Work in the Time of COVID: A Guide to Being More Productive at Work in 2021
By: Syeda Gul-e-Khansha
Jun 02, 2021
The last year has been quite a ride. A novel virus first spread at unprecedented rates, and then the economy nosedived! In such a situation, it was but natural that all sectors were affected. Many people lost their jobs, and, in some areas, were given unpaid leaves for unspecified durations. There were a total of 3.3 million unemployment complaints complaints filed by March 21, 2020.
Those who were spared from such financial tragedies ended up having to work from home. Although some jobs are quite easy to do remotely, people still haven’t figured out how to be more productive at work when they have to do it outside the professional environment of an office.
For most people, it’s not the office, but the people there that boost their efficiency. Whether it is due to the collaborative atmosphere or just acclimation remains a topic of debate. Nevertheless, working remotely has its own perks. In this article, we will talk about how to get the most out of them.
How to Be More Productive at Work in 2021?
Inspired by the results of several socio-physiological studies, such as this, we have compiled a list. It contains all the best tips on how to be more productive in the workplace, be it a corporate building or an apartment complex.
1. Devise a New Strategy
Changing circumstances call for changing plans. Techniques become outdated and must eventually be abandoned. Knowing this is not only important for your career, but also if you are thinking about how to be more productive in life in general.
Due to the risk of Coronavirus infection, gathering people in poorly ventilated, closed offices is a big no-no. Thus, it has become imperative to somehow “bring the work to the workers”, instead of the workers commuting to their offices. That is what conference call features have been doing for a long time.
As more and more people become vaccinated, offices will inevitably reopen. Still, some sort of changes must be made to the infrastructure for ensuring employee safety. Similarly, a person working there must figure out not only how to be a more productive employee but also their duties as a responsible citizen. Although a white-tiled hall divided into cubicles is what most imagine an office to be, it can be much more.
By integrating technology into everyday operations, on-site interactions, as well as remote discussions, can be improved. More computers, better IT support, health regulations, and measures for social distancing are the needs of the present and the near future.
Also, the pandemic has forced many to work on restructuring the office and corporate culture. “What should offices really be used for?” is a burning question nowadays. Real estate expenses are among the largest costs a company must bear, second probably only to salaries. However, a large chunk of the workforce does not need this space. They can operate more easily and inexpensively from their homes. With modern telecom solutions, the overall need for workspace can be reduced and as much as 30% of it can be used flexibly.
2. Organize and Schedule Tasks
Anyone who wants to know how to be a more productive person should try regular planning. Without any aim or strategy, it is difficult to get things done, irrespective of where you work. The following planning techniques might help you in this regard.
● Make a Comprehensive Schedule
We all know the utility of to-do lists and post-its. That is probably why some of us tend to go overboard with them, ending up with haphazard notes that are hard to make sense of. A much simpler alternative would be to unite all these mini-plans into a “master plan” and mark its important events on a calendar. This way is more organized and easy to execute.
● Download a Productivity Planner
If you have done some research on how to be a more focused and productive person, you will surely have heard about “productivity planners”. These are applications that let you schedule your day, and many of them even allow creating a common schedule for all team members to view. To get the most out of such applications, make sure to mention deadlines, working time, and other general guidelines on the dashboard.
● Plan the Next Week on Friday
Get a head start on the following week by dedicating some time to working out a general outline of goals and priorities before the weekend. Roger Seip’s two-hour solution is a means to the same end. He recommends that you spend only two hours scheduling tasks for the next week. If you do it any longer, you might not be able to give your ongoing projects enough time.
● Be Consistent
When someone asks how to be more productive in a world full of distractions, staying consistent is the best advice we can offer. Do similar tasks at the same time each day, track the time taken to do it, and assign new tasks at the day’s end.
3. Find Your Motivation
Staying motivated is one of the hardest things to do, especially when your routine is monotonous. This is the case for most people during the lockdown. Spending all day at home, we find little to boost our mood and imbue ourselves with energy. Still, this is not an impossible feat. Try out the following trick to regain your inspiration to work.
● Have a Proper Workstation
If you work remotely, make a room or even a part of a larger room your home office. You’ll feel look like a professional and start working like one too.
● Remember Why You are Doing This Work
People who want to be more productive at work should first figure out their aim. Is it building a career? Earning a living for your family, perhaps? Some selfless goal, maybe? Whatever the aim is, recalling it will drive you to be more productive.
● Reignite Your Curiosity
Did you join a particular line of work because it fascinated you? If so, rediscover that passion and get the job done.
