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How to Quickly Adapt to Changing Circumstances

And why experimentation is the key to regaining a sense of control and getting back to being productive!

Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash
Photo by Alex Kondratiev on Unsplash

We’re in the thick of it now. And I hope everyone reading this is doing well and staying healthy.

For many of us, last week was the first full week working from home. And for those of us with kids, it was also the first week where we were learning how to manage our own schedules and those of our children all day, every day. Regardless of your circumstances, there’s one thing we know for sure:

Change is hard.

And as we adapt to our new, indefinite, reality, I want to share what I know about how to adapt quickly to change so we can find our work-from-home groove. Quick adaptation to changing circumstances also helps us to regain our sense of control and feel like we’re on firm footing. A bias towards action is crucial, lest we find ourselves spinning, unable to gain traction and move forward.

Experimentation is key

When I work with clients, I propose new techniques and strategies as experiments. When we approach something new as an experiment, we are less afraid of the consequences, because we know that an experiment is about gaining new knowledge. And an experiment isn’t forever. I bet you’ve seen this phenomenon at work as well. If someone says “we’re changing the way we communicate with our customers and from now on I want you to do X, Y and Z”., you’re all of a sudden up in arms. “What? No! How we communicate now is fine. And what about…?”

When a change is forced upon us we feel a lack of control. However, if change is presented as an experiment, well, that’s different. If someone says to you “we’re going to try out a new method for communicating with customers, then we’ll analyze the data and come back to decide if we should use this new method going forward”, well, all of a sudden this “change” doesn’t feel so unreasonable at all. Experimentation is about gathering data, and making sound decisions based on that data. Experimentation helps us gain control.

So as you are engaged in this transition from working in an office to working virtually (or, as is my case, working virtually, but alone, to working virtually, in a house full of people), I want you to think about how you can experiment with your processes and environment.

Here are some things to experiment with:

  • Where am I working in my house? Am I more focused in the living room on the couch, or at the dining room table? (I’ve learned about myself that I’m better at creating content and writing on the couch, and I’m better able to focused on more administrative work at my desk.)
  • What times am I most focused and when should I take breaks? Is it better for me to get many short breaks throughout the day, or do I prefer a longer break in the middle of the day to decompress?
  • What are the best working hours for me? When should I focus on deep work? When should I have meetings? What time should I start working in the morning? What time should I close up shop for the day?
  • Which communication methods are working well for me? How can I optimize my usage of video conferencing?

Iterate, Iterate, Iterate

Once you’ve conducted some experiments and you have some data about what works best for you, and your family, keep iterating so that you can optimize your systems, circumstances, and environment.

Last week, I made a schedule that showed when my husband and I would be in meetings and when we’d be available to the kids, if needed (trying to ensure that at least one of us was always available to be “on call”).

It worked pretty well, but we needed to iterate on that schedule. Why? Because I inadvertently walked in on my 11 year old’s virtual science class and he wasn’t too happy about it. This week, I’ve updated the schedule to include the kids’ school schedules and it’s now clear to all of us when we shouldn’t interrupt each other.

Once you find systems and strategies that work well, don’t stop there. Keep iterating. Soon you’ll have a well oiled machine.

Keep the communication flowing

How did I know that I needed to iterate on our schedule? Because every night at dinner, we’re talking about what went well, what didn’t go so well (i.e. me busting into his room), and how we can improve our systems for the immediate future.

Here’s a very simple framework for a daily conversation (if you live with other humans) or internal dialogue (if you live alone) to help you continually adapt and improve:

  • What went well today?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What can we experiment with tomorrow to make things go smoother?

Change is hard, but you have agency.

Adapting to change is easier when you recognize that you have agency and that the only thing you can control are your own actions and reactions. You have the power to make this hard situation easier for yourself. And you might even enjoy the process. Think of it as mandatory navel-gazing.

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