Holistic Productivity: Productivity during a pandemic

For many, productivity is a synonym of work productivity. This year’s pandemic had many reassessed this very narrow definition. In fact, at this year major meeting in my field (www.aapm.org), the issues related to coping, adapting, productivity and so on associated with the COVID situation has been at the forefront of the meeting. 

If I look at my own productivity, I can safely say that my working hours plummeted with the confinement and the closing of my laboratory. That being said all of the critical tasks/projects associated with my jobs still got done! This might sound surprising to hear at first. So what change? All of the job-related personal “pet” projects and extras (you know those things you do above and beyond because of professional considerations or/and personal interests) simply got slashed or postponed. Also suddenly, “good enough” become the new perfect in many instances!

On the other hand, productivity at home, for family tasks/projects went up significantly. So overall, my global productivity remained at a similar (even higher then!) pre-COVID level; it is the mix of work/personal/family tasks and projects changed completely. This makes perfect sense because we all have a limited amount of time/day available.

Tasks entries, cancellation, deletion and completion from August 2019 to August 2020

The figure above shows the task-level statistics for the period covering August 2019 to August 2020 using the KanbanView app. I have already shown this figure as part of another post but in the context of this post, it is interesting to underline the effect of the pandemic (and also the subsequent ripples that are shown over the course of weeks) in terms of the redistribution of tasks/projects that were discussed above. Of course you can clearly see a picket fence-type of pattern with clear longer histogram bars at regular intervals throughout the year. These correspond to:

  • My weekly review time! 
  • You can also spot very easily my off/vacation time:
    • In the summer (August – as well as the peak in July just before vacation, this year coinciding with the joint AAPM/COMP meeting, to make sure nothing is left in my head before leaving!) 
    • Around  the Xmas break, with a large peak corresponding to my annual review / system cleanup and adjustments. 

More importantly for 2020, you can see the effect of COVID-19:

  • A small increase in activities at the end of March – early April corresponding to the start of the confinement period – and me waiting for more information to act more decisively. 
  • Major adjustments at the end of April steaming from the COVID-19 situation which here coincided with: 1) key (longer term) information becoming available, 2) the planning for the reopening of my research lab that was to happen in May and 3) preparation for the university summer and fall semesters. The “attenuation” curve following the spike decreases until reaching the previous level is also clearly seen,

Note that if you have a good system in place (see eOffice series), you already have captured all the tasks/projects related to all areas of your life. Thus even if you did not fully realize it yet, you instinctively include all aspects of your life in “your intrinsic” definition of productivity i.e. that productivity can only be defined in a holistic context. This is the only way you can be ready to deal efficiently (as well as this is possible 😯) with unexpected things such as the COVID pandemics: because you know everything you have on your plate, you can more easily negotiate with yourself what will be trashed, what will be postponed and what will be prioritized moving forward. 

In many cases, I admit that it was heart breaking to let things go but it is also liberating. By saying NO (for now at least) to some tasks/projects, I was able to say YES to myself, to my family and in all important instances also to my employer by focusing on what matter the most at that point in time.

In the end, productivity is not equal to doing a lot of things. This is being busy and being busy is easy! Productivity is doing the most appropriate task (and thus advancing the most appropriate project) at any given moment in the situation you are in. Being productive required conscious decision-making…and (some) effort.


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