Productivity: A Little Help.

I’ll start with what has become cliche at this point: I hope you and yours are well in these very strange times. I also hope you and the people around you are finding the strength to be kind to yourselves and each other in the face of unprecedented stress.

I think a lot about kindness when I see scholars on social media wondering why they are having so much trouble sitting down to work. My first response is, why wouldn’t you be?

We are in a global pandemic without our normal resources. It’s really hard. 

And getting any work done right now requires a change in thinking, more specifically a change in expectations. We are not working at home. We are stuck at home, trying to get something done. Once we accept that our pre-pandemic expectations are not valid or useful, we can start to set goals based on our resources in this moment. And when we accurately (and kindly) tally our CURRENT resources, planning according to what we have rather than what we wish we had, we can make remarkable progress.

With that said, acceptance and adjustment are easier said than done, especially if you are trying to muster the energy and focus all on your own.

Since the middle of March, I have been holding writing sessions with Unstuck participants. In each hour-long session, we check in, name a goal, work for 15 minutes on that goal, mark what we accomplished, set a new goal, work for 15 minutes and then discuss successes and challenges.

In each session, for at least the first month, some amount of my coaching focused on the language participants used to describe what they were doing. “Slow.” “Not good, but…” “Not as much as I wanted, but…” “Not sure it will work, but..” With each appearance of what I think of as weighted language (words that weigh down rather than lift up) I would ask the speaker to edit her/his report.

“I didn’t get as far as I hoped, but I wrote a paragraph.”

Edit: “I wrote a paragraph!”

To my way of thinking, anything you move forward right now is a “Hot Damn!” moment. In fact, for one day’s worth of sessions, I had each person report, “Hot Damn! I xxx!”

In coming together and aiming for small successes, participants have moved forward everything from grants to grading to dissertations to journal articles. They have dealt with long-ignored emails and long-avoided requests to gatekeepers. And it is the moving forward that is the success.

To be honest, witnessing the results of their focused bursts of work, made me wish everyone in Unstuck (there are more than a thousand scholars) and all the scholars struggling right now could join the sessions.

Sadly, that is not particularly realistic for both time and money limitations. So, I used my time in the sessions to put together a more accessible version: Writing in the Pandemic. The 30-email series, combining the values I coach in Unstuck and the techniques we have been using in the sessions, supports you in showing up and celebrating whatever you accomplish.

The goal of each of the 30 daily emails is to help you start something and move it forward. That’s it. Set a goal. Start it. Celebrate having moved forward.

What you can expect in each email:
  • A Daily Practice: A prompt to encourage examination of your thinking and approach to your work.
  • A Daily Goal: More reflective than actionable, the Daily Goal challenges you to adjust your mindset as you face the tasks ahead.
  • Consider This: A short post/teaching designed to help you examine your approach to work and offer some tools for resilience in challenging times.
  • Daily Tasks: In Unstuck: The Art of Productivity, the daily tasks are tied to a project. In Working in the Pandemic, the Daily Tasks are tied to getting started and moving forward—on whatever you choose. If it will take a rock out of your backpack and keep you upright and taking nourishment for the day, it is worth tackling.
  • The Question of the Day: Just what it says. A question for you to ask yourself.
What you need to succeed?
  • 30 minutes of quiet alone time (non-work).
  • 15-30 minutes of work time.

That’s it!

I hope it helps.

A VERY IMPORTANT NOTE: You will receive an email 30 days in a row. That does not mean you should work 30 days in a row! Create a folder for the emails and open them when you have the bandwidth and are in need of a little encouragement. Do NOT let the arrival of an email dictate your sense of progress!

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