After bidding adieu to 2020, many of us look to the new year as the thing that will invigorate and set us free. But the truth is, while many good things await, 2021 still requires resilience and flexibility. Some of us will be transitioning into our offices after many months away, others might be shepherding children back into the groove of in-person school, and almost all of us will still be waiting for some signal that everything has returned to “normal.”
In some ways, the most demanding part of managing these historical circumstances is the endurance run. Coming up on nearly a year since the pandemic changed life indefinitely, at times it seems as though the needle has barely moved. It might be harder to see through traditional news years’ resolutions… but do not despair. The coming days offer an opportunity for getting on track while being a light for others. As we continue wading through these challenging times, how can you stay positive and stand out as a leader?
Right now, even the most decisive personalities can fall into the pattern of over-thinking. Every time we leave our houses, we weigh calculated risks: “Should we sign up for this?” “Is that safe?” “Should I just ask someone else what they think about it?” There are opportunities to second-guess ourselves at every single turn. It makes it even worse that we are not getting the kind of positive reinforcement that goes along with face-to-face interaction. When it comes to work, seeing facial expressions at a conference table or bumping into people in the hallway is sometimes how we know a colleague likes an idea or isn’t frustrated. Without those subtle cues to assure us, we can overthink a reaction- or lack thereof- for a long time. That kind of circular thinking can cause decision-paralysis.
Psychology Today recommends setting aside time to “ruminate.” Clinical psychologist Dr. Susan Nolen-Hoeksema says that scheduling daily rumination time will bring on the process of either moving on or finding a resolution. For example, if you’re nervous to put something on your supervisor’s calendar (Was she annoyed by my email earlier? I wonder if I should wait on this?), stop. Take a deep breath. Put the meeting on her calendar and commit to thinking through this action at 4pm during the 30-minute rumination time. Tell yourself you do not have time to worry about that right now. You can now successfully complete the rest of today’s tasks without fretting about what is worrying you and it is no longer taking up mental real estate.
Take control of the work/life pendulum
Professional and personal lives jumbled up in one big heap is a sign of the times. But even before all this, finding work/life balance was an endless journey. Perhaps the word “balance” sets too high an expectation. Life and work are on a pendulum and sometimes one side is swinging higher than the other. That is okay- just remember to give an occasional push to swing it back.
If a work project is going to take tremendous focus and energy, let your family know. Ask them to share in the effort by giving you some extra quiet time
and approximate how long you’ll need whether it’s an hour or two weeks. If something at home is continuously slowing down your workload, maybe loop in your supervisor by asking for patience and tips for keeping the ball moving. Map out the estimated duration of a commitment to prevent over-promising and under-delivering. Proactiveness demonstrates to others that you have a handle on things but also might truly help you get a handle on things.
Be a beacon.
It’s hard to imagine taking on one more thing right now but staying positive can lift up the people around you who are experiencing the same transitions. Here are some simple ways to encourage others:
Make time. If a colleague attempts small talk over email or even during a work-related call, make time for it. They might need a sense of connection. Ask how things are going for them too.
Don’t complain. Resist the temptation to join in when others are commiserating. There could be clumsiness in getting the office back on track and there’s no reason to contribute to negativity.
Be observant. If you hear it’s someone’s birthday, write a quick text or e-card. If a colleague makes a great point in a meeting, tell them. Being noticed makes people feel really good.
Find empathy. Even if you find your way, not everyone is having the easiest time right now. Consider how their personal situations are playing out in their behavior at the office. Each of us is steering our own ship.