Adaptability is a keystone of productivity.

You can find all manner of helpful advice about how to be more effective and productive. But not all of this advice is equally good for everyone at all times.

Force-fitting some guru’s advice into your situation may not be the best idea or give you the best results.

For you to work better requires you to be adaptable in your individual situation.

A Personal Example

What Normally Works

Normally, I time block my schedule so I can batch similar kinds of activities together.

Those activities might be research. They might be grading. They might be email.

For me in a “normal” week, that kind of discrete batching works well. I focus on one particular kind of activity for a while. And as needed, I use Freedom to help avoid “quick checks” distractions that dilute that focus.

When Circumstances Require Adaptability

But not all weeks are “normal,” let alone all days or months.

This is patently obvious amid recent efforts across the globe to address COVID-19. But I’d like to share a different story.

The Circumstances

Not long ago, my wife, Carrie, had an x-ray that showed she had a broken collar bone.

That meant she couldn’t lift anything with either arm, including our 18-month-old. And when you have an 18-month-old, you do a lot of lifting.

You might not think you do. But when you suddenly have restrictions on lifting, it’s surprising how many things you notice require lifting. 😉

All of this meant I was going to be home with Carrie and the kids rather than at the office.

It would have been best to have enough margin in my schedule so I didn’t have to worry about working while I was home with them. But that wasn’t the case.

There were still deadlines that had to be met and projects that had to get done. But what was normally an 8–9 hour continuous workday instantly became 2–4 hours very much spread out into comparatively small slices through the day.

And time blocking is pretty useless as a productivity strategy if

  1. you don’t know when you can schedule those time blocks or
  2. how long you can schedule them to run.

That didn’t really bother me. Being there for Carrie and the girls was an infinitely higher priority than anything else I had on tap for school.

But there were still things that had to get done for school.

The Adaptability

It took me a couple days. But I soon realized the best approach for me in those particular circumstances would be to rank my Todoist tasks for the day strictly in terms of priority—highest to lowest.

Whenever I had some time to work, I’d start at the top of the list and work down for however long until I needed to stop.

Whatever didn’t get done by the end of that day had to get rolled forward to a future day. But working from highest to lowest priority helped ensure that the things that didn’t get done were the things that weren’t as important anyhow.

This story’s twist is that about a week after the x-ray that showed Carrie had a broken collar bone, an MRI showed her collar bone was fine.

Instead, the problem was an inflamed shoulder joint. And she could start moving her shoulder and lifting again as much as she felt like until her shoulder got back to normal.

Two Lessons

From this story, I’d like to draw a couple lessons on the importance of adaptability to productivity.

1. Be Creatively Adaptable

First, productivity requires adaptability. You have to look for what works for you in your particular circumstances.

For instance, if you find yourself working from home while also taking care of kids, put it to yourself as an open question how you can creatively combine the two. Don’t assume they’re in conflict.

Sure, you can only put your attention on one thing at a time. But you’ll be more productive (not to mention, in this example, a better parent) if you take this situation as a challenge for your personal creativity to rise to rather than as an opportunity to bemoan how one obligation doesn’t allow you to focus fully on another.

2. Be a Whole Person

Second, recognize that you’re a whole person and need to live life as such.

You’re a spouse, a parent, a student, a teacher, a ministry leader in your church, and more.

Your life is complex. And because it’s complex, you might well be able to envision how your contributions in one area (e.g., school, church) could be better than you’re able to make them given everything else that’s also in your life.

It’s always good to prune lesser responsibilities that pull you away from those that are more important.

But once you’ve done that, you’ll still have a multi-faceted and complex life.—And that’s a good thing.

Give yourself grace to strive to do the best you can with the responsibilities in your life as a whole. And this may mean that one or some responsibilities don’t get everything you could imagine giving them in other circumstances.

But if you’ve pruned down to what’s really essential, “other circumstances” by definition means cutting or shirking something you consider essential. And long term, that’s a great recipe for regret.

Conclusion

So know what’s essential for you, and prune what isn’t.

And amid the complexities of what’s essential and the surprises life brings your way, stay adaptable and open.

Ask yourself the question “What’s best now?” And keep asking that question and being open to adjusting your answer to what your circumstances require.

What story do you have about how adaptability has proven key to your productivity?

Header image provided by Joshua Oluwagbemiga

Disclaimer: The views expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of any other person(s) or institution(s).

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2 Comments

  1. David, this is simply excellent! Thank you! And I do not mind at all that you might be receiving some commissions from the sale of products. You deserve it for all your hard and generous work.
    On a personal note, I’m glad that your sweetheart’s shoulder was only inflamed, and not broken.
    On another personal note, I am noticing that I appreciate people so much more these days. This virus is a horrible thing, and I don’t want to minimize the horror. However, there really are some positive benefits to isolation. And being forced to confront my mortality on a daily basis is a bit like taking a cold shower. It wakes me up and gets me clean, but isn’t terribly enjoyable.

    1. Thanks, Daryl. That’s very kind of you, and I’m glad you found the post helpful. A healthy awareness of our own mortality is definitely a good thing. It helps keep the smaller things in perspective and our hope aimed forward to the resurrection of the body.

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