I hope you’re staying healthy and happy. As of the time of this writing, we’re choosing to quarantine during the pandemic, and I’ve been focused on efficiency and recognizing productive work vs busy work. Understanding the difference is essential to the success of your business, your team, and your family.

If you’re like me, you’re settling into working from home and maybe trying to entertain little ones at the same time. Just days ago, I never would have imagined an email from the school district informing us that school has been “suspended indefinitely.”

I’ve been meeting with my clients and my team through Zoom, balancing deadlines, stir-crazy kids, and laundry. But we’re adjusting to this new normal, and doing our best to stay positive – we have so much to be grateful for.

Still, it’s tough not to feel disoriented. At times earlier this week, I found myself wandering around the house, stuck in “multi-tasking” circles, not quite completing any one thing. And I’d wonder if I was being productive or just staying busy. You know busy – those days when you sit down at the computer answering emails, cruising the internet, and suddenly eight hours have gone by, and you’re not sure what you’ve accomplished.

I don’t have time for that, and neither do the people who depend on me. And neither do you. Here are the strategies I began using to move from busy work to productive work:

+ Time Management: I once had a coach tell me that there is freedom in structure – that means that you can do whatever you want if you know things are under control. And you know things are under control if you have the structure in place to get things done.

For me, this means staying on a regular schedule M-F and getting ready for work like always. When I put on lipstick and shoes, everyone knows it’s Business Mom – outta my way. Our routine is the same as usual, it’s just all at home – getting up on time, getting dressed, working, lunchtime, family time, exercise, and housework.

A routine is paramount for us. As a side note: I never realized how much my kids craved routine as when I made up a simple schedule for our days that allowed them some independence and predictability for the day.

+ Focus: I stopped multi-tasking – behavioral neuroscientist Daniel Levitin says that we actually drain our brains of energy when we’re constantly switching between tasks. Worse, multi-tasking creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop – that means you’re teaching your brain that distraction is enjoyable. No bueno. I am working on getting out of the habit of being in a frenzied rush and remembering to enjoy the task at hand- one thing at a time. It’s finished when it’s done.

+ Protect Your Mental Health: I was starting to feel irritable – there is literally nowhere to be anymore, and no reason to step away from the computer and constant bad news. Each day started to feel the same. We have to honor what’s important to us and make time and space for it, just at home – exercise, fresh air, time with family (in-person or virtually), cooking, singing, painting, sleeping. I put in a pick-up order at Michael’s for art supplies for the whole family. Get off the screen, turn off the news, and do something enjoyable; it makes us happier humans.

+ Say No: I found that even though I’m home, I’m getting less done – this came as a surprise to me. But, it makes sense. My husband and I are juggling work and kids at the same time (again, that’s indefinitely). Plus, there’s the emotional exhaustion of this situation. I had to take a close look at what I could reasonably commit to. It’s OK to postpone or say no to projects right now, most people are in the same boat and will understand.

+ Create a system: I have a great system – at the office. I needed something visual at home to help stay on track with deadlines. Every task and follow up item goes on a note, and each note gets moved higher up the list the more urgent is. This includes business and personal commitments. It was a huge relief to get everything in one place where I could see it all.

+ Delegate: It’s time to double down on sales and marketing. We need to create more opportunities to mitigate the slowdown, and that likely means you’ll need help. Don’t waste time muddling through how to design landing pages or run social media ads if that’s not your forte. Check out resources like Upwork or ask peers for referrals. By delegating tasks, you can focus on high-level strategic planning, which will make you more productive and profitable in the long-run.

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