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  • Tom Birchard

Thriving in a Crazy World

I’ve generally been writing these blog posts when I feel like I have a somewhat well-formed thought or perspective on something…this will not be one of those. These thoughts are more of a work-in-progress but I’ll use this forum to try and flush them out a bit more, and I’d value any insights or perspective anyone else feels like they have on this. When I told a recent hire this week that I was going to think out loud, he told me I do that quite a bit so here goes doing that through writing.

I’ll start with some statistics. In a survey of 330 human resources leaders mentioned in a Wall Street Journal article, 47% reported an increase in productivity while only 13% reported a drop. At the same time 60% said their employees were working more hours and four in ten reported mental health issues among their teams (Link). I met with several members of my team yesterday to discuss continuing to lead teams in a largely remote environment and one of the articles discussed was from the Harvard Business Review and outlined 9 trends that would continue to shape work in 2021 and beyond. It struck me that 2 of the trends touched on managing the overall life experience as well as mental health (Link). One of the managers on my team astutely pointed out that a big part of this is that we have more visibility into employees’ personal lives than we ever did before. While I think he’s spot-on, I think this is only part of what’s going on here.

As I wrote about in my last post on “The Red Queen Effect”, the world is changing at an ever-increasing pace, largely driven by technology, and this will only accelerate even more moving forward. I think when you combine that with some of the dramatic changes brought on by COVID-19, it’s created an environment many people are finding difficult to cope with and understand. Even for people who are still gainfully employed, or haven’t had their physical health directly impacted by the pandemic, the impact can still be significant. With the caveat that I’m certainly no life coach, and am still working on most of these myself, I thought these were some practical suggestions for thriving in this crazy world.

· Define Your Purpose and What’s Important – I start with this one because I think it’s the most fundamental, and the other recommendations can build around this. There’s a saying “no wind blows in favor of a ship without direction” and that goes for people as well. There are many different ways to structure a purpose or set of values, but I think the important thing is to take the time to do it, make it highly personal, and write something down. In a world with so many options of things to do and consume and an endless list of things vying for our attention, having a purpose is more important than ever.

· Filter Your Inputs – For most of human history access to information was the limiting factor but I’d argue that now with seemingly infinite information and data, the more limiting factor is one’s time and attention. Consider limiting push notifications on your phone, only checking and responding to emails during certain blocks of time, restricting social media platforms or time, etc. as the list could go on. As you allow inputs to get through, consider how they might tie back to your purpose discussed above. The only word of caution is to make sure you’re getting your news and information from a somewhat diverse set of sources or run the risk of creating an “echo chamber” that just reinforces your current beliefs and perspectives.

· Don’t Need to Have Opinion on Everything – It’s ok to not know everything going on in the world, in your company, or even in your community. It’s also ok to admit when you aren’t well-informed enough on something to have an educated opinion. I see an increasing trend of trying to define a stance on a particular topic with a single sentence or two when the situation is far too complex and nuanced to do it justice in such a way. It takes a little vulnerability and humility to admit “I don’t know enough to have a well-informed opinion on this topic” but it’s liberating once you do it and a key part of thriving in a rapidly changing world.

· Consider Boundaries – Everyone who I’ve talked to that’s more regularly been working from home during the pandemic has mentioned that it’s really blurred the lines between work and personal life. I think it’s easy to prescribe a “one size fits all” solution here of starting work at a certain time, taking a lunch, and then unplugging and making the transition to personal/family time. While there are certainly merits to this approach, I think the optimal solution is probably much more personal. For some the increased flexibility to run a personal errand during work hours might be beneficial, and perhaps there’s a mindless report to be run that could just as easily be done while watching a Netflix show at night. The important thing is to be intentional about those boundaries and find a solution that works best for one’s self and family.

· Prioritize Health and Wellness – I’ve already written a few posts on key pillars of health and wellness so I won’t go into detail here, but suffice to say that this can either be an enabler to or detractor from everything else mentioned here. It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding of what you need to do to maintain your mental health in a challenging world, but it’s an entirely other thing to do that and the energy that comes from overall health and wellness can be a positive catalyst while the opposite is equally true.

Honestly I feel like I’m just scratching the surface here and could probably write a dedicated post on any of the points made above. Like I said I feel like my thoughts on this are very much still a work-in-progress, so I’d be very interested in any additional thoughts or ideas anyone has as you work through this in your own life. Thanks for reading!

Recommendations from last two weeks:

· Book - The Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel – For a finance/money book this is a really easy and enjoyable read, largely because Housel is an excellent writer. The interplay between psychology and money is demonstrated with several fascinating stories.

· Video - How Amazon's Super-Complex Shipping System Works – If you’re anything like me Amazon packages show up nearly every day and you take for granted how exactly that happens. This short video breaks it down in a concise and entertaining way.

· Article - 50 Ideas That Changed My Life by David Perrell – Good list and you’re bound to find a couple you’ve never heard of or find especially though-provoking.

· QuoteThe unexamined life is not worth living. by Socrates

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