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Productivity during the times of COVID-19

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May 19th, Tuesday, 8.55 am Vile Parle, Mumbai.

Rohini is a successful Human Resource business partner in what is considered one of the most important insurance firms in India. She is currently getting her son ready for the online classes which have become her added responsibility now. She is also preparing breakfast for the family, cooking her lunch because the society/complex is still not allowing maids and cooks, trying to feed her son the last bite of the sandwich but he is fooling around, answering the phone of a colleague who needs something urgently while trying hard to find the favourite tie of her husband who is also trying very hard to slice an onion for the past 15 minutes. He said he wanted to help in making breakfast.

She earns 80,000/month after tax which is a decent amount for her experience and her career break after motherhood. However, her husband earns 1.5 lacs/month which makes him the boss of the house, unfortunately. He never had a career break because of fatherhood, never had to shift from Lucknow to Delhi to Bangalore to Mumbai for work because of his partner, he never had to deal with raised eyebrows for leaving a three-year-old with a nanny, and the list goes on. Given the amount that Rohini and her husband take home per month, you would say the husband is definitely more productive since he gets paid more. But in terms of productivity, the answer may not be that simple.

This is not to say that he gets paid 1.5 lacs for nothing. He has his struggles too. Running a 20 member team, society expectations, job insecurities, and family issues are burdened upon him too, not to mention the idea of what society thinks a man should be, etc are there as well. He tries to help his wife in the kitchen but fails miserably, he tries to help his kid with homework but that’s once a month, he tries to have a heart-to-heart with his wife every night but is too tired for a conversation or even sex. But that’s the point, his ‘help’ is not required, he should be as competent in the kitchen, with his son’s homework, and at making love, it’s not a favour or an added duty to his already busy life. It is as important just as it is as important for Rohini.

I am not going to go crying about the social divide. Thankfully, I am born a man who is sensitive enough to understand the struggles women go through as well as pragmatic enough to understand how society doesn’t talk about men’s issues much. But, what I am going to talk about is how productivity is not equal to success and how it is a very complicated equation during times of a pandemic. If we take the story above, Rohini sure seems like is hitting out of the park compared to her husband despite getting paid lesser.

Read on.

Facing the reality

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Covid-19 is a never seen before scenario. It’s something that no one can see an end to, nothing is predictable and almost no one alive has seen anything like this before. When such a global crisis hits us, stress creeps up crawling all over you. You are not sure of the symptoms, how safe is it to touch anything at all while you see thousands of people dying every day. And that’s just the anxiety over your lives. There’s also the anxiety of your job, your loved ones especially if they are in a different city or country, there’s the stress of your business if you have any, and the social stress if you had a big event coming up like your wedding, your book launch or the opening of your new restaurant, all the emotions come crashing down on you and get mixed.

Such is the time when you have to face the reality and stay in the game because the rules have changed. Being productive right now is the most important attribute that it was ever before. People have been focussing on skilling up and I think it truly is a wonderful time to increase your skill sets. If you are in a lockdown situation or you’re working from home totally or even if you are going to work only a few days a week, this is the time to pause and look back at our lives and not be very happy about it. Spending money on things unnecessary, late nights, taking things for granted, not taking care of ourselves sounds like the lives many of us have lived in the pre-Corona era. Not to give the pandemic any credit, but unintentionally, it has forced us to hit the pause button and self-analyze as to what are the basic things required for us to be productive and how. It’s become more like a decluttering job forced upon us.

According to my, the first step at becoming productive during the times of COVID is acceptability. To be able to accept and face the reality of the ‘new normal’ is the psychological good idea to be able to sail through times like now. If one can do that, I feel it's a good start at becoming productive. Your mind is free of uncertainties, doubts are clarified and you become slightly fearless about what’s in store for us in the future. You might see that you’re able to complete the work at hand faster and better.

Corporate productivity

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The corporate world works strangely. The decisions are always ‘in the interest of the holistic betterment of the organization’ and the growth pattern is always ‘in alignment with the overall health and vision of our company.’ It is not a secret anymore that it's a bed of jargon that has beautiful looking flowers with thorns underneath. I have worked in a corporate structure for over a decade to tell you that the English used in such organizations is out of this world and if not anything else, you will graduate as a 60-year-old with a degree in Queen’s English. So, productivity in a corporate setup not only needs to be full of hard work it also needs to be a lot of smart work.

I am not saying corporate life is a dark abyss. If you are a fun-loving person at a fun company, things could be really favourable as well. I have so many friends today across the globe who were colleagues before. It truly can be a melting pot for people from all across to come and work together. But what I will also say is that you might be the most efficient guy/girl in the room, still, the person sitting beside you could be the one getting promoted and not you. During a pandemic, bosses are not being able to see the person face to face so a lot of your impression of the company is by your work and a certain amount of conduct.

