News of the deadly coronavirus first circulated in social media late last year with images and videos of patients flooding hospitals in Wuhan, China. Doctors were fighting a war of guns with swords and they were exhausted as they were trying to call for attention, people were dying, and then the news was shut down. 

The world returned to normal and people forgot all about the terrifying things that are happening in China. We welcomed 2020 with promises of self-improvement, a desire to be better, and to take the risks we have always been so afraid of taking — the classic New Year’s Resolution only this time, we’re more determined than ever. 

Then like a horror story waiting to unfold, on January 11 Chinese state media reported their very “first” death. A 61 year old man who had frequented a wholesale food market in Wuhan, China which is now strongly held as the origin of coronavirus died. This news just came in a day before Chinese New Year when hundreds of millions people had already travelled in and out of China. 

Nine days later, on January 20, the first cases outside of China were recorded in Japan, South Korea, and Thailand. The next day, the US also reports its first case, a man in his 30s had developed the symptoms after returning home from a trip to Wuhan. By January 30, the World Health Organization (W.H.O) had declared COVID-19 as a “public health emergency of international concern”. 

And nine months later in October, we recorded 39,596,858 confirmed cases worldwide with a horrifying 1,207,374 deaths. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on a Global Scale

If this were a video game (and I am secretly and fervently hoping that this is just some parallel universe), COVID-19 has proved itself as a boss level medical health challenge with a dramatic loss of human life worldwide and an unhealthily increasing number of confirmed cases everyday. 

It has also unveiled a lot of colder stories. With the unprecedented social and economic disruption, tens and millions of people are at risk of falling into extreme poverty while the number of undernourished people is projected to increase up to 132 million people by the end of the year and we’re already at the 690 million mark. 

Three billion people are at risk of losing their jobs as the world economy is expected to dip by 3.2% this year. Businesses have temporarily closed or restricted operations and have laid off people in order to thrive through the devastating effect of COVID on their financial health. Moreover in a report by CNN Business in September, about 60% of businesses that have closed during the “peak” of the coronavirus pandemic will never reopen. 

Governments have pushed through extreme health and safety measures in order to contain a virus that has already spread with national and state lockdowns and limiting the number of people during gathering. This has forced businesses to conduct their operations on a limited physical interaction and a majority in virtual ZOOM meetings and remote work setup. 

Work from Home: Productivity is not linear

Work from home used to be a luxury afforded by those who had the resources to do such but now it has become the common setup among corporate slaves. And this has brought in questions of trust and productivity between companies and employees. 

“Without the physical office set-up, how can we make sure that they’re doing their job on their designated 8 hour work shift? And on that note, are they being productive enough? We mean, we’ve already cut losses with this pandemic and we would like to have assurance that we’re paying quality people who give quality time and effort to the company.”

These of course are valid points but only to a humane level of expectation on productivity especially during these challenging times. Work from home can already be a chaotic setup with lots of distraction like your bed, or your clingy pet, or if you have a family, your kids. And we have seen the true stories online, the behind the scenes of a rather put together background on ZOOM meetings curated to a square foot of organization with the rest not holding up together. 

In these cases, I’d like to think of productivity as a healthy heart rate with a combination of ups and downs and plateaus. With the pandemic, it is only considerate to think that people would experience anxiety and depression and these could largely affect their work productivity — that is, in an 8 hour work, we cannot expect people to function like they are in their normal office space. 

Productivity is not linear and that’s valid. It’s not easy to be productive during a time when you’re always unconsciously looking back and front and not knowing when this would end or when things would be back to normal. It’s okay to have some bad days and that does not mean you are not trying your best efforts for your job. (If you’re a manager reading this article, I hope you also remind your colleagues about this and help them feel at ease because knowing this makes a lot of things better.)

Work from Home: How to stay productive?

There’s no one scientifically-backed method that can apply to all when it comes to productivity because it varies from one individual to another factoring in personality, job, and environment. But here are some (privileged) tips you can try to do to stay or improve your productivity. 

First is to define a work space

This is one thing that I must definitely say is the number one priority when it comes to a work from home setup yet sadly it is also the most privileged part. 

Not everyone can afford a work space at home that is conducive in doing your work due to a lot of factors but if you have one, it is highly recommended to create even a small space for work that is different from your place of rest. Because this is where the burnout can start. When you associate your working space with your relaxing space, it’s blurring out the line of your personal life from work. 

Being in a setup like this before, it’s honestly very toxic because work intrudes your personal life and you’re getting sucked up into the corporate slavery and leaving no room to breathe on a space that you feel secured and on your own. 

Also, good furniture and a decluttered desk can also help your mind to focus and also increases the overall comfortability while working which is essential for a healthy mind to produce quality output. 

But work space is not only defined physically especially in the context of pandemic where everything is digital. It is also very important to organize your work accounts and applications and as much as possible keep them in a space that is different from what you usually use for your free time. For example, keep your work applications on your laptop or PC, download their desktop versions so that you would only be accessing them during work. 

As a heavy mobile user, I use my phone almost 85% of the time and when I get work emails on my free days or time (which should not be the case yet it still happens), it gives me anxiety.  So I consciously try to declutter my personal phone with work accounts and email.  

Second, work on your regular hours. Let the 3am emails be damned!

