It’s happening again. You’re staring down at a page filled with lines and lines of text. Each one is preceded by the word “URGENT!”, each has been copied over from the previous day’s page and each one provokes the same signature blend of fear and loathing. If this sounds like you and your relationship with your to-do list, you’re not alone. 

The fallout of the pandemic has placed its own set of challenges on professional life. If, like me, you’re used to being in an office surrounded your colleagues, working remotely may have carried with it a loss in face-to-face contact and opportunities to network. And even now that workers globally are starting to come back to the office, the disruption has affected personal productivity in many of us. How do you keep up the pace, even amid major changes to your daily routine? 

In my 16 years within a multinational company, I’ve been able to fine-tune my productivity techniques. I value my role as a mentor for junior team members, and also my place in a close-knit team that shares tips and tricks to improve our work as a group. 

Here is the essential toolbox that I like to share with colleagues, to help them keep in control of their to-dos. 

Mornings set the tone for the entire day, so make them as easeful as possible. How? Give yourself the gift of time. This may require getting up a bit earlier or establishing a new morning routine, but it’s worth it. With ample time, you’re less likely to start out the day in a state of stress that can result in putting off complicated assignments. 
Most of us feel uplifted by a sense of direction and accomplishment. Neither or those are possible without clearly defined tasks. When faced with a complicated project, ask yourself, “What is the next small step I’d need to take to get closer to completing this?” Breaking a large project into smaller ones defined as bullets on a checklist instantly makes the job feel more manageable. This prevents you getting overwhelmed, and is a far more satisfying way to get things done. 
One common source of ambient stress is the sense that we’re not taking care of—or are even clear on—the priority items. It’s very tempting to simply dive into our to-do list and focus on the easiest items to accelerate the satisfaction of checking things off. Yes, it can feel like extra work to map out your tasks in order of priority. But again, it’s worth it: you’ll advance with the knowledge that you’re attending to the most important items.
Distractions can turn a one-hour task into a six-hour one. When you decide to put in some focused work time on a task, block potential distractions (for example, put email or messaging tool notifications on silent). Some people also like to “gamify” periods of focus. You could try working for a highly focused 20 minutes, then taking a five-minute walk as a reward before starting again. Whatever your method, it’s worth finding it so that your tasks don’t take up more time than they need to. 
Whether you’re part of a large team that meets in the same office or working with people dispersed across the globe, be sure to keep in touch! It could be a casual chat at the coffee machine or a quick message on a messaging platform – the key is exchanging ideas in a no-pressure way. This not only contributes to a culture of mutual support but can also spark new ideas for that project you’re stuck on.  
Knowing the productivity techniques that work for you and incorporating them as daily habits creates an invaluable confidence. If there’s one thing that’s certain, it’s that life is full of uncertainties. With the right tools in your pocket, you can feel more resilient and prepared for new projects, big or small. 
Despina Rogi
Head of Commercial Underwriting,
Allianz Trade in Greece