● Compete With Yourself
Keep a record of your achievements. Whenever you set goals, you should maintain or even raise the bar. Outdoing yourself will help keep you encouraged and driven.
● Work on Your Skills and Professional Networking
Even when you have a secure job, you should struggle to improve yourself. Broaden your skillset. When you see the improvement hard work brings, you will never get enough of it.
4. Do Not Ignore Personal Needs
It is very easy to lose yourself in a busy routine. However, the ones who have mastered how to be more productive at work always put their own needs before their profession’s. We do not mean this in a selfish way, of course. Knowing when to cater to the needs of others and when to do draw the line is a skill in itself. We just advise you not to ruin your mental or physical health over some short-term gains.
● Know What You Need
You can begin by becoming aware of your talents and limits. Avoid overworking and depriving yourself of sleep. A good night’s sleep followed by some light exercise is sure to freshen you up and elevate your mood with an endorphin rush. Eat a balanced diet with enough calories to keep you fueled up for the day.
● Take a Break!
Take short, but frequent breaks. Doing a tedious activity continuously will burn you out way quicker than working in intervals. You might drink coffee or tea, read an article, or skim through the recent news during your breaks – just remember to let your brain cool down.
● Do Not Stress!
Don’t stress over things you cannot control. Instead, you should calmly find a solution to the problem at hand. In fact, trivial tasks that cause you undue tension should be at the bottom of your priority list. You can also try meditation to stay focused and productive.
An unconventional tip on how to be productive in the workplace is spending some time away from it. Don’t go quit your job or anything! Just spend time with your family and friends. Make plans for the weekends and go on an occasional vacation or two. Recreation helps you return to work with renewed interest and vigor.
5. Block Out Distractions
When you sit down to work, make sure to give it your full attention. No checking your newsfeed in the middle of it! If you cannot help it, do it during the small breaks we mentioned earlier. How to be more productive in a world of distraction is something even the most attentive people wonder from time to time. Therefore, we find it necessary to list the following tips to help you.
● Track Your Online Activity
The internet makes it far too easy to get distracted. We have all been victims of YouTube’s recommendations – one cat video leads to another, then another – and before you know it, you’ve been at it for hours! Use an app tracking software to know how long you use each app for. Then, take appropriate steps to limit this usage.
● Turn Off Social Media
Social media can really hog much of your attention span, so much so that you might be thinking of your next tweet while entering data in Excel. It is best to either mute such apps or develop some self-control.
● Turn Off Your Phone
For those who are truly addicted to their screens, this is the last option. The inconvenience of turning on the phone to check their something deters most from overusing it.
● Wear Headphones
Headphones are a great way to restrict your attention to the task at hand. You should listen to some calming music which not only increases your focus but also blocks out unpleasant ambient noise. Even if you don’t listen to anything, others are less likely to approach you with trifling matters if you are wearing headphones.
6. Know Your Working Habits
Each person is wired differently. Your style of doing things might not suit another person doing a similar job. So, those who wonder how to be more productive in life should start with self-analysis and self-improvement. The latter is possible only when you are willing to adopt new habits. In 2021, the inherent flexibility of working remotely makes it much easier to bring about such a change in your personality.
For example, without the restriction of showing up on time strictly imposed on us, we start to go “nocturnal”. This not only desyncs us from the routine of our job but goes against our natural sleep-wake cycle. You should try to adjust your internal clock with the timings of your workday.
Wake up early and at the same time every day so that you can get things done during the sunshine hours. Do something fun and relaxing to ready yourself for the day. Read a chapter of your favorite book or something. Still, start your day with a plan, and do not get carried away.
Another productive habit to incorporate into your routine is acquiring new skills. These skills could be related to your profession or your hobbies – it's for you to choose. Whatever the case, you will have a sense of achievement that will boost your confidence and working potential.
7. Manage Your Tendency to Procrastinate
Wasting time is the biggest hindrance for those who are trying to find out how to be more productive working from home. When you procrastinate, you not only delay your work but also do not do anything useful in its place. To conquer this bad habit, follow the given tips.
● Determine Your Time Efficiency
This is a sort of “diagnostic test” that will help you measure how badly you procrastinate. It is simple to execute: Just start a timer or note the time when you sit down to do work (not when you actually start doing it). Stop the timer when you finish. If your pace is considerably slow, you need to actively work on improving it.
● Use the Blast-off Method
Most often, procrastination is due to a “fear” of doing work. This fear may arise from the unknown outcome of an action or even the discomfort doing the task will potentially cause. However, once you start doing the job, things become much, much easier. So, we advise you to hype yourself up as much as you can, get motivated, and start the work in a sudden “burst/blast”. After then, continuing to do it will be a breeze.
