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Productivity

A Hard Reboot During Uncertain Times

I’m looking for a sense of normalcy in these crazy times. My mind just couldn’t accept the new reality that I’m facing today. I had to come to grips with the world and change with it.

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks so far. I’ll admit, I shut down emotionally for the first few days of the shelter-in-place order. I couldn’t believe what was happening. I just started running around like a chicken without a head doing aimless tasks, hoping to wake up tomorrow and things would return back to normal. Now that Life has changed, I’m faced with a new reality. Work and priorities were rendered meaningless and I had no sense of purpose anymore. We feel that way when a sudden change in our lives occur. It could be the loss or change of employment, a family emergency, or an external event such as the COVID-19 pandemic Whatever it is, it knocks me off course for a bit. But I re-orient myself and set sail in a different direction.


Capture everything that’s on your mind

The Getting-Things-Done (GTD) workflow has a great mindsweep checklist called the GTD Incompletion Triggers List. It helps to download every concern or open loop that is floating in my head on to paper or a text document.

Perform a mindsweep and capture all my concerns. Leave no doubt about what may be missing.


Freeze my previous routines

I go through my calendar and list down all of my daily routines.

  1. Monday morning – staff meeting – goal setting for the week
  2. Monday afternoons – Kid #1’s piano tutor at 4 pm
  3. Tuesday afternoons – Math tutor for Kid #2 at 3:30 pm
  4. Wednesday mornings – Midweek review with staff
  5. Wednesday afternoons – Art class for Kid #1 at 5:30 pm
  6. Thursday afternoons – Juijitsui classes at 6:00 pm
  7. Friday afternoons – Weekly review with staff

I put all of my routines on hold. Then I erased all my appointments from my calendar. I started from a clean slate. I’ll repopulate my daily routines a little later in this post.


Communicate and negotiate new commitments

I had to reach out to staff, customers, friends, and family to renegotiate my commitments. What was once important has been rendered second fiddle by COVID-19. Sometimes it’s hard choices such as dropping projects but leave the door open for future opportunities. Establish which commitments can still be met depending on others’ needs. If I can communicate clearly about my relationship with others during the pandemic, I have a chance to keep my connections when this is all over.

There is nothing worse than being left hanging and unsure about my commitments to others. Will I be able to retain a customer project when this all over? I do set out to reach out to my customers at certain intervals. I want them to know that they’re also in my thoughts and prayers and give encouragement to them. I want them to know that they’re still important and I’d like to get back together with them at the earliest opportunity possible. Keeping those connections will be vital when life returns to normal.

I have the same opportunity with my family. I work with them to establish new routines. Perhaps new family roles will come into play here. My family no longer has to drive to take the kids to various after school activities. Instead, we’re taking on new roles as a semi-Homeschool teacher and coordinate with the schoolteachers to help our kids advance their education. The kids are also taking on more household work now that they’re staying home all day.


Clear my task manager

I cleared my calendar routines. Now it’s time to reset my task manager. Many projects and one-off tasks were rendered meaningless by COVID-19. I needed to update my task manager to reflect reality. Life can easily upend my carefully curated task manager at the end of the day. I don’t trust it anymore if it doesn’t reflect the new reality.

Defer projects and tasks

Assign a start date or defer date of any tasks or projects to a future date. There are many projects that I don’t expect to get to until I am able to return back to work.

Tag it all away

Tags are a powerful way to indicate a meta-status that is used in many task managers. My new meta-tag is called ☀️After COVID.

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My Office tasks looked like this a couple of weeks ago:

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When I applied my ☀️After COVID tag to these tasks, my available tasks turned gray to indicate tasks that are unavailable to me.

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In OmniFocus, I have the tag status set to On Hold. As I go through my tasks lists, I’ll assign the ☀️After COVID tag to any tasks that I won’t be working on until later. When I visit perspectives that shows available tasks, I no longer see these tasks.

When my local shelter-in-place order is lifted, I can go to my Tags perspective and delete the ☀️After COVID tag. This brings all of my previously unavailable tasks back to life again. I can return back to my office and resume work.

