Since the start of the pandemic, San Francisco-based productivity coach Judy Dang has been focused on helping her clients reset their definitions of productivity. Clients typically come to Dang and her business Avid At Work to gain clarity on how they can accomplish their priorities and goals, but this year requires some rethinking. “Goals are great,” Dang says, with a suggestion for how to approach them in this era: “Let’s look at them with a new set of eyes.”
In stretches of disruption and uncertainty, reframing how we view productivity can yield big benefits for leaders, their teams, and their organizations. With many office workers still at home—some facing health concerns and navigating new caretaking demands—efficiency and optimization have become more important than ever.
Instead of focusing on achieving 40 or more hours of uninterrupted work time each week, here are some strategies for high-achieving entrepreneurs as they aim to adjust their productivity mindsets:
Focus on outcomes, rather than numbers and hours
«For most people, a good job is not calculated by hours. It’s by results,” Dang says. You may be working fewer hours, but you may be maximizing your output of valuable work. She also urges leaders to drop “crazy-busy” as a badge of honor. Instead, when someone asks how you are, talk about what you’re focused on and committed to accomplishing.
Concentrate on process goals, not outcome goals
Instead of trying to get five new clients a month—an outcome goal that can be out of your control—Dang recommends setting achievable process goals that will lead you to that desired result. Can you instead call your 10 favorite clients next week? Or reach out to 20 prospective clients each month? Or create a customer relationship management (CRM) set up to track your relationships more efficiently?
Adjust your productivity and planning systems as necessary, realizing that what worked before may no longer be sufficient
Lani Inlander, the owner of a personal styling company in the Washington D.C. area, says her sticky note system “worked well until it didn’t.” She then turned to a paper planner with plenty of space to track her habits and to-do items. The planner’s expansive design and enhancements—features that complement a system of phone alarms to signal when her kids need to be in the virtual classroom, for example—help Inlander keep her complex schedule and business on track.
Use your time, energy, and headspace strategically
Dang recommends segmenting your work into two categories: deep work (such as assembling a proposal for a client or writing a book) and shallow work (such as calling for appointments and ordering supplies online). Group all of the shallow work together and reserve it for more distracted times. Reserve deep work for distraction-free times, coordinating with others to provide caretaking if needed. For example, Inlander trades child-care duties with her husband (and an occasional sitter) so that both of them can zero in on their work.
Also, eliminating unnecessary distractions may allow for more time to devote to deep work. Dang recommends deleting one social media app from your phone and limiting its use to your laptop or desktop computer. She also suggests that we all stop using our brains as “filing cabinets.” Since errands and groceries take up valuable headspace, save them for your written to-do lists.
If you’re a manager, be cognizant that too many video calls can sometimes sap employees’ energy and productivity, particularly if those team members are more introverted. Many companies that require daily video check-ins should consider whether some employees might be more productive without them, Dang suggests.
Retain as many pre-pandemic habits as possible
Inlander now styles most of her clients via video calls, instead of visiting their homes to set up their closets. However, she says she puts the same effort into getting dressed each morning today as she did pre-pandemic, a process that includes laying out a professional outfit with matching earrings and shoes. So much of her productivity and creativity, she says, is linked to “feeling like myself.”
Wrap personal wellness and social time into your idea of productivity—and reset your standards
If you’re reducing your weekly runs or the number of meals you cook from scratch, don’t think of it as lowering your standards. “When someone says, ‘I’m just going to lower my standards,’ it makes them feel bad,” says Dang, recommending that we instead use the phrase “resetting standards.”
“We still want to stay healthy, eat healthy foods, move our bodies, nurture our relationships,” she says, adding that we should acknowledge that any movement toward these goals is enough for now.
Inlander adds that a weekly call with other local mothers is not only “the number one thing that has kept me connected to the outside world,” but that it has also cut down on the time it takes to figure out school dynamics and health tips. “It absolutely has gotten me more relevant information” than web searches ever would, she said. “That is totally what it takes now.”