● Use the Two-Minute Rule
If you are unable to implement the blast-off method right away, try prioritizing your tasks. Complete short, easy-to-do tasks or “two-minute” tasks first. Even master procrastinators can get those done. Getting them done will get you motivated and ready to use the blast-off method.
● Create Achievable Goals
Since the fear of discomfort or tediousness is one of the main causes of procrastination, creating long lists of daily tasks will only demoralize you. Instead, begin by scheduling the most important tasks first. Do not be hard on yourself and slowly ease yourself out of procrastination.
8. Team Up and Collaborate
There is strength in numbers. A good office environment encourages the employees to work together and find solutions. This way each of them learns how to be a more productive employee. Humans are not machines, after all. There is only so much pressure we can bear. A team can accomplish things that an individual never can.
There are two aspects to this story. The good aspect is that most people love to help others. The bad side is that most of us dread asking for help. If you truly want to know how to be more focused and productive, accept help when you need it. You might pick up a useful trick or two from your colleague.
Although COVID-19 has made it difficult to collaborate in person, you can always use the many resources available online to coordinate with others. Ask your team members what they think about your communication skills and collaboration efficiency. Think of ways to improve.
Humans are social creatures. We work best in groups. If you have a leadership role in such a group, make sure to stay in touch with the members. Hold short meetings for progress reports or converse with them individually. Most importantly, make sure to acknowledge their efforts. The results of a survey show that 78% of respondents become more productive when their efforts are recognized and rewarded.
9. Get the Emails Under Control
Although emails have been a major part of office jobs ever since the internet came around, our inboxes have never been as stuffed as they have been during the pandemic. Minor tasks that used to be assigned in person are being communicated electronically. Sorting all those emails is a challenge in itself. Follow the techniques given below to make your email management more efficient.
● Schedule a Specific Time to Read Emails
The best trick people who know how to be more productive at work use is dedicating a specified period during the day to read and respond to emails. Never open your inbox while doing something important. It will only overwhelm and distract you. Keep this email-reading session short and quick. Prioritize important emails, e.g., those from your boss, about ongoing projects, and from team members.
● Use Pre-Written Drafts
Many of the official emails we send follow a similar pattern or format. Create a draft for all the common types of emails you send. For example, you can draw up drafts for progress reports, employee remarks, and meeting notices. When the need arises, adjust the draft accordingly and send the final email.
● Work-Life Balance
Working from home just like you, some of your colleagues might try to drag you into the madness of excess emails, late-night conferences, and hours-long zoom meetings. See if your routine and mental health allows for this. If not, draw the line her and try negotiating with the others.
● Avoid Multi-Tasking
If you are wondering how to be more productive in the workplace and think multi-tasking is the answer, you are wrong. Though quicker, handling multiple tasks simultaneously only splits your attention and nothing gets done well.
10. Bonus Tips
If that was not enough, here are some bonus tips that will ensure your productivity reaches its all-time high.
● Keep the Worst for the First
When figuring out how to be more productive in life, you will realize that eating the frog first is your best bet. Things that inspire no motivation should be done as soon as possible because delaying them will only lower your motivation further.
● Take on Only What You Can Handle
Wise people know their limits. Do not accept every request presented before you and learn to refuse them. If you are too humble or shy to do it, you will end up doing more than your fair share of work.
● Do Away with Unnecessary Meetings
Long, and often pointless, meetings done mostly out of formality are so typical of office culture that they have become a trope. Due to the lockdowns, the meeting moved from physical rooms to virtual platforms. This has not added to their usefulness. If you are trying to find out how to be more productive working from home, consider doing away with such formalities.
● Adopt Lean Methodology
This methodology emphasizes the need to do only a few things at a time. Avoid intense multi-tasking and burying yourself in clutter. Stay organized and focused.
● Stay Up to Date with Technology
Technology has drastically altered corporate and office culture. Although it has been doing so for some time now, the effects became ever more apparent during the last year. If anything, the pandemic has taught us how useful platforms like Zoom and MS Teams are. To survive in the competitive modern industries, basic knowledge of tech, especially IT, is essential.
The Coronavirus outbreak has changed how we look at employment. It has drastically altered our perception of what it means to have a job. The fact that certain jobs do not require a daily commute has never been so apparent. Moreover, the contribution of online resources and social media networks to the economy is at a staggering high.
To maximize your productivity, you need to take into account such information and adapt to any new situation that may arise. It is up to you to formulate a strategy that suits you. We hope that our guide becomes a means to that very end.