How To Stay Productive During Times of Crisis

In the Spring of 2020, the whole world seemed to come unhinged. What everyone thought would be a couple of weeks of inconvenience brought on by a virus, quickly and clearly turned out to be more disruptive than anyone could have imagined. Now here we are, two years later, still dealing with the effects. Add to that financial instability, more political divide, and war — just to name a few things — and it feels like we are spinning out of control.

The stress of these things alone is enough.  But when you add into that everyday stressors along with personal trials and it can feel like too much.  For the average person, all of these things combined are a lot to deal with.  If you're a solopreneur, however, you have an additional layer of pressure added on top of it all.

Owning your own business is a lot of work and brings great responsibility.  Even under the best of circumstances, you can experience overwhelm as a solopreneur.  But that's a separate issue.

Due to the current climate and any personal things you might have going on, you may feel more distracted than ever.  Or like you just can't go on.  And you might feel like you're not being as effective or efficient as you once were.  You might even be ready to quit.

It's ok.  I want you to take a deep breath.  Go ahead.  Take it now.

I want you to understand this.  This moment, right now, is just that — a moment.  This too shall pass.  So don't give up and don't beat yourself up.

At the beginning of the pandemic, I started the Messy Desk Podcast with my colleague and bestie, Meghan Monaghan.  Today I'd like to share one of the first episodes we recorded.  We created this content to help you figure out how to stay productive during times of crisis.

If you're feeling in crisis right now, perhaps some of these tips will help you feel a little more in control and help you keep moving forward.  So, again, breathe.  And then read on.  You've got this!


Originally published on April 23, 2020, on the Messy Desk Podcast.

Crisis Versus Stress

[Meghan] What should you do in the midst of a personal or professional crisis when your business still needs to run? Today, we're talking about staying productive in times of stress and crisis.

[Theresa] Did you know that it's not having too much to do or lack of time that makes us less productive? It's actually high levels of stress.

According to a study by the Gallup Wellness Index, 45% of entrepreneurs report feeling stress. And, according to Colonial Life, 41% of working people feel like stress affects their ability to be productive. Now this is under normal everyday circumstances. What we do as entrepreneurs when our levels of stress significantly increase because of a personal or professional crisis?

[Meghan] When we're talking about crisis here, we're really talking about things like a death in the family, a divorce, maybe a bad client or loss of a couple clients, even a lawsuit, or an illness.

[Theresa] I don't think it's necessarily the crisis itself that causes the problems that we're having. It's actually the increased stress. More importantly, we have to talk about how we can still run our business when those stress levels are really super high. So how can you manage to still get your work done and keep your business running during those times?

Introduction to Staying Productive During Crisis and Stress

[Meghan] These are all really great questions.  I think that Theresa and I probably deal with stress and crisis a little bit differently. I'm an introvert. I'm really a Type A personality. So my response is typically to run away and hide. I wanna get into bed and go to sleep. Or, maybe binge-watch on Hulu or Amazon Prime so that I'm not thinking about the situation.

[Theresa] It's that fight or flight, right? We definitely have crossover, but not everybody is the same for sure. I definitely have had those experiences and the way I handled them–and then the way I would suggest my clients handle their situations–really depends on their personality. Even with introverts, which I am also, we have different ways of dealing with stress and crisis.

I think there are different degrees of that introversion. I definitely get recharged from my alone time, which you know very well. There are times when I just don't want to talk to anybody. I need to be quiet. Having the motivation to continue getting work done when feeling really stressed or anxious is really what I want to dive into today.

[Meghan] I think how we both deal with it is fine. Neither way is wrong. They're just different, right?  Tell me, how do you stay on point when you're trying to stay productive during crisis and stress?

Tip 1: Focus on What Matters Right Now by Doing Less

[Theresa] It's really about taking each moment as it comes. Sometimes it's one day at a time. During times of crisis, it can even be like “I have to take this day one hour at a time” – that's what I would say if I were speaking to my coaching clients and giving them advice on how they can continue to move forward and stay a little bit of momentum.

Of course, it depends on the severity of the crisis. There are all sorts of variables that can change the way we deal with this.

But first, I would tell them to stop trying to do all the things that they would normally do. Instead, focus on things that matter right now.

So my first tip is to do less. What has to happen in your business? What are the most critical things that need to happen? Don't put pressure on yourself to do all the things or try to keep your normal schedule.

Don't beat yourself up about doing less. Sometimes doing less is doing more. I think it helps you stay more productive, right? You have one thing to focus on. Instead of putting pressure on yourself to do everything, just doing a little bit at a time– and only the most important things–can help you move forward in a productive way.

Tip 2: Ask for Help

[Theresa] Tip #2 is to ask for help. I've been guilty of not asking for help.

There's something that happens when you realize that you need to maybe ask for a little bit of help. Especially as women entrepreneurs.  As the nurturers and the ones taking care of everybody, asking for help can sometimes feel like weakness. Or, you feel like you should just know how to handle it.

I find when I just say, “I could really use some help right now” and then determine what kind of help I need, it makes everything better.  Whether it's to communicate and ask somebody to pick up a task in my business that I'm doing or something else. Entrepreneurs tend to group together, right? So getting together with other entrepreneurs, reaching out to somebody that may have a skill that can help me in this time of crisis, and saying maybe I need to outsource something. These are examples of asking for help.

Communicating with clients is really important too. That might not be necessarily asking for help.  But let people know what's going on if it's really serious and appropriate, of course, so that clients don't feel like you know you're slacking off.  You could save a lot of headaches later if you just communicate. It also reduces some of the stress and the guilt that goes along with the feeling that you're not serving your clients in the best way possible because of this crisis, whatever it may be.

[Meghan] I love that tip! I feel like people really do not feel comfortable asking for help. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with asking.  Nothing wrong at all!