Put your projects and tasks into your Someday/Maybe folder

If tagging is a little too complicated for your taste, you can start moving some projects and checklists your Someday/Maybe folder. When the shelter-in-place order is lifted, you can start to drag them back out into your normal folders and resume work.

Evaluate and delete the unnecessary

A last tip would be to just delete some tasks. Re-evaluate your projects and checklists over time. Slowly delete some projects or checklists. It’s amazing how time can change the priority of many projects. Some will get dropped. Some will stay relevant. You make the call.

There will be many strategies that you can do depending on your task manager. Find some way to segregate any projects and checklists that you can’t work on during the shelter-in-place phase.


Establish a new routine

A new situation requires an adjustment in routines. Your calendar will start restructuring itself. As old commitments gets put on the back burner or erased, the remaining commitments will start showing up after you’ve cleared your calendar, adjusted your priorities, and negotiated your commitments with your family and others.

After some settling, I recently figured out my children’s new school schedule, I was able to sit down with my family and started a new family schedule. Set up time blocks and ground rules with the family and others that you still need to work with.

I finally solidified expectations from my family as well as my customers. I listed all the new rules and expectations that would be a product of the current environment. It felt great being able to put them down to paper (or text document) after a lot of brainstorming and negotiation.

The first thing I had to do was establish a new family routine. If my family didn’t understand my new role as a remote worker, I might end up with gaffs like these two viral videos:

Watch: Half naked husband invades wife’s video call meeting

I’m learning to work with my kids now that their school has finally setup Zoom and their content-learning-management system for the kids to use. We’re learning each other’s needs. I need a quiet place to do some writing and have set up on my back patio. My older daughter set up her iPad in the kid’s shared bedroom and the younger daughter is doing online learning in the living room. My wife is comfortable in the bedroom. If I see my daughters and they have Zoom open, I know to keep quiet while they’re in class. I set up calendar alarms to remind them of their various Zoom meetings. They are getting a sense of when to disturb me or leave me alone while I’m on my MacBook or iPad.

We’re finally settling into a new routine with every as Work-From-Home workers. Set the expectations and the do-not-disturb times for everyone and we can all live in harmony. It’s still an experiment so we’re still learning.


Master my tools

The last step to get comfortable in a new world is to learn new remote tools. My family has used FaceTime as their primary video chat service. We had to learn how to use Zoom on our first try with the homeroom teachers. Thankfully, it was easy enough to use. I’m also starting to use my iPad Pro more often now that iPadOS 13.4 with mouse/trackpad support. I can delegate my MacBook to one of my kids if they need something more than their iPad.

Many apps are similar on the Mac and iOS platforms. But the interface is different enough that I’m just starting to get comfortable locating where all my tools are.

If you’re using your PC, learn the keyboard shortcuts. PI’ve used the CheatSheet freeware app to rediscover keyboard shortcuts when I’m on my Mac. I can hold down the Command key on my iPad for a few seconds and a window pops up displaying any keyboard shortcuts for the current app I am using. It also helps to be able to have a cheat sheet printed out and placed on my desk while I’m working.

I am also using automation tools such as Keyboard Maestro on my Mac or Siri Shortcuts on my iPad to reduce mistakes. I create workflows that can be easily invoked to perform a routine consistently.

Master your current apps or master the new apps that you will be using during the shelter-in-place phase. The first couple weeks is rough as we try to learn the nuances of the app. But it’ll be worth it.


After COVID-19

I’m the enteral optimist. I look forward to returning back to a life that is closer to what we had before. I realize that things won’t be exactly the same. Maybe we’ll establish a new norm. But I do look forward to having a bit more freedom of movement when the shelter-in-place order is lifted in our area.

My first step would be to take that notebook where I took notes about what my routines, expectations, roles, projects, and tasks and froze it in place. I can start to look through and restart some of the routines I had before. I can resume my kid’s after school programs. I restart client work that was put on hold while the shelter-in-place order exited. I slowly reintroduce old routines and daily schedules. It won’t be exactly the same but I’m looking forward to getting back to work.


Share your journey of how you are handling your new life. What new roles have you taken on? How much have you adjusted to a new world? How did you change your commitments to current work? Are you doing anything to get ready for a different world than what we had just a few weeks ago? We’d love to hear from you!

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