In the new age of corporate work from home setup, there’s this expectation from people that you are always available and you should always be online and I don’t know if it’s actually the pandemic that makes people forget the concept of time but the fact is they do. 

You will receive emails during ungodly hours and even just right after your designated working hours and there’s this pressure that you need to reply because it’s part of the job but I am telling you: DON’T.

It’s important for yourself to establish a routine and that means sticking to your working hours. Though it would be quite tempting to get out of the office routine since you’re at home and you have more freedom to do your work on a more preferred “productive” time which is a valid point but it usually is just an excuse from not doing your work at the time. And believe me, it’s better to get work done on your specific hours and rest after than to break down the work over the day because it honestly just feels like you’re working all day (although at a more comfortable pace which may work for others).  

Aside from it being beneficial on your end that you are establishing your work boundary, it also lets the other person at the other end of the line to also respect their own time. Sometimes, we don’t see these things on our own and need to be reflected. 

Third is to take breaks in between to move around and stretch

According to Mayo Clinic, research has linked sitting too long to a not-so short list of health concerns that we shouldn’t actually be having if you’re a twenty-something like me. Of course, there’s the classic back pain and compromised posture. And as the new smoking, sitting for too long is connected to high risk of chronic health problems like heart disease, diabetes, and even some cancers. 

Did you know that physical inactivity contributes to over three million deaths each year which is 6% of total deaths per year and are entirely preventable. Not only that, it is also the fourth leading cause of death resulting from non-communicable (chronic) diseases. 

According to Peter T. Katzmarzyk, Ph.D., “Even within physically active individuals, there was a strong association between sitting and risk of mortality… This is an important observation because it suggests that high amounts of sitting cannot be compensated for with occasional leisure time physical activity even if the amount exceeds the current minimum physical activity recommendations.”

Sitting all day long in front of the computer or being a desk jockey also affects our mental health in terms of reduced social skills as a result of limited communication and decline in social involvement. Although in this case, we have been forced into this situation not only because of the pandemic itself but also because of the inept handling of the pandemic by the government. So don’t really beat yourself up over it. 

Fourth, establish a schedule and your to-do lists for the next day

If you’re a traditional person like me, it’s good to print out a big calendar to give you an overview of your work week or month. This helps a lot in getting a clear picture of what you need to do for the next few days so that you can plan accordingly. Next, in a journal or a sticky note or memo, jot down the things you need in order of priority for the next day so that you can start your day with a “schedule”.

When you have a schedule, it doesn’t mean that you have to follow it to a dot that you end up getting more exhausted from the mental pressure. A schedule builds a guided structure over your day and helps you complete your tasks. 

If you’re a digital person, you can make use of productivity apps to help you out on your day. 

In one research, it has been discovered that “the average company loses more than 20% of its productive capacity more than a day each week”. This is due to organizational drag which is a process that consumes valuable time and prevents individuals from getting things done which is basically your productivity killer.  

And now, there are a wide range of options off of your Apple Store or Google Play Store that can help you boost your productivity. 

Here are the top three:

Best for Organization: Todoist

First, Todoist is available in Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Chrome, Safari, and Firefox so you can run it anywhere which makes it a very versatile app. The basic features are for free but some premium features can be accessed by two monthly plan premiums for $3/mo and $5/mo which is really affordable and worth it for the features and organization that it will bring into your life. 

Todoist is like the popular Trello which is a task management tool that enables you to break down complex tasks into easily manageable lists. Its key features include a slick and feature rich interface that helps you with task management by prioritising tasks, setting project goals, and keeping track of your progress through the reports feature. 

Best for Improving Habits: Forest

This productivity tool is designed for heavy mobile phone users like me (I think). Part of what makes me unproductive is my constant need to take a break and scroll through facebook, twitter, and instagram in periods of 20 minutes which can be very unhealthy. 

The Forest App takes improving your habits into a more fun way. The productivity interface features a digital tree that grows in time as you focus on your tasks and leave it launched on your phone. The more time you spend away from your phone, the more your tree will grow. And if you leave it long enough, you could actually grow yourself a forest! The best part is you earn virtual coins in the app that can be used to plant and grow real life trees!

Not only are you getting more focused and getting more work done, you’re also helping the environment!

Best for Focus: focusbooster

This tool is available in Windows, Mac, iOS, Android with its basic features accessible for free and can be upgraded into a $2.99/mo or $4.99/mo plan. 

“Designed to make you do more” this application and productivity tool employs the popular time management concept called the Pomodoro technique wherein you work in sessions of 25 minutes and then take a five-minute break.

It has a mini timer flashed on the screen to keep you on track with a save sessions feature reserved for unavoidable distractions, maybe like your pet who is going extra clingy? Anyway, it also has a timesheet feature that logs all your progress and a report where you can look at the overview of your focus performance. 

Fifth is to take proper rest and enjoy your weekends

Productivity is a process and it’s not limited to the tasks achieved but also includes rest as a significant part of the cycle. In order to be productive for the week, you must not forget to energize yourself on the weekend. Most people skip this part in the productivity process which is why they are left exhausted and in the long run, suffer from poor performance. 

It is okay to take a break or leave your manager unanswered when it’s the weekend. You deserve some time to rest and we should all be respectful of this part especially now that it’s extra draining to work with a looming pandemic. 

And while you’re at it, get yourself a good cup of coffee and a good book and leave the digital world even for a while. 

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