[Theresa] Nothing, nothing at all. It doesn't mean there's something wrong with you or that you're not smart, right?

So, yeah, definitely ask for help and communicate.

Tip 3: Don’t Worry About Sticking to a Strict Routine

[Theresa] During times of crisis, I always tell my clients don't worry about their schedule and routine.  That's tip #3.  This is a place where Meghan and I really differ.

If you think about how you may be feeling, there are going to be times when your energy is higher than others, even during a crisis. For example, I do my best writing and strategizing in the morning. But, during times of high stress, I can find it really difficult to get motivated to even get started.

So instead of fighting against it, I'll take a couple of extra hours in the morning to get moving. Then I take advantage when my energy level boosts up. And that's when I'll get to do what I need to do.

[Meghan] Yeah, we do differ there a little bit. As an introvert and a Type A personality… they don't go well together [being an introvert with a Type A personality], but that's the way I am…I'm not laid back whatsoever.

I'm always trying to get back on routine whereas Theresa is more like don't worry about routine. I go to my routine because if I don't have the routine, I will lay around and do nothing. I become extremely lazy in response to stress. No routine and I can't stay productive during crisis.

Tip 4: Block Time on the Calendar to Maintain Structure and Organization

[Meghan] Tip #4 to stay productive during crisis and stress is time blocking on a calendar. I use a Google calendar that's very simple. It's free, and I love this option.

When I have everything written on my calendar I know what to do without thinking about it. I don't have to be stressed about what I'm supposed to be doing right now or what I'm doing in a week. And I don't have to worry about remembering things because I've put these things down on my calendar.

I include very specific notes on my calendar.  That way, I have something to guide me so that my mind… It's kind of like I've got two brains. I don't know if you run across this? But I have what I call my conscious brain and my subconscious brain.  Time blocking gives my subconscious brain a little break, which I really need when I'm stressed out.

Tip 5: Take a Walk Outside to Improve your Focus, Creativity, and Energy

[Meghan] Tip #5 to stay productive during crisis and stress is to go for a walk outside.  This sounds kind of goofy, but it's really simple.

If it's cold or raining, taking a walk outside is difficult to do. You may need to get a treadmill or join a gym, but it doesn't have to be walking. It's just anything that's kind of away from the desk, away from the computer, even away from the house. That gives my brain a rest. That gives my emotions a rest. My mind then focuses in on what I'm doing at that moment, which is exercising rather than on what I'm stressing out about.

Do you do that at all?

[Theresa] I do. Walking away, in general, is great, but being active really does something to help clear your head and increase your energy, right?

[Meghan] Exactly. Yeah. And I'm a person who typically has low energy a lot of the day. So, walking outside or getting away from my work for a bit is really helpful for me.

Tip 6: Listen to Your Body for What to Do (or Not Do)

[Meghan] The last tip that's really helpful is to listen to your body. Theresa always tells me that I'm good at doing this.

[Theresa] You really are, Meghan! And on articulating it as well.

[Meghan] I don't feel bad about taking a nap, binge-watching some television and movies, or doing nothing. I don't feel bad about this. If my body tells me that it's stressed out, I'm flipping out, and it's causing other things to happen then, I really need to listen to that. That usually means one of two things, and they're polar opposites by the way: 1) either rest or 2) go out and do something else and be active.

And I can really tell because my body does let me know on this. This returns my focus and it reduces my stress. At least I find that it does.

[Theresa] I love this advice, particularly because we often don't pay attention. For example, you feel tired — just the fatigue that you get from doing mental work, right? Whether you're in crisis or not. So, if you've ever been in that situation where you're reading something and you find yourself re-reading the same sentence or paragraph over and over again, then it means it's time for a break.

Trying to force yourself to do work when you're not in the space and then listening to your body, letting it guide you to figure out what it needs. Does it need water, food, or a nap? Does it need to do something different, like take a mental break? Maybe you need to talk with somebody about nothing? We do that all the time! I always feel extra energized after we've chatted, so…

[Meghan] That was a great way to put it.

Meghan's #1 Tip to Stay Productive During Crisis and Stress

[Theresa] Alright, Meghan, what's one takeaway or action item that you would tell somebody to focus on right now?

[Meghan] I would say that what works for others may not work for you.  Everybody is different. So before you do anything at all, take a deep breath, process the information, and respond rather than react. Reacting often leads to overreacting, which is totally unnecessary. You don't need any of that drama. So, that is the very first thing I would tell people to do.

Then use that calendar and time block your schedule.  Your calendar will be your safety net to plan your response and collect your thoughts outside of relying on your memory, which will really give your emotions and your physical reactions a break.

[Theresa] I love that.

[Meghan]  What would you say was your biggest action item that people should do, Theresa?

Theresa's #1 Tip to Stay Productive During Crisis and Stress

[Theresa] It's to not put pressure on yourself to keep working when you're in the midst of like a high-stress time, especially in crisis.

You can't force yourself to be productive, but you can be more productive by just focusing on only the things that matter. Let the things that are less important go and be okay with that. Of course, if there are things that have to be done and you just can't do them for whatever reason, don't be afraid to ask for help. Work when your energy is high.

But it's really about not putting pressure on yourself to perform the way you do when you're at your best. It's okay, there's nothing wrong with how you feel how and how you handle it.

I really love that “respond, don't react.” I think that's a brilliant

[Meghan] We all have stress in our lives, always. But there are times when it's worse than other times. Hopefully, there were some really good nuggets that people can take away and implement in their lives.

[Theresa] Awesome.

Alright, my friends, I hope that you take some of the advice we shared in this podcast episode and put it into practice.

If you have any techniques or strategies that you use when you're trying to stay productive during crisis, share them in the comments!

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