Facing change and building space
One of the unintended benefits I noticed when the pandemic first hit, and we all had to get used to working and living in a very different way, was that our collective tolerance for imperfection increased. We were all trying new things, reinventing business models and practices, using unfamiliar technology, and getting to grips with a whole new way of working. We had the freedom and permission to do it imperfectly, and to learn as we go.
I wonder, do we have that same tolerance now?
Or is our talk about “can’t wait to go back to normal” in danger of creating an expectation where we just sail smoothly back into the groove?
The truth is, all change is unsettling.
Sometimes that unsettling is refreshing, like a good gust of wind that disperses the stale air. Sometimes it knocks us sideways.
The best thing we can do is to give ourselves space – time, headspace, emotional energy – to navigate change. Here are five practical ways to build in that space:
1. Margin (a.k.a. blank space in the diary)
We can’t plan for everything – particularly when there’s a lot of uncertainty around. A new protocol or commute to get used to, a new project or team to work with, the new dynamics of hybrid meetings – these can all take longer than expected. Resist the urge to pack everything in so tightly you have no room for manoeuvre.
Blank space is not dead space. It is breathing space.
2. Lizard brain spotting
I write about how this plays out with procrastination in How to be Really Productive (Chapter 3: Mind monkeys and lizard brain) and with how the fight/flight fear response labels all change as a threat in Struggle.
The lizard brain is fast, emotional and hard-wired. We can’t always prevent it from kicking in, but when we notice it and name it, we can prevent it from taking over. Get used to spotting your lizard brain in action, and applying the acronym: H.A.L.T. – never make decisions when you’re Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired.
In Struggle, I write about The Morning After, that hangover we have after periods of intensity – whether that’s something traumatic, stressful, or even amazing and exciting. It often takes us by surprise, because we think “but nothing’s happening right now, why am I feeling so rubbish?”.
Recently, I did my first gig in shoes since the pandemic hit! It was broadcasted live from a studio in Manchester, and involved me spending the best part of 24 hours away from home and ‘on duty’ apart from the 8 hours or so in my hotel room. It was an amazing experience, and I’d like to think the audience found it a more immersive experience than your average webinar. But it was full immersion for me too. I wouldn’t be able to do that several times a week!
As the landscape of life and work changes and we start meeting people in person, perhaps travelling, socialising (maybe even hugging!), whether it’s something that fills us with joy, anxiety or a jumble of both, we may find that the emotional intensity of it all leaves us exhausted afterwards. We need to honour that with recovery, rather than press on through to burnout.
We’re not going to nail it straight away. And perhaps it isn’t something static to nail at all! How we live and work in the “new normal” is something we get to figure out as we go. It’s a road we make by walking. And that means its subject to change, review, recalibration, rehaul and refinement. Getting into the habit of regularly reviewing means we don’t get stuck in perfection paralysis or beating ourselves up for making the wrong decision, but instead make progress one decision, one learning, at a time.
5. Wellbeing check-in
This is something we do as a team at Think Productive. Every Tuesday, someone starts a Truth Tuesday thread on Slack (our internal comms platform). Anyone can share anything from an emoji to several paragraphs on how they’re feeling or what’s going on for them.
Over the years, and particularly during lockdown, this has strengthened our team relationships as well as our individual wellbeing. Understanding why someone might be particularly sensitive, tired, distracted or prone to mistakes helps us to add understanding rather than frustration into the mix, and find constructive ways to support each other and work productively together. Plus, hearing from a colleague that you really need to give yourself a break can be something you take to heart more than just knowing it yourself!
How much space do you give yourself to navigate change? Which of these do you think would help you the most?
Let me know how you get on.