3 Tips For Better Self-Management In Any Crisis, Even Working From Home
SMITH BRAIN TRUST – Many of us find ourselves suddenly working from home (or worse, at home but not able to work) because of the COVID-19 outbreak. “This is, like any crisis, both a danger and an opportunity,” says Maryland Smith’s Jeffrey L. Stoltzfus. “And like any opportunity, we have some choices, the most universal choice being how to manage ourselves during the challenge.”
Stoltzfus, associate director of career services technology and data integration at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, offers this advice for self-management, useful whether working from home, seeking a job, or managing any changes that can come with ordinary life.
Work with yourself, not against yourself. As with any personal challenge – such as a new diet, a new career, or a new relationship – when working from home for the first time, it's natural to have many "little failures." Maybe you sleep in one day when you know you need to get up and start your work day promptly. Maybe you get distracted by one of those "home chores" that can wait until later but it's bothering you now. When this happens, we often try to grab control, using negative self talk to guilt or threaten ourselves to "do better, or else." Just as this harsh approach is counter-productive for managers of people, so it is for self-management. Instead, allow yourself to have an inner conversation filled with compassion, being "curious, not furious" about what drove the behavior, and identify effective ways to adjust to the behavior you really want for next time. Experiment and learn. Don't assume what works best for others will work for you. Maybe you need an accountability partner for your self-management. Maybe you need a rigorous to-do list process, or a "work journal." Find out what works, and ignore what doesn't.
Pause to open your eyes and mind. So much of our lives are lived on "autopilot." And that's not all bad: our brains are wired to save energy and "not think" about things that we already know well from repetition. But it's healthy to build "mindful moments" into our day. These moments help us to interrupt the "brain chatter" that builds stress, add a deep breath that increases calm, and create memories that lift our spirits. "I took a few such pauses during my weekly run this morning," Stoltzfus says. "And I noticed: the warmth of the sun on my face on a cold March morning, hyacinths in bloom, two friends out for a brisk walk, and the maple tree behind our house, rising into the sky like a firework of red-brown opening buds."
What will you notice when you next pause? he asks. Some meditation apps (Headspace, for example) allow you to set specific timed reminders to pause. Or you can use your smartphone calendar or alarm app. Or you can build an association such as "every time I enter the door of my house," "just after I get in my car," or "as I sit down for lunch" to be a reminder to pause. The book "Tiny Habits," a New York Times best seller by Stanford behavior scientist BJ Fogg, is a great primer on how to build simple habits like this.
Express gratitude. Much as been written about gratitude being the seed of happiness, and it's true. One discipline for increasing happiness by building your "gratitude muscle" is to, at the end of each day, write down three things you're thankful for, and why. But don't stop at thinking thankful thoughts. Tell someone. Share your general gratitude for a sunny day, a paying job, a cozy home, and so on. Then go further and tell individual people how much you're grateful for a specific action they did. Don't reference a talent or trait they have no control over. Praise them for something they chose to do. This way, you'll not only feel better yourself, but reinforce a worthy action of another person.
“Work to develop these habits,” Stoltzfus says, “and watch your happiness and positivity grow. Then share them with others, and help build resilience in your community of influence.”
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