It was one year ago this week that COVID brought things to a screeching halt in the United States. Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson announced they were sick with COVID and quarantined in Australia. The NBA and other professional and collegiate sports leagues were suspended. Offices shut down and many of us started working from home. What we thought would be a few months of living and working on a restricted basis has turned out to be a year and counting.
Now, with vaccinations on the rise and new guidance from the CDC that fully vaccinated people can hang out together shoulder to shoulder without masks, we can see the end of the pandemic from here. And that, of course, is at least fifty kinds of awesome. But before we all go completely bananas and rush back to our former lives, this feels like a good moment to do a little self-assessment and forward planning as we approach reentry.
You may not have thought about it this way, but for the last year many of us have been on a version of what nutritionists call an elimination diet. As WebMD explains, “An elimination diet is a meal plan that avoids or removes certain foods or ingredients so you can find out what you might be sensitive to or allergic to.” After a period of time passes, you add eliminated foods back into your diet one at a time so you can monitor your body’s reaction as you do.
As we start to get back to some semblance of what life and work were like before COVID, it feels like a good idea to keep the elimination diet approach in mind as we do. The year of the pandemic eliminated a lot of things from our lives that we previously took for granted or just did on some version of automatic pilot. Before we dive back in, now feels like a good time to step back and assess our assumptions and patterns so that we can make smart choices about what we will and won’t do next.
I’ve been working on a checklist of choice-making questions to consider as I prepare for my post-pandemic reentry into the world. Here’s my list so far:
- What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I really miss and want to add back? How much of that do I want to add back?
- What’s been eliminated or greatly reduced in my life that I don’t really miss and want to keep it that way?
- What have I started doing during the pandemic year that has been beneficial and that I want to keep doing? How much of that do I want to do?
- What have I been doing during the pandemic year that’s draining and not sustainable over the long-run that I want to stop doing?
- How and when should I continue to capture the value of meeting virtually without the added overhead of travel time and expense?
- What have I stopped doing during the pandemic year that has improved the quality of my life and work?
- What really makes me happy and feeling like I’m really living and leading at my best?
If you’re like most of the clients I’ve been talking with over the past year, your add-back list probably includes activities to reestablish non-virtual connections with extended family, friends and co-workers. Your keep-doing list may include quality time with your immediate family, working out more frequently or pursuing a hobby you took up during the pandemic. Your stop doing list likely includes back-to-back-to-back video conferences all day long and blurring the boundaries between work time and personal time.
In my own life like that of a lot of my clients, this pandemic year has really made me reevaluate all the time I used to spend on airplanes. It was somewhere between 150,000 and 200,000 miles each year over the past decade. At the end of 2019, I estimated that I had spent over 400 hours that year inside a metal tube flying 30,000 feet above the earth. And then, last February, that was eliminated from my life. It was weird at first to not be getting on a plane every week or two and then it wasn’t. The coaching, the workshops and the speeches could all be delivered online. For my clients, the virtual approach has reduced the barriers to entry of leadership development like participants’ time out of the office and travel expenses. For me, in some ways, I’m able to establish quicker and deeper connections with my audiences through chat conversations and other interactive features of virtual meeting technology.
At the same time, I missed (and still do) the personal interaction after the meeting or presentation. So, I’m also looking forward to getting back from time to time to being in the room with people to share the unique energy of an in-person event.
It took a pandemic to make me realize how much heathier and more productive I could be when I spent more time on planet Earth instead of flying around it all the time. I’ve been sleeping better, have more energy and focus and have been amazed at how much more I’ve been able to get done. In the future, I’ll be more mindful about when and why I’m getting on a plane and I think a lot of my clients will be too.
The larger point is that, going forward, it doesn’t have to be all of one or all of the other for any of us. The elimination diet we’ve been on this year has shown us that we can do things differently and, like our actual eating diets, most everything is better in moderation. Before things overheat, now is a great time to step back and work through your own checklist of what you want to keep in your work and life, what you want to add and what you want to eliminate going forward. And, if you’re a designated leader in your organization, I hope you’ll take the time to do this not only for yourself but with your team. The ripple effect of doing that could lead to a lot more health, well-being and productivity as we all make our post-pandemic reentry into the world.
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