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How to Stay Productive in a Virtual World

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February 17, 2021

Pre-pandemic, we were productive during our workday, in part, due to the people in our office and the cues and resources present in our workplace. When the pandemic hit last spring, many of us were mandated to work from home for our own safety and the safety of others. Some of us continued to work in the office with a “skeleton crew” and by practicing masking, social distancing and other safety measures our employers put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Today, many of us may be working in a hybrid situation, spending several days each week in the office and working from home on the other days.

In the office, we had our supervisor / executive who we met with regularly that created our workload by giving us things to do. We had teams to work with and support, and some of us had people to delegate to. We had in-person meetings to prepare for with printed agendas and materials, coffee to make, and catering to order and deliver.

Most important in some ways, is that we had the ability to stop by a co-worker’s desk or office to ask for help or problem-solve, and the constant contact kept us on track regarding upcoming deadlines and team / company events. We had opportunities to chat spontaneously with our co-workers in the breakroom, the copy room, and in the hallways of our offices. We caught up on business with each other over lunch and coffee meetings.

When our computers malfunctioned, we could call our IT department and someone would appear at our desk to take care of the issue. IT helped us install new programs and tools to assist us with our work and often held trainings to help us use them. We had systems in place to order supplies and have them delivered when we needed them. In a pinch, we could borrow what we needed or ask for help from others in the office so we didn’t skip a beat! 

Due to the pandemic, our in-person or in-office support network disappeared quickly, didn’t it? We have the same role but the game changed. Our support network and resources are primarily virtual. We don’t have the daily interactions with others and cues to rely on to keep us moving forward in a collective effort. Our productivity is ours to manage. It always was, yet it is glaringly so now. Without much warning or practice, we were expected not only to adapt to working from home but to master it. As we start the new year, we’ve been working remotely, working from home, working from anywhere or living at work. No matter what you call it, we can be productive in this virtual world.

I’m going to suggest you start with the basics to help you be, stay, and gain productivity. Virtual work is the future of work and mastering it starts with mastering the basics. You need to work in a productive way in a productive work environment to do your best work and be successful. When I say the basics, I am referring to a calendar / priority list; computer desktop / email Inbox; and an organized physical desktop / workspace. It is more important than ever to focus on these basic items to lay the groundwork for effective work and greater productivity. Add in those programs, tools, and apps that support, streamline, and create additional efficiencies.

To be productive, you need to be an expert calendar and priority manager.

  • Manage your own calendar and priority list like you manage these same items for your supervisor. Schedule a morning and afternoon break and at least 30 minutes for lunch.
  • Prepare your daily and weekly priority list at the end of each week for the week ahead and refine it at the end of each day for the following day as needed. Priorities are always changing and competing and it’s important to flex and adapt to changes and update your priority lists accordingly.
  • Calendar your priority items and deadlines and block time to get the work done on time. Schedule reminders to help keep yourself on track.

To be productive, you need to have an uncluttered computer desktop and email Inbox.

  • Your desktop is a workspace, not a catch-all for old documents, photos, and videos. De-clutter it by creating 10 or fewer folders on your desktop and keep only the documents you need on hand to process and complete priorities for the current week (only). Delete or archive any folders, documents, and shortcuts you don’t need.
  • Think of your email Inbox as a temporary space for emails waiting to be processed. Keep only pending emails in your Inbox with a maximum of 50 (the number that can be displayed without scrolling).
  • Move emails you need to keep permanently in 10 or fewer folders in your Inbox. These folders are searchable if you need to find an email that is not currently pending.
  • Delete emails you don’t need immediately and unsubscribe from email lists that are not useful. Reduce the number of emails you receive and send to increase your productivity and lower your stress levels.

To be productive, you need an organized physical desktop and workspace.

  • Clear your desk and put back only items you need within reach on a daily basis. A clear desk = a clear mind = greater productivity. Examples of basic items include pens, a pad of post-it notes, a desk lamp, a small plant, and a tray or upright filing box for pending papers that need action.
  • Keep non-actionable paperwork and training notes in a filing cabinet, upright in folders in filing boxes on a shelf, or scan and store them electronically. Keep reference and training and self-development books on a nearby shelf or bookcase.
  • Be sure that lighting is optimal for your work and Zoom meetings.
  • Keep your workspace uncluttered so you can move about freely, limit visual distractions, and to be able to use your real background for Zoom meetings.
  • Designate a place for everything so you are not wasting time searching for what you need.

About the Author:

Lisa Assetta, Founder and Owner, Office Assistance Plus

American Society of Administrative Professionals

Producer of

APCEA Summit  EA Ignite