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  • Tom Birchard

Pushing Forward Amidst a Crisis (originally posted on LinkedIn)

Like all of you, I’ve seen a lot of really insightful articles written and videos released during this difficult time. Some of advice being given is quickly becoming common sense, topics like being transparent as leaders, erring on the side of over communicating, and tips for operating in remote work environments.

I’ve lived and ultimately thrived through a couple of personal crises, and while this may be the first truly global crisis that I can remember really impacting my day-to-day life, I think some of the same tools developed in coping with the personal crises can be helpful in the current situation. Therefore my goal is to provide some “less obvious” suggestions for ways to stay productive and to keep pushing forward during the current pandemic. I’ll be writing through the lens of work/career, but these same principles should apply to other areas of life as well.

  1. Create and maintain a to-do list – Some may say that as quickly as things are changing a to-do list in this environment is futile as it will be out-of-date within an hour of putting it together. I’d argue that while that’s probably true, that’s when we need the structure of something like a to-do list more than ever. As the events around you inevitably throw you off course, the to-do list is something you can quickly come back to in order to keep pushing forward. I’d even encourage including some “easy wins” on the to-list, it could be something as simple as taking a short walk over the lunch hour or a phone call you need to make. Checking items like these off the list, especially early in the day, builds momentum and will put you in a better position to tackle some of the more challenging items

  2. Build mental resilience – Distractions and disruptions are inevitable, especially now, and trying to avoid them entirely is very likely an exercise in futility. What you can work on is your mental resilience, or how quickly you can bounce back when you’re thrown off course and refocus on your priorities. Meditation is one practice that develops this skill, and there are plenty of apps like Calm and Headspace that help to teach and train this. Whatever your method for developing it, mental resilience is a critical trait during a crisis to minimize the time it takes to get back on track after inevitably being thrown off course

  3. Slow down – Truthfully this is a tough one, because there’s also something to be said for being proactive and trying to get ahead of things so it’s really a balance. That being said in a crisis the situation itself has a tendency to want to pull us forward at its pace and while it’s counterintuitive, often the best thing to do is to try and slow things down a bit. If you have a key decision to make and you’re feeling frazzled, be willing to tap the brakes just a bit. This serves the dual purpose of giving the situation a bit more time to unfold to see if something significant changes that would impact the decision, but it also allows you to regroup (sometimes after a night’s sleep) and re-evaluate the decision with a more clear head where you’re more likely to make a well-informed and rational decision

  4. Identify Buckets Early – This is the most difficult of these concepts to explain. Early in a crisis and throughout, you have a flood of information and questions coming at you. It’s important to define the framework or the “buckets” that things should go in early on to have any chance of dealing with the sheer volume and ambiguity. To provide an example, in my first team meeting during the COVID-19 crisis on March 17, I defined 4 buckets to facilitate the many questions people had. 1) Question we can answer right now 2) Assign someone to quickly go get an answer 3) Out of scope or non-urgent 4) Something we simply don’t know or can’t know at this time. This is just one example but what’s important is defining the framework early on through which you’re going to view and organize around the problem

These are just a few concepts I’ve personally found to be helpful during ordinary times, but are especially pertinent in the current situation. Are there others that have helped you to navigate these past several weeks? I’d love to hear other examples. Thanks for reading and stay safe and be well.

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