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Feeling Unproductive? It May Be Because You're Lonely: Here's What To Do

Lonely single woman in a field of tall grass
Image by ANNA MALGINA / Stocksy
September 16, 2020

Add this to the growing list of struggles that come with WFH: You may feel a little unproductive of late. Perhaps you have the most immaculate to-do lists; you even organize your calendar down to the very minute—and yet, you might feel that your work performance is suffering. You're not alone—even if you may feel that way.

According to New York Times bestselling author, speaker, and TV personality Jen Hatmaker, the reason you might not feel as productive is not for lack of drive or organizational prowess. She explains on the mindbodygreen podcast: You might just be lonely.  

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The link between productivity and loneliness. 

"When people know they belong somewhere and are loved, they can flourish in almost every other category," Hatmaker says. And, unfortunately, the opposite is also true: "When people are lonely, you will see them suffer in every category. Productivity, our sense of optimism and resilience—it's across the board." It makes sense: Emotional connection and connection to community are two of the nine basic emotional needs, after all. As social creatures, we need to foster a sense of belonging and connections with others in order to be emotionally fulfilled. 

In terms of productivity, there's research to back up the connection (or, uh, lack thereof): One study shows that being lonelier is associated with lower job performance. Specifically, workers who felt isolated felt less committed to their place of work, which then compromised their performance and productivity.  

What you can do.

Of course, the loneliness epidemic is by no means new, and it's only magnified as months of social distancing stretch on and on. That's not to say you have to submit to a less than stellar work performance (although, mental health is always top priority; if you're starting to notice signs of burnout, you might want to put productivity on the backburner). Rather, you can enhance your productivity by fostering a sense of belonging—albeit, digitally:

  1. Connect over video call: Make time in your schedule to meet virtually with friends or co-workers. Although in-person relationships are key, connecting digitally is better than no connection at all. Take it from New York Times bestselling authors Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick: "Social interactions, even when digital, can help us feel more connected," they write.
  2. Share similar interests: Elton and Gostick also believe in the power of connecting with colleagues—about more than just the job at hand. Find those with common interests and discover ways to chat and share ideas. Science journalist and author of Friendship, Lydia Denworth agrees: "There are ways to just purely have fun online—send each other lists of books to read or recipes to cook. It's a way of feeling like we're in it together," she's previously told mbg
  3. Practice gratitude: "Expression of gratitude for those who help you in your daily work at home can be huge motivation and productivity boosters to those around you," writes Elton and Gostick. Perhaps pick a day to send a gratitude email (or, better yet, gush to your colleagues virtually over video call). 
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The takeaway.

According to Hatmaker (and others), a sense of belonging is a ubiquitous emotional need; that said, loneliness can affect more than your general sense of optimism—feeling isolated can actually compromise your productivity as you work. Enhancing work performance is not the only reason to focus on your mental health right now—not by a long shot—but if you notice your productivity taking a dip, perhaps reflect on whether you're feeling particularly alienated.

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