Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

When Bad Things Happen To Productive People

You relish being seen as the go-to person when it comes to getting things done. You take pride in your ability to deal with a hefty workload and numerous deadlines without getting tripped up along the way. Yet, no matter how accomplished and efficient you are, there will be times when you get overwhelmed by negative or upsetting events.

Times when you are left wondering how you could possibly accomplish almost anything in the near term – be it the client work that still needs to be completed on time, or the myriad of other commitments and responsibilities crying out for your attention. So what happens when your productivity fails you?As hopeless as it may feel, there are very practical things you can do during such times to keep going:

1. Acknowledge that the normal rules don’t apply for the time being.

You might normally plough through half of your lengthy to-do list by lunchtime, but now you are having trouble motivating to complete even the smallest of tasks. Rather than deny that reality, accept it and make some temporary adjustments as recommended below.

2. Focus on the essential tasks, and cut back on everything else.

Your essentials are not your “Should-Do List,” it’s your “Must-Do-To-Survive List.” (If there was ever a time to follow the advice here, now is that time.) If you need to fly out to a family funeral tomorrow, it’s hopeless (and unhealthy) to try and squeeze all of your normal tasks in and around that event. Put those normal activities on hold, and deal with the flight and what comes immediately after it.

Your essentials are not your ‘Should-Do List,’ it’s your ‘Must-Do-To-Survive List.’

3. Make sure you get a lot of rest.

When you’re already stressed about not having enough time to get everything done, resting can feel counter-intuitive. But if you don’t get enough rest, the situation can quickly escalate from bad to worse. Instead of being so sick that you can barely take a call lying down, you might find yourself in the hospital. Nourishing your body – and pacing yourself – is extremely important if you want to be as productive as possible during a difficult time.

4. Ask for help.

Even if you pare your workload down to the absolute minimum, you may still find yourself falling behind. Do the obvious (but sometimes challenging) thing, and ask for help: Delegate work to your co-workers and tap your family and friends for assistance. Your true allies will be happy to help you when you’re in a hard spot: Give them the chance to do some good, and they will.

5. Focus on the positive as much as possible.

We often make the mistake of shutting out the positive as we wrestle with the negative. Try not to give in to this. Hearing those who are close to you say that you are doing well under the circumstances can be a relief. Don’t be shy: If you need a morale boost, kindly request one. You know who is likely to provide such comfort, why not ask them for it?

Your true allies will be happy to help you when you’re in a hard spot: Give them the chance.

6. Reboot yourself.

When it looks like the hard times are letting up, seize the moment and decide how you can do things better going forward. If you were very ill, ask yourself how you can improve your health once you are feeling better. Perhaps it’s starting a new fitness routine, resetting your work-life balance, or allocating more time to your family, your friends, and yourself. If you had a work-related crisis, it might be time to reassess why you do what you do, and realign how you spend your time and energy.

7. Say thank you.

After the clouds pass and the sun begins to shine again, don’t forget about the people who helped in your time of need. Make it a priority to pay back those debts, financial and personal, that you might have drawn on during your difficult time. There are few investments that will pay such good dividends as offering a tangible expression of gratitude to those who took care of you.

What Do You Do In Crisis?

How have you dealt with unexpected negative events that impacted your work? Do you have any tips to share?

More insights on: Energy / Fatigue, Well-being

Bernie Michalik

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Bernie is a senior consultant with IBM. He provides leadership to global teams that create complex IT solutions for his clients. In the years of doing this, he has developed innovative ways to be most effective productively as well as creatively. He enjoys sharing that knowledge with a wide range of people, from deep technologists to UX specialists. Though highly mobile, he is based at the IBM Centre for Solution Innovation in Toronto.
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