Staying Productive in the Age of the Corona Virus

Posted 03.17.2020

As everything started to shut down this past weekend, I spent a good bit of time on Monday scrolling through my LinkedIn and Instagram feeds to see how some of the best-known people in my field of leadership development are handling this new reality. Brene Brown held a virtual church service on Sunday morning. Simon Sinek is filming short videos where he’s answering questions from readers.  Amy Cuddy shared a post where she talked about how she’s finding it hard to concentrate enough to write and asked if others were interested in joining her to commit to writing for at least one hour a day at the same time every day.

When I read Amy’s post, I was like, “Ah, ok I’m not the only one.”

Let’s be real. We’re living through an unprecedented time of a global public health crisis leading to what will likely be a global financial crisis. With all that’s going on, it can be really hard to be productive with our time and attention.

Five or six years ago I wrote a book called Overworked and Overwhelmed: The Mindfulness Alternative. Because of client meetings and speeches being postponed because of the virus, I’m not overworked at the moment, but I’ve definitely had my moments of feeling overwhelmed by all of the events of the past couple of weeks. Yesterday felt like I was stuck in the muck of uncertainty.

At some point last night and really while I was sleeping overnight, my brain started working through all of that. When I woke up early this morning, I realized that I needed to go back to what I wrote about in Overworked and Overwhelmed.

I wrote a lot in that book about the importance of mindfulness which I define as the combination of two words – awareness and intention. Ideally, awareness operates in two domains – external and internal. In our new age of corona virus there is a lot to be aware of externally. We’ve quickly reached the point of information overload with lots of speculation about how the corona virus situation will play out and how long it will take to do so. What I’ve become aware of internally is all of the external input is leading to a lot of anxiety for me about what might happen – with my family and friends, with my communities, with my business, with the markets and the economy, with the country, with the world. All of that thought about what might happen in the future can be enormously debilitating in the present.

That brings me to the second big word behind mindfulness – intention and the title of a classic book called Be Here Now. My intention when I woke up this morning was to do what I can do now to prepare for what may come. I can’t solve for 100 percent of any of that, but I can start taking lots of small steps that solve for 5 percent here and 5 percent there. Taking those consistent small steps will make things incrementally better for my family, friends and the community.

Here’s my short list of small steps I’m going to take starting now.

Checking in – I’m increasing the frequency of my calls to loved ones to see how they’re doing, offer help and increase my peace of mind.

Staying in – Staying home is the most important thing all of us can do to keep ourselves well and in the process help a lot of other people stay well.

Reaching out – As humans, we need connection with other humans to stay productive and healthy. I’m scheduling video chats and virtual coffees with people I work with and care about with no other purpose than supporting each other and staying connected. My friend and colleague Michael Bungay Stanier is one of my role models for how to do this well.

Working out – Fitness studios everywhere are going to be closed for a while but the good news is there’s a ton of video content available online that can help you stay true to your workout routine. Regular sustained movement is vital to maintaining not just your productivity but your health and well-being.

Giving to – My friend John Baldoni has done a lot of great writing and videos on the power of giving each other grace. My wife Diane and I are looking for opportunities to give grace through our words, actions and resources to the people who give to us. Two of my favorite yoga instructors, Allison Adams and Katie Keller are offering examples of how to do this through the live yoga class streams they’re providing online.

Working the list – The need for social distancing creates a ginormous change in all of our operating rhythms. It’s kind of awe-inspiring to think about what we might accomplish if we adjust our operating rhythm and use this time well. I’ve made a list of what I intend to accomplish and how to work it. For me, it includes writing a new book, launching a podcast, shooting videos for LinkedIn Learning, accelerating new virtual services for our clients and learning how to play rock guitar.

In Overworked and Overwhelmed, I wrote about the timeframes of mind – past, present and future. When we over index on the past, we become consumed with regret. Too much worry about the future creates crippling anxiety. So, the most productive thing we can do is to be here now. That’s important for all of us but it’s especially important for those of us who are leaders. I often say that leaders control the weather. However we show up is completely predictive of how the people around us will show up. That’s never been more true than it is today and will be in the months to come.

I’ll be honest with you, I wrote all this down and shot this video as a reminder for me of what I want to do and how I need to show up to do it to be productive in this age of corona virus. I got started by going back to the work I’ve written and shared in the past about research-based things any of us can do to live and lead at our best. Working on this has been helpful to me and I hope reading this post or watching this video has been helpful to you too. 

Stay well, stay home and keep washing your hands. And, if you’re one of those people whose essential work means you have to leave home to help the rest of us, special thanks and heartfelt wishes for your health and well-being.      

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