stay productive

Life happens. Although most of us prefer it when our lives are smooth and unproblematic, the reality is that most of us will experience personal crises at some time or another. Death in the family, chronic illness, divorce, parenting issues, and financial burdens are just a handful of problems that might come at us unexpectedly. As if these situations weren’t difficult enough on their own, you’ll most likely face an additional challenge during seasons like these: Learning to stay productive in the midst of emotional and mental stress.

In this article, we’ll look at how to remain productive and on-task during your working hours, even when your home life feels unstable.

Free download: 5 Steps to Remain Focused on Your Work–No Matter What’s Happening

True productivity.

Before we dive into specific strategies for coping with an unstable home life, let’s talk about what productivity is and isn’t.

Productivity is not working endless hours, or working as much as you can just for the sake of working. According to the Center for Management & Organization Effectiveness, people all over the world work an average of 45 hours a week….and feel that 17 of those hours are unproductive. Many attribute unproductive hours to unnecessary meetings, but distraction and inefficiency are also significant robbers of quality work. In short, more isn’t necessarily better.

So, if emotional stress is causing you to stare at your screen and zone out multiple times a day…or constantly check your text messages…or struggle to write, think, or communicate with clients and coworkers…then you’re not necessarily accomplishing productive work.

stay productive

The good news is that you can still work productively while working at reduced hours or even with reduced capacity. In fact, productivity experts like Tim Ferris are celebrated proponents of shorter working hours. In fact, Ferris claims to teach you how to reduce your entire workweek down to four hours….and still make good money and live the life you want.

Extreme life-hacks aside, let’s see how defines productivity:

Productivity is the quality, state, or fact of being able to generate, create, enhance, or bring forth goods and services.

That being the case, productivity doesn’t necessarily require spades of time or emotional energy. When you learn to effectively cope with crises, you can still work productively–setting aside enough time to get your job done and stay focused while also working through personal difficulty.

Here’s how it’s done:

Don’t try to multitask.

When your home life feels unstable, perhaps the greatest challenge during working hours is staying focused. If your mind is racing with thoughts of how to deal with a particular relationship, or you’re overwhelmed by grief, chances are that you’re going to have trouble writing a proposal, editing a presentation, or writing content for a landing page. Don’t attempt to multitask when dealing with intense emotion. Instead, take a break.

Don’t attempt to multitask when dealing with intense emotion. Share on X

Schedule your breaks.

Taking a break can be difficult, especially when you feel like you have a ton of work on your plate. That’s why scheduling your breaks can help you remain accountable to your own commitment to take your mind off of work.

Use Timing to schedule tasks on your daily calendar by “Creating a Task” under the Review tab. You can set a start and stop timer that gives you permission to step away from your laptop for 10, 15, or 30 minutes. When you get back to work, you’ll know that you stayed on task–you simply gave yourself a few minutes to recuperate so that you could keep working without getting distracted.

Go on a walk or jog.

One of the best ways to take a break is to get your body moving. Exercise releases endorphins–which reduce stress and induce feelings of happiness–and gives your mind an opportunity to process. Try taking a short walk, going on a jog, or even taking a yoga or fitness class if you can fit it into your schedule.

stay productive

Healthy activities that don’t involve working can help you cope better with stress, so that when you do get back to work, you’re better prepared to tackle your To-Do list. Again, you can use Timing to schedule these kinds of breaks into your day.

Let people know.

If you work for somebody else–even if you work remotely–don’t be afraid to tell others about what you’re going through. Acknowledgment and support are important, and allow you to continue working without “keeping things secret.”

Tell your boss.

Divorce, death, and similar life events are no doubt going to impact your ability to work at full capacity. Instead of letting your boss guess at why you might be working shorter hours or missing deadlines, tell her or him what’s going on. You don’t have to go into detail; simply ask for a short phone call or meeting and explain what kind of circumstances you’re experiencing in your home life.

Ideally, your boss will appreciate your transparency and give you some room and space to grieve or cope–and you’re given the freedom to pull back from work momentarily without building additional stress.

Go to HR.

If you work for a larger company, the human resources department may be able to offer you helpful resources such as free counseling. Remember that your workplace wants you to succeed and thrive just as much as you do. Take advantage of what HR can offer you and participate in any counseling or programs they offer for those dealing with personal stress.

Adjust your goals.

Productive work is often achieved by setting short-term and long-term goals–benchmarks such as “I’ll accomplish these three tasks today…” or “I’d like to make $6.5k in the month of November.” Setting these kinds of goals is an effective strategy for accomplishing productive work. And, for freelancers and entrepreneurs, it’s key to remaining on task and building a business. But in a season of personal distress, you may want to adjust your goals.

If you typically need a 9-hour workday to get everything finished, then figure out what you can get accomplished in a 7-hour workday. Give yourself permission to temporarily adjust expectations for working hours and even income, and celebrate when you meet those goals!

At the end of each day, check your Overview tab in Timing and see how you’ve done. When you’ve met your benchmarks, pat yourself on the back–you’ve continued to work efficiently and productively in the midst of personal trial. Way to go.

When you’ve fallen short, be patient with yourself and try again tomorrow. One of the most important things you can do when things are tough is to give yourself grace to perform at limited capacity.

Don’t forget to download 5 Steps to Remain Focused on Your Work–No Matter What’s Happening

Finally, take time off.

Finally, you may just need to take time off from your job. If possible, take a week or two (or longer) to step away from work and spend time to get counseling, rest, get healthy, and work on personal relationships. Taking time off does not count as failure. Ultimately, rest is key to productive, quality work–especially when life throws you unexpected curve balls. When you return to work, you’ll feel at least somewhat renewed and restored–and maybe even have greater passion for your job. Good luck!