• Dhruti Soni

Productivity in a remote world

Women & Design // WID Insights

An insight into what productivity means for me, and how I've learned to snap myself out of unhealthy cycles while working remotely. There's so much to share! This will be a two-part series of articles, the first focusing more on work and productivity, as society measures it. The second, a more unconventional outlook on productivity, and why it's equally as important.



Google defined productive as "achieving a significant amount or result.", while Wikipedia chose to call it "efficiency of production of goods and services expressed by some measure" — both the definitions revolve around an output per unit of input, over a specific period of time. Over time, productivity seemed to apply to humans as well. "I stayed up until 2 am working, it was so productive" or phrases like "I feel so unproductive today", our definition of productive was defined by the amount of work you did that day, in comparison to societal norms.



Google defined productive as "achieving a significant amount or result.", while Wikipedia chose to call it "efficiency of production of goods and services expressed by some measure" — both the definitions revolve around an output per unit of input, over a specific period of time. Over time, productivity seemed to apply to humans as well. "I stayed up until 2 am working, it was so productive" or phrases like "I feel so unproductive today", our definition of productive was defined by the amount of work you did that day, in comparison to societal norms.


I'd like to take a breather and share my definition of productivity. To me, I'm productive when I'm working with 0 distractions, sipping on an iced refreshment while having a face mask on, or even when I'm just zoned out watching Netflix. I think what matters more to me, is to listen to my mind and body and understand what I need at that moment.



Our current measure of productivity somehow equates to the future, and not so much in the present. What do you define productivity as? Let's start a conversation.


I started my career remotely, back in 2019. As uncomfortable as it felt back then, I'm grateful it prepped me for the twist in 2020. I've been working from home, remotely (and productively) since 2019, and it's been a hell of a journey. I still find myself saying "I'm so sick of working from home", but I've come to realize it's more of a mindset than it is physical. I think it's the fact that we know we can't go out, or have those interactions we once took for granted that it tends to take a toll on ourselves. It sucks. You feel stuck, at a loss for inspiration, the walls may even feel like they're closing in! It's funny how easy it is to take things for granted. I've made some mistakes, I've slacked off badly, procrastinated hard and gone down darker roads; but I've come out and now I know how to prevent it from happening. I wanted to write this article, in the hopes of helping even just a single person out there. These are, of course, purely my experiences and opinions. Not everything that worked for me may work for you, but at least it'll help you find out what doesn't work for you.


To-do lists



You've probably heard this a million times, but they work! If you know me, you know I'm an organization junkie. I've used analog to-do lists, post-its, scrappy old notebooks, Muji notebooks with organizations printed in, as well as digital to-do lists. I've finally settled on Notion, as my very own physical brain. Human brains work better when they're not holding a long list of things you've got to do. If you're like me, and you tend to forget the 20 things that you told yourself you would complete in the morning, it's always handy to have to-do lists that make your day 10% easier.


I also embed in my Google Calendar, which I swear by time blocking (link this to the time-blocking tag on this page, further down). This allows me to view the calendar and any time blocked right next to my to-do's (as well as viewing my week, day and agenda!)


Automate, automate, automate!



Less is more in design, and organization too. Through multiple trials and errors, I've found this simple to-do list to work wonders for my daily routine. Like any other human being, I have multiple roles that I switch between on a daily basis, from working as a freelancer, being a daughter, a founder, a client, a human being - it does get confusing to bring my 100% to each part of my life. I've found segregation and sorting to automate high-priority tasks at the top of my list extremely helpful. I use tags to associate each task to each of my roles: Minimalcacti, Study, Life, and WID. Then adding an 'urgency' level to each, with emojis of course. I've got a check-box that allows me to filter tasks to only those which still aren't done, the rest all save up in my 'Masterview' where I can see what I did, exactly when. Deadlines also help sort the tasks, if that's something you prefer having priority on. I've got a couple of different sorts that automate my to-dos so I don't have to think, just do!


Lastly, I do add in relation to the task itself (eg. the article I'm writing, or the course I'm taking, etc.) so I always know what I did on which day. It's going to be good practice later down the line, and I'm happy to be able to start collecting data and making databases this early on, to reflect on whenever I wish.


Time Blocking



I use my calendar a LOT. It's linked with Alexa, which sends me helpful reminders throughout the day on what I have to prepare myself for next. Previously, I would block my time with exact tasks, which I found to be sadly repetitive as I would pencil in my to-dos on paper, then on Calendar, and on Notion as well. Silly, I know. Now, rather than adding in tasks on the go, I've blocked out my time which allows me to know what mindset I have to be in, and when. This is an honest game-changer. Knowing which part of my life I'll be catering to, really sets the tone well in advance - making any task I have to do at a certain time an efficient one.


Multi-tasking; a myth or reality?



We often think combining tasks will help us save time, but in fact, it's the opposite that ends up happening. I was an avid multi-tasker up until recently. I would take pride in my ability to multi-task thinking I was doing so much more when in reality, I was doing it so much slower and not to mention, ineffectively. Having a thousand tabs open, and multiple tasks running at the same time is as simple as your laptop lagging and crashing every 5 minutes (we don't have a taskbar to end tasks from). There's an experiment that was conducted at Stanford University by Clifford Ivar Nass, eventually concluding that our generation is suffering an "epidemic of multitasking". There was an excerpt in the book "Ikigai" which explained one such study where they had a group of students, and each group was shown a screen with several red, and blue arrows. The objective was the count the red arrows; simple, right?


Well, at first all the students got the answers correct right away, no trouble. However, when the number of blue arrows increased (while the number of red arrows stayed the same, just changed their positions), the students who were 'accustomed' to multitasking had some serious trouble counting the red arrows in the time given. Those students who weren't habitual multi-taskers were relatively quicker. Why did this happen? The multi-taskers got distracted by the blue arrows! This proved that no matter how efficient we may feel, we're actually spending less time working, and more time getting distracted. It's not an individual problem, I think as a society, we need to stop glorifying efficiency and productivity as measures of success. We need to highlight the losses multitasking embeds in our minds, which are actually quite grave. Another study actually proved that multitasking lowers your IQ by at least 10 points and your productivity by 60%. Now, stop multi-tasking, focus on what you're doing! Btw, multi-tasking also means glancing at your phone every 5 minutes or checking your email every hour. This brings me back to why time-blocking on G-Cal has been efficient for me so far!




I know I could go on and on, and there's so much more to what I do to make sure I'm 'productive' while working from home. The techniques and hacks I mentioned in this article, work better for 'working', next month, I'll share a few on other branches of productivity while working remotely (from self-care to taking time off and avoiding creative blocks enough.) I'm interested to know what you feel works well for you, and what tips, tricks and tools do you use?





We're always open to other perspectives, opinions, and a good chat over some coffee or tea. We'd love to host a conversation with you, head on over to our Discord and get in touch!


With 🧡 Team WID.



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