Some very important ways to be productive (and sometimes pretend to) are:

a. Meet your deadlines — It is quite easy to start browsing your phone because no one is watching, start playing with your kid, indulge in family gossip or just start watching videos on the very computer your company has given you. Even if you do these things, it's important to never miss your deadline. Remember your boss is already thinking you’re chilling at home, don’t give them more reasons.

b. Stay online for the complete day — Don’t be offline for more than 45 minutes at a stretch. It can ruin your otherwise productive day if influential people notice.

c. Keep exchanging emails — The work that you can do with calling is better to be documented if you put them on emails. Reason? Well, it’s documented as a part of your daily work.

d. Think out of the box — Companies like it if you are flexible and adapt to change swiftly. Change things in your work style or a certain something that has been overlooked for a long time. This is a sign of productivity at work especially when bosses are not able to see their direct reports working in front of their eyes.

None of this is to say that hard work is replaceable. It’s not. Productivity can only come if someone is working hard else everything is a little pointless. But, what if you could add a little cherry on top by working smart. Agreed?

Take up the challenge

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While we are discussing meandering through the corridors of productivity, how about entering it and meeting it face to face? What is so wrong in making that ripped body that has looked like a pear for the longest time, or in learning the skills of public speaking or the art of coding or how to bake the perfect cake at home rather than stepping out?

I’d say the stay-at-home culture is going to stay with us for a while now. Rather than sulking and blaming how bad this year is, take up a skill that you’ve been thinking of lately. Some of us are getting serious about upskilling and why not. Why lose an opportunity to be more productive? You never know when in life again you can stay back at home for months and it will be ok. Some of the common skill-up activities that are doing the rounds and will add to your productivity quotient are —

  1. Fitness — With different fitness apps and gyms going online, fitness has been at the top of the list for many. Interestingly, while some people are gaining weight easily because of binge eating, some are losing weight because of a lack of outside food. Whatever it is, you can anyway be more productive if you’re in shape.
  2. Language — You can learn a new language too. Whatever you like, even Klingon! I have been learning Dutch for the past few months. I am not as regular as I would like to be but I am a better Dutch speaker than let's say a Spanish one!
  3. Cooking/Baking — It's a life skill everyone should learn. Many of us didn’t get the time for it but now that we do, it makes sense to learn one of the most important life skills and maybe better it if you already know how to.

The point is, it's a good idea to take this up as a challenge and not think of it as a roadblock. Let’s do what we can do and throw thoughts of uncontrollable out of our minds so that we can have better productivity as we come out of this pandemic together.

Vacation and Breaks

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A lot of us haven’t realized that we are yet to take that week off from work. Just because you haven’t taken an actual holiday, doesn’t mean that you cannot put your feet up at home. Not doing much is also an art. Let this not be a race to learn something or achieve a certain goal because that’s a lot of pressure too. Everyone seems to be bakers, fitness enthusiasts, or public speaker experts today and have learned something new.

It’s not a race to the finish. It is your life and you’re dealing with a deadly virus out there. Let this be governed by your own pace and style. So, out of nowhere, it’s September already and you have not realized that the last vacation or even break you took was in January. Isn’t that a really long time ago. In normal circumstances, you would be flipping through your summer vacation pictures by now and planning your next. But let this virus not take over your right to break free time and again from constant work. This will not only maintain your productivity but also improve it.

So, here’s what one should definitely do —

  1. Take periodic breaks during the day
  2. Take a vacation, NOW, even if you are not going for a vacation.
  3. Spend time with family preferably kids, this can help you focus at work when you return to it.

Putting things into perspective

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It is safe to say that productivity is important with or without a pandemic. What is to be understood here is that the world is on the verge of falling apart because these are unprecedented times. This is the time again where it's the survival of the fittest. There isn’t much option but to fasten your seat belts and make yourself as productive as possible.

As written in The Hindu, “It is important to acknowledge and accept the mental roadblocks you may be facing when you’re trying to develop knowledge, a new skill, or build up a hobby. Focus on learning how to manage these blocks first. Seek professional help through online counselling if you need to, rather than shaming yourself for “wasting” time so far. (In fact, that’s another societal belief to overturn now, more than ever: getting help for mental health is perfectly normal, not taboo!)

This lockdown isn’t some sort of divine test of your productivity. If you have opted to focus on your own or your family’s wellbeing and just want to emerge from this period as a healthy and happy individual, that is a great goal! It doesn’t matter how you have spent your time or whether you have added extra lines of accomplishments to your CV.”

It’s definitely a phase and it’s best if we maintain being as productive as before or maybe even more. If it was a vacation, people would have not lost jobs, the business wouldn’t have stopped functioning, people wouldn’t have panicked and a deadly virus wouldn’t have been out in the open ready to consume almost a lac of people per day.

It’s crazy out there so let’s keep our sanity intact by being as productive as possible.

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