Let’s start by acknowledging the obvious. There is no new normal yet. The COVID-19 crisis brings another “new normal” every day. The situation is too fast-moving, fluid and unprecedented for any of us to settle in for whatever the long haul is and keep on truckin’ with the same operating rhythm we’ve used up until now.
That doesn’t mean, though, that we shouldn’t take a step back to assess our operating rhythm as leaders and professionals who still need to get stuff done. For years, I’ve been a big proponent of identifying and following through on your optimal operating rhythm. Until about two weeks ago, I thought I had mine nailed then two things happened. First, we moved to a new house and, second, a global pandemic started.
You may not have moved to a new house recently but you’re definitely experiencing the global pandemic. The two of those happening at once totally blew up my operating rhythm happy place. I’m writing this post on the morning of Monday, March 23 and to be very honest with you, last Thursday was the first day since all of this really started that I felt anything like normal in terms of my usual focus and productivity. The difference on Thursday was I found a few ways to reset my operating rhythm for whatever passes for the new normal that we’re in.
The point of this post is not to tell you what should be in your reset operating rhythm, it’s to share a few things to consider and observe that helped me reset mine and may help you reset yours. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Remember What You Need – Last week, I wrote about the impact of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs on leaders and the led in times like this. Many people have been taken a few notches down the pyramid from concerns with Self-Actualization and Self-Esteem to the needs of Love and Belonging, Safety and Physiology. You have to take care of yourself to be of any use to anyone else so identify what you need from those last three levels of needs. The list for most people probably includes a safe place to live and work (which for many of us is now one in the same), healthy food, exercise and human connection. Your old operating rhythm likely incorporated a lot of those needs that were so automatic you didn’t notice them anymore. Mine, at least, was like that. When everything is disrupted, you notice. It’s disorienting at first like “I know I’m missing things but I’m not even sure what they are.” If you’re feeling that way, that’s a good sign that you could benefit from taking a little quiet time to step back, remember what you need and then make a list of those things.
Identify Your Old Forcing Functions – One of the things I realized last week was that my old operating rhythm was driven by a lot of external forcing functions. For instance, the calendar reminded me that I had two day-long leadership development sessions to deliver in St. Louis the first week of April. So, that would have triggered a lot of things on my part – prepping for the sessions, making travel arrangements, final base-touch calls with the client, etc. The night before the trip would focus on packing, double checking the business backpack, etc. The morning of would be an early alarm to get to LAX because the flight was leaving at the scheduled time whether I was on it or not. You get the point. A simpler but no less important example for me was the daily yoga class I’d go to at 4:00 pm when I was in town. Class was starting on time whether I was there or not so it was out the door no later than 3:40 pm to make sure I was in the room. A bunch of those professional and personal forcing functions I relied on for years went out the window with the pandemic. Yours probably did as well.
Create Some New Forcing Functions – So, blinding flash of the obvious, with some excellent coaching from my wife, Diane, I realized I had to create some new forcing functions to reestablish a productive operating rhythm for myself. Coaching calls with clients have been an easy one because, honestly, that’s not a lot different than it was pre-pandemic. The conversational topics have definitely changed but the rhythm hasn’t. Talking with my clients provided an insight that I needed to start getting other things I need in my life back on my calendar even though the external forcing functions like speaking events, flights and class times weren’t there. I’m scheduling specific appointments with myself to do specific things in specific blocks of time for the professional and personal things I need in my operating rhythm even though I have more open time than I used to. And, then, I’m sticking to the schedule.
Find Alternatives and Schedule Them – For many of us, I think it’s been a little stunning and highly encouraging how we’re adapting to doing work online. It’s highly likely that you’ve joined a group video conference or even a virtual happy hour in the past week. Maybe, like mine have, your favorite fitness instructors have almost seamlessly pivoted to providing their classes online on a live stream and you can even keep their income up by paying your class fee via Venmo or some other cash app. New alternatives to our preferred professional and personal routines are developing daily. Take advantage of those and, where you see gaps, take the initiative to close them.
Stop Judging Yourself – The other thing I’ve found encouraging in the past week is that we’re all giving each other a little more grace. When you’re broadcasting on Zoom from an extra bedroom and everyone else is more or less doing the same thing, it’s a reminder that we’re all human and have lives that are much richer than our professional personas. I think this crisis is prompting us to not take ourselves so damn seriously. The work and the people we serve are important for sure, but the facades that we relied on to make us feel important in normal times seem pretty silly now, don’t they? So, please join me, as we all stop judging ourselves. These new operating rhythms we’re finding aren’t going to be seamless and it’s likely we’re going to be sharing our messiness more than we’re used to. It’s ok. The messiness doesn’t matter.
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