Struggling to Get Things Done? Here's How to Find a New Rhythm for Work and Life.
You may or not have been aware of it, but in the pre-pandemic world, there was a certain rhythm to your life. You got up at a particular time. You had a morning routine. You had a commute. You had an “arrive at the office” routine. There were coffee meetings and elevator chit chats. And of course, there was the endless barrage of meetings and calls and emails and decisions and conflict and celebration and boredom and excitement.
For many of us, the rhythm of the old world was a gallop. Baddadump. Baddadump. Baddadump. Baddadump. We galloped from one thing to the next. Fast and furious. Forward, forward, forward, as fast as we could go.
And then, the pandemic.
My client Caroline is a super star product manager. And in the old world, she loved everything about the gallop. She loved her commute – “That was my time for podcasts!” – she loved the people in her office, she loved the pace, she loved the chaos, the noise and the energy. But after the shutdown, working from home with two small children underfoot and a very important deadline looming, she found herself online, shopping for purses rather than writing product requirements. She felt drained, bored, distracted, and of course, she was blaming herself. So, she pushed herself harder. She stopped taking time for herself. She stopped taking lunch breaks. The deadline continued to loom, and yet, she wasn’t getting anywhere. She did have some nice new purses though.
Caroline isn’t alone. A substantial proportion of my coaching calls these days are with people who are beating themselves up for being unfocused and not doing enough with their time during lockdown.
But when you think about it, of course everyone's unfocused! This enormous thing happened; it seemed to happen virtually overnight, our livelihoods are at risk, and no one, not even the most expert of experts can tell us for certain when it will be over. The only thing we know for sure, is that things will never be entirely “normal” again.
It’s freaking stressful.
So, let’s talk about that for a moment.
Here's how stress works. First, there’s alarm. Stress hormones such as cortisol are released to suppress the panic and help you cope. Then, there’s adaptation. This is you working under the new stressful conditions, with your stress hormones helping. Then there’s exhaustion. This is when your stress hormones stop helping and start hindering. Your body can only tolerate elevated stress hormones for so long before they lead to hypertension, depression, sleep disruption, overeating and other issues.
The accumulation of stress and stress hormones is called “allostatic load”. When we produce too many stress hormones for too long, it can cause “allostatic overload”. According to neuroendocrinologist Bruce McEwen, “Allostatic overload serves no useful purpose and predisposes the individual to disease”.
And this is where we all are. Overloaded and exhausted.
Many of us are trying to be the same person working from home as we were in the office. But that’s impossible. The hard truth is that people who try to gallop around their houses tend to run into walls.
It’s time for a new rhythm.
And that rhythm is softer and slower.
And it requires you to...
Start Each Day in the Cadence of a Walk
Move slowly, deliberately moving from one thing to the next thing. Do it reverently, without frenzy, without scatterbrain and without projecting too far into the future.
This isn’t easy. It’s a skill you will have to learn over time.
I tell my clients to practice in the kitchen. If you’re doing the dishes, rinse one dish, then the next one. Put one glass in the dishwasher and then the next one. Don’t focus on all the other dishes you have to do, just on this one dish. And then the next one. If you’re cooking, just do things one at thing at a time. Slice one mushroom, and then the next one. Don’t think about chopping the onions until you’re chopping the onions. Don’t think about sautéing until you’re sautéing. Whatever you're making sounds delicious by the way.
Then practice while working. Open one email. Then another email. Take one call. And then another call. Write that thing you have to write. And then write that other thing you have to write. Fix that issue. Then fix the next issue.
Breathe. And move on to the next thing.
The goal is to be focused on what you’re doing when you’re doing it. It’s about releasing the past. It’s about now and not what the future may bring.
In time, you’ll feel less overloaded. And less exhausted.
And, you’ll be getting a lot more done in the process.
Just ask my client Caroline. She emailed yesterday to tell me that since she’s put her new rhythm into practice, she’s had “an incredibly productive and fruitful couple of weeks”.
Good for her!
Now you try it.
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