3 Practical Tips for Overcoming Productivity FOMO during the Coronavirus Downturn

When it comes to working from home, I’ve noticed that the number one enemy of productivity is social media. I hear this from college interns. I hear it from direct managers. I’m not immune either – you should see me scroll through Twitter during the Oscars season.

Americans spend an average of 2.35 hours every day surfing social media during work hours. This distraction is often rooted in stress and anxiety. Many of us click on that cat video because we feel something darker and more pressing looming over our shoulder. This “dark shadow” might be a deadline, a comparison with another coworker or a manager’s unspoken expectation. We sometimes use distraction to avoid negative emotions like exhaustion and inadequacy.

For example, have you noticed all the articles about “making the most of coronavirus downtime?” It seems like everyone (else) is reading business books, taking up home cooking courses or even launching side businesses. 

No one is explicitly telling you that you need to be productive while social distancing, but perhaps you are feeling pressure to achieve more right now because you supposedly have more time. 

It’s stressful to see everyone else apparently going above and beyond their job descriptions when you haven’t even changed out of your pajamas. It is especially painful if you or a loved one are sick, struggling financially or going into work while others stay home.

You are not alone if you feel like you “aren’t doing enough” or feel resentful of people who claim to be thriving in lockdown. And you shouldn’t have to work through these emotions isolated behind a screen. Instead, let’s bring this issue to the light and support each other. 

Here are three of my favorite tips to overcome productivity FOMO (fear of missing out).

1. Remember We’re Talking about Productivity in the Midst of a Global Pandemic.

First and foremost, let’s make sure we frame this conversation correctly. We are not talking about productivity in a general sense. We’re talking about productivity while working from home during a global pandemic. I think it’s really important to remind ourselves that these are not normal times. It takes time to adapt to new situations and the stress that naturally comes with change and deep fears about our health, the health of our loved ones and the security of our jobs and finances. 

Self-care is absolutely critical right now. When you’re adapting to a new rhythm and worried about the future, it’s easy to criticize yourself. You might not acknowledge whatever productivity you are accomplishing. But you are doing your job, you are getting up in the morning, you’re doing your part to social distance and keep others safe. Take time to appreciate what you are accomplishing every day. 

Today, take five minutes to be thankful for yourself. List the ways you are already productive and the people and things you are grateful to have in your life. Your mental health will improve if you’re able to experience gratitude.

2. Limit Your Social Media Time

We often show the best parts of ourselves, the most productive parts, on social media. I’m guilty of this myself. You probably curate your social profiles, too. My advice – don’t compare yourself to one single post of another person. You don’t know what’s going on with that “influencer” the other 99 percent of the time. 

If you’re finding yourself in comparison mode, which is very normal, then turn off those sources of comparison! Try limiting your social media access to once a day (or less than you’re doing now). You might install an app that shuts down social media apps  a set amount of time. Check out InMoment, Space or StayOnTask. Checking social media less has been one of my most important self-care practices during the lockdown.

Remember, there is always someone in the world, no matter who you are, who is more productive (or happy or toned or whatever) than you. And that’s fine. You are not required to be that person. You are you.

3. Clarify Expectations with Your Manager

Now, let’s talk about the real need to get our work done right now. You might be wondering if your manager will call you out for not being as productive as so-and-so in a rival department. Their LinkedIn article on new trends in cloud storage was so insightful!

If we want to escape productivity FOMO, we must get out of our heads and into reality. 

For better or worse, you can’t read your manager’s mind. Any attempt to do so is pure speculation. Speculation can be dangerous because our brains have an unfortunate habit of filling in the blanks with worst-case scenarios.

The solution is to clarify expectations with your manager explicitly. Some organizations are indeed asking employees to be more productive in order to survive the current crisis. Some organizations, however, don’t need their employees to be as productive because things are quieter right now. 

If you’re wondering if you’re meeting expectations, send an email to your manager today, and ask for clarification directly. Ask whether productivity expectations have changed since the pandemic began. Ask for specific project tasks and deadlines you’re required to meet. Nine times out of 10, your manager will appreciate this clarification and see you as a valuable, proactive member of the team.

Does it feel like working from home has widened the gap between you and your Millennial and Gen Z employees? As a manager, do you find yourself questioning their communication styles or remote schedules? I’m about to launch a new course titled, “How To Manage Millennials And Gen Zs In The Workplace.”

In this course, I share the principles and actionable tactics needed to effectively lead your youngest employees. After completing all six modules, you will become a more effective and empathetic manager.

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Lindsey is a globally recognized career and workplace expert and the leading voice on generational diversity. She has spoken for more than 300 audiences including Google, Goldman Sachs, Estee Lauder, Stanford and Wharton. Lindsey is the author of four career and workplace advice books, and her insights have appeared in media outlets including The TODAY Show, CNBC, NPR, the Harvard Business Review and the Wall Street Journal.


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