Pandemic Productivity: Doing enough to get through trying times

COVID-19 is making for some weird times.

Teachers are delivering meals in buses. Parents who run board of director meetings are now having to teach Common Core math. Healthcare workers are wearing masks sewn by laid off retail and restaurant workers because there is a shortage of PPE. And then there are those of us quarantined with teenagers. Have you ever had to estimate how much a teenage boy will eat in a month? There are many households who are doing all of this in the same day during this COVID-19 pandemic!

Oh, and remember to take advantage of this “downtime.” Learn a new craft! Finally lose the baby weight! Cook up a freezer full of meals! As Balkie used to say: Get out of the city. Folks, this pace is not sustainable. Nor is it productive. This post is about none of that – its about doing the best you can today.

In the field of IT project management we have a concept call Minimum Viable Product. It means completing the smallest piece of the request in a designated amount of time in order to please the client. With this design, customers can give feedback early and often. This allows you to make sure you don’t get three months down the road at go live or product launch and realize the client didn’t want it to go quite like that.

This is different than half-assing it. Half-assing is a Ron Swanson term, not an IT project management term. I would like to suggest that you are actually whole-assing sustainability during difficult times.

MVP can help you go all in on what can help you get through COVID-19. What would a MVP look like in different areas of your life right now?

1 – Educating kids at home

I am not going to call this “homeschooling” because that would be an insult to homeschooling parents everywhere. But keep the learning going in whatever this might look like. I have social media posts about outdoor classrooms, Home Ec lessons while making dinner, friends doing virtual art classes together through FaceTime, and siblings helping each other with lessons.

Many schools sent home packets. What if you didn’t set a hard goal of time or pages or strict timing of doing math from 9:00 am – 10:00 am? Think about widening the guardrails. My sister has set a 90 minute window of school time with no screens in the morning and school time with screens allowed in the afternoon. This gives my nieces opportunities to choose how they will complete their work and set up their day. In times of chaos having control over something can alleviate the pressure and stress.

One of my nieces took this a step further and asked if she could complete her blocks of work in a different order. She wanted to have outdoor “recess” and craft time back to back instead of breaking it up with working on packets and assignments. My sister is smart enough to throw out the rigid schedule and knock out the MVP – learning.

Reading while on exercise ball
Let learning happen naturally – like Avery combining her indoor physical activity time with reading.

2 – Earning your paycheck from home

This can be a tricky one because no one wants to be a slacker just because they are at home. What I want to suggest is that you could possibly break your projects or tasks into smaller bits to complete. This could allow forward progress as well as giving grace to colleagues who might be 1) pulled into COVID-19 priorities and not able to address your request, 2) reeling from world wide events, or 3) struggling up the technology curve as they transition home.

I have a project scheduled to go live April 1. The trainers that we need to do the one last thing before go live are tied up revising critical education modules to be online and rescheduling training locations to meet 6-feet distance minimums. My training is not critical so we shelved it until after this passes.

My MVP is to back off. Sometimes the best thing to do is nothing. And when it is the right thing for you, it is automatically the right thing for everyone. When we pulled the plug on the April 1 go live, a couple people send me a nice message telling me they appreciated the space to focus on more critical items.

No one wants to feel like we are letting someone else down. But on a good day, doing all the things is not sustainably productive, let alone during a pandemic! Let me say it this way – my MVP, the least amount I can do, is to give someone else the grace I would want to be given in their shoes.

3 – Staying healthy

Here is what our dinner MVP was earlier this week – meat, cheese, crackers on a tray. Followed by ice cream. We ate in front of the TV. This is not ideal, nor sustainable. This is not our usual MO for dinner, but sometimes it is just about getting by, doing just enough. Minimum Viable Product. What is the least amount I can do to get food in front of my people.

Same with exercise. I cannot even with these people who are using this time to lose weight. I am lucky to have a dog who requires a walk and a husband who has set that walk to be first thing in the morning. This week I dragged myself along a few times – no bra because that was one more hurdle I could not clear. No contacts or glasses to see anyone judging me for not wearing a bra. Headphones to prevent anyone talking to me – including my husband. In better times I would gear up and walk aggressively and use this time for meaningful conversations with my partner. Not with MVP – I just want to move my body for 20 minutes. Even if that means some body parts moved more than others.

Determine your MVP

This could be an exercise you complete as a family or as a “leadership team” with your spouse. You can be formal and write it out. You can also ask on the fly with each situation, “What is the least amount I can do and still deliver something towards the goal?”

  • What is important
    • Getting SOME learning done
    • Basic hygiene
    • Being kind to each other
  • What has to be done?
    • You have to eat, can you make them easy
    • Work if your business is still running
  • What would feel soothing in this moment
    • Instead of listening to a book on double speed, would it be more soothing to have silence while you clean the surfaces with bleach for the 10th time that day
    • Bras are never soothing. Wear whatever is comfortable. Adopt the Teleconference Mullet – business on top, sweatpants on bottom

To paraphrase all the Frozen movies in one cliche: Let it go and do the next right thing. Right after we wash our hands.