Productivity and “Pandemic Brain”

Tips from our team members on how to stay organized while battling pandemic brain fog.

by Sarah Miller

A few months ago, the Atlantic put out an article titled, “Late-Stage Pandemic Is Messing With Your Brain: We have been doing this so long, we’re forgetting how to be normal.”

This resonated with our team so much that a couple of us put out a call for help. One of our designers wrote, “My mind is like a sieve, and I forget silly stuff all the time. I've been struggling the last year with COVID brain and forgetting to do small tasks that people ask of me if they aren't due for a week or two.”

Between Google docs, project management tools, Kanban boards, personal to-do lists, Slack updates, and calendar reminders, the overwhelming number of tools trying to “help” us stay organized just ends up being the number one reason things are slipping through the cracks. As we all look ahead to month 16 of working from home, we’re all wrestling with “pandemic brain” more and more every day.

So we asked the Promptworks team - How do you remember stuff?

We got a lot of answers- some app recommendations, some age-old advice, and some tips that were down-right different. Here are some of our favorites:

1. Just hit “Remind Me”

An engineer responded, “I think part of the problem is that a lot of our current tools expose lots of ways (and channels) for small tasks to pop up and then get buried.” He suggested one small thing that he’s been using is the “Remind me about this” feature of Slack where you can immediately queue a message to be read in a set amount of time. He said, “I always choose tomorrow (unless I need to get to it today) and then all my notifications come at 9am when I can batch them (they tend to be smaller, so I can usually get them done before my first standup).”

2. Throwback: IRL hand-drawn progress bars

Another engineer said, “It seems like different things move at different rates and need different people to be involved so I’ve never been able to get ‘just one thing’ working.” So he’s using a mix of slacking himself notes to self,, the, Trello and - get this- something he called “little hand drawn progress bars.”

“I once read this person’s account of successfully getting ready for an interview with Google and one of the things that stood out was making these little progress bars, that really stuck with me for getting things done that are long-term efforts.”

Here’s an example of what he’s talking about:

We didn’t expect one of our top software engineers to show us a hand-written sketch on a piece of notebook paper. But for some of the most technical minds, simplicity may be the key to organizational success. “This is so lo-fi and it rules,” he said.

3. Can I throw $$$ at this problem?

Meanwhile, our Talent Acquisition Manager is considering paying a personal assistant to come in and clean up her life (as seen in this Twitter thread). With this tweet, journalist Jessica Huseman blew our minds.

4. Keep it simple.

Our CEO, on the other hand, was as efficient as any of us could hope to be. He said, “I try to strictly limit the number of task lists and put things on them immediately. My inbox (zero), calendar, and phone Reminder app are all I use. Though I practice inbox zero, I snooze a lot of emails/to-dos.”

5. Maybe the culinary world has the answer.

Those of us with unread emails ticking up in the thousands couldn’t help but laugh. But another engineer had a tip for these organizational types: “Work Clean” by Dan Charnas, the first organizational book inspired by the culinary world, taking mise-en-place outside the kitchen. This book details the productivity and multitasking abilities of great chefs that put the rest of us to shame. For our designer who used to store all of her savings in wine bottles during her years as a server, this made sense to her. She wrote “This might be perfect for me. It's funny because in the restaurant world, I felt super efficient and was able to do 9,000 things at once. I don’t know why it doesn't translate to desk work, but I hope this helps me find out.”

How do you battle “pandemic brain” and keep yourself organized? We’d love to know.

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