Source: Ron Lieback

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused chaos across every tier of organizations, a situation I’d argue hasn’t been observed since 9/11. During these unusual times, many businesses have scrambled to reorganize plans at the last minute. As leaders set up remote workforces, schedule immediate calls with clients and customers, and refocus the budget, they can quickly lose focus.

In March, my calls with clients began with a focus on tweaking digital marketing plans and switched to how to remain calm and productive during these difficult times. Client calls are often with C-level executives or managers, but a few included talks with those on the proverbial front lines, such as salespeople and call center personnel.

The repetition of these conversations prompted me to offer some productivity tips — ones that can be used across all levels of an organization. Implementing these tips during trying times is imperative to optimize performance. If you can continue them when this crisis inevitably ends, strong performance will compound well into the future.

First, what makes people successful?

Truly successful people produce the best quality work in the least amount of time. When these two elements combine, I’ve found that stress is reduced and happiness increases — both at home and at work.

The following five tips are solutions to the largest productivity killers in modern organizations. These productivity issues are further taxing people under the stress of the current pandemic. With that said, they are also easier to focus on and defeat now that many employees are working from home.

Those with the discipline to enforce these tips will be en route to master what I believe is the ultimate end goal of any mission: happiness.

  1. Check email only three times daily.

In my experience, email is the biggest productivity killer. Everyone wants answers right now, including you and me. How many times have you sent an email and checked incessantly for a reply?

This solution takes discipline. You need conditioning to change bad email habits into good habits. Check emails three times a day, or twice if possible. Of course, many emails in sales and customer service demand urgency. However, for ultimate productivity, like when planning business objectives or reports, even employees in those positions should block the most optimal periods of the day for zero email distraction.

My initial check comes around 9:30 a.m. after my “Miracle Morning” and high-value items are completed, followed by checks at 2:00 and 5:00 p.m. If I’m having a full creative day (writing, consulting), I skip the 2:00 p.m. check.

Again, this takes serious self-discipline. Make it a habit. If you’re worried about emergencies, be proactive, and let your business associates know your email policy and that they can call you if needed. If you’re in full creative mode, keep your phone with an administrative assistant in case of an emergency. The more removed you are, the more quality work you will produce in less time.

  1. Eliminate notifications on everything.

Notifications are another big productivity killer. Make sure all phone and computer notifications are off. Not just silenced — off. Social media, emails and text messages are the main culprits.

Seeing your phone’s screen light up or a banner message can break you from serious thought. According to a University of California Irvine study, the average time it takes to get back to a task after distraction can be up to 23 minutes. Multiply that by five, and add time spent on email. Adobe estimates that we spend over five hours each day checking both work and personal email.

Eliminating notifications requires serious discipline. Make it a habit, and watch your productivity skyrocket. Keep those noisy notifications off during your off hours, too. It’s a game-changer.

  1. Schedule days and block time.

Back in 2008, I was exposed to blocking time and scheduling days while reading the late Chet Holmes’ book, The Ultimate Sales Machine. This was by far the most valuable lesson I learned within that book.

I typically create my entire week’s schedule on Monday morning, prioritizing high-value items, such as writing, business development and creating content strategies, for the early mornings when my mind is freshest. I then move on to tasks that take less creative energy, such as email.

Incredible apps exist for this purpose, but I continue to physically write things down in a daily calendar that has slots for each half hour of the day. I think more clearly when physically writing.

After making your schedule, dedicate full attention to one project at a time during those blocked hours.

  1. Adopt a healthy lifestyle.

Optimal health equals less stress. This motif strengthens productivity. You’ll focus more easily when your body is free of unhealthy distractions. Some people spend more of their mind’s energy thinking about the lunch break versus the task at hand; a proper diet and exercise keeps the mind and body sharp.

  1. Constantly learn for deeper focus.

This last tip is essential. The more you know, the more quickly you’ll complete tasks. Block out personal time to constantly sharpen that proverbial saw, whether that means reading, listening to podcasts or audio books, or daydreaming.

The goal is to keep this time free of distractions, which will allow you to deepen your focus. The more focused you are, the higher quality of work you’ll produce in less time, and the happier you’ll be.

In my experience, the people who talk about being busy are the ones who don’t get much done and who carry extra stress. Practice productivity habits at home during this time of uncertainty, and keep them in mind in the future. Your business, family and friends will thank you.