Use the constraint of social distancing to your benefit. Research shows that adding some sort of limitation can really hone your focus so that you can deeply explore a creative thought. Constraints can direct us to make the best out of what we already have. With constraints, we can dedicate our mental energy to acting more resourcefully.

If you’re working from home these next few weeks, try using the time away from the office to work on that project you keep putting aside. Whether it’s starting that blog you always said you wanted to or catching up with former clients you haven’t connected with in a while, you may just find this interruption to our regularly scheduled programming may work to your advantage.

Overcome your negativity bias with gratitude

Our brains are wired to hold on to the negative and quickly forget the positive. 

Neuropsychologist Rick Hanson puts it this way: the brain is like velcro for negative experiences, and teflon for positive ones. This “bias” causes the brain to react strongly to bad news, compared to good news. Research shows that we need a ratio of positive to negative interactions of five to one in order to thrive because those negative interactions affect us so much more strongly. 

What is Hanson’s advice to overcome your negativity bias? Take in the good.

A couple weeks ago, when my husband and I realized the bad news wasn’t going away anytime soon, we decided to start each morning by voicing five things we’re grateful for. I try to include one or two things that have to do with my career. That way, when I sit down and start working, I’m reminded why I’m doing it. If anything, my work is something that keeps me sane amid the madness.

When things seem daunting in this trying time, ask yourself: What is the good that will come of this? To me, it is the reminder that our actions have an impact on the rest of the world. Sometimes we have to sacrifice things for ourselves for the good of our community. As a world, we are actively thinking about other people right now. At the end of the day, that’s a nice thought to keep hold of, especially when fear takes hold.

Originally published on Business Insider.

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