Humans tend to be creatures of habit, setting up and following routines that make them feel comfortable and safe. Within those routines is a sense of predictability that helps individuals find and keep their bearings. But what happens when consistency goes out the window or a lot of uncertainty starts to creep in? Every human being on this planet has had uncertainty in these last two years. But what can we do about it now?
Not knowing where things are headed and pivoting away from well-established routines leads to stress and anxiety. Magnifying that stress is the fear of the unknown and the pressure to respond to situations without guidelines. In addition, the energy it takes to manage ambiguity, and the unease that goes along with that ambiguity make it more challenging to stay focused. As a result, productivity can take a hit, whether your stress involves team issues, personal objectives, or stuff at home.
You Can Be Productive Despite Uncertainty
Despite the constant change around you, there are ways to work with it and establish some sense of normalcy. For example, you may need to redefine what productivity means, help reshape your environment, set different boundaries, or shift your focus. If you’re finding it challenging to stay on task during uncertain times, here are three ways to reclaim a sense of direction.
1. Adjust Your Work Environment and Schedule
When things change on a dime, you’re expected to respond urgently and rearrange your plans. Suddenly, your kids may not be attending in-person classes today and will need supervision while they learn from home. In addition, you might need to schedule critical appointments during working hours, care for sick family members, or practice social distancing.
Adjusting your work environment to accommodate unpredictable shifts in responsibilities and precautions can be an effective way to respond. For example, you could negotiate remote or hybrid work schedules for yourself and your team. In addition, having the ability to work from anywhere — like a remote worker — helps employees handle personal and professional obligations without stressing about them.
You won’t have to worry about finding someone to watch the kids or ill loved ones. The need to use sick time or PTO to take care of your well-being also won’t be as frequent. With remote or hybrid schedules, it’s easier to juggle doctor’s appointments and family events without losing productivity.
Focus on work assignments for a few hours, take care of personal responsibilities, and go back to your home office. You’ll probably find that you get more done in less time without as many distractions from colleagues. And with hybrid work arrangements, you’ll still maintain a sense of connection with the office and your co-workers.
2. Try New Time Management Strategies
You might already be practicing some form of time management on your Calendar, whether that’s block scheduling or prioritizing your tasks. But when your environment becomes more chaotic or uncertain, you may find that some of your techniques don’t work as well. For instance, the Eisenhower Matrix won’t necessarily apply to scenarios where priorities are constantly changing.
Everything could become an immediate task in a single day. And by Friday, you might have several former high-priority assignments scrapped or buried by five new ones. There could also be days when there’s not enough information to determine what’s urgent and what can wait.
Instead of relying on familiar strategies, you can look for redundancies and repetition. Time management techniques like the DRY Principle can help you improve efficiency regardless of what you’re tasked with. This technique involves tracking your time to identify what tasks you’re repeating.
Perhaps you’re sending the same emails to clients or co-workers. Repetition could also be occurring with scheduling, content creation, or meeting agendas. Productivity can be lost because managers and experienced employees aren’t delegating tasks or training others. Under the DRY Principle, you can establish ways to automate repetition, eliminate redundancy, and balance workloads. You can set up productivity protocols for these situations.
3. Make Contingency Plans
As a leader, how will you respond if several employees walk out the door at once? Or you lose someone who’s fulfilling a critical role or working on a high-profile project? Turnover has an immediate impact on employees because someone has to fill the gaps left by others.
Filling those gaps could mean temporarily redistributing responsibilities and increasing workloads. However, it could also entail restructuring positions, bringing more vendors into the mix, or relying more on existing external partnerships. If temporary assignment shifts or permanent restructuring will occur, how you communicate and plan those changes will impact the productivity of anyone involved.
In the face of uncertainty, don’t spring changes on any member of your team. For example, telling an employee that they are now responsible for website management on top of everything else is not productive. Just because you think someone has the skills to handle the tasks doesn’t mean they can, and they may currently be overwhelmed with tasks. More than likely, they’ll feel caught off guard and perhaps resentful that they weren’t asked in the first place.
Your employee may find themselves unprepared to juggle a new set of tasks or meet the demands those new assignments require.
Implementing fly-by-night solutions for staffing shortages that seem convenient might lead to more turnover. That’s why it’s more effective to develop several solutions in a well-documented and communicated contingency proposal. Then, although you can’t predict every two-week notice, you can plan for it at all levels.
Line up backup vendors or freelancers for departments that already have skeleton crews. Build relationships with temp or staffing agencies for front-line positions. Also, create a pipeline of internal and external successors for leadership roles. Most importantly, communicate the reasons and tactics behind contingency staffing plans. Be sure to solicit buy-in from employees willing to step up instead of assuming they’ll embrace anything you throw at them.
Stay the Course
Maintaining productivity is tough during uncertainty because the unknown often consumes your thoughts. The stress of many “what-ifs” can result in confusion, an inability to concentrate, and conflicting priorities. Accomplishing tasks with determination and efficiency isn’t as simple as going with the flow when chaos seems to be surrounding you.
However, you can reestablish control by adjusting work environments and schedules, trying new time management strategies, and making contingency plans. Putting these methods into practice will help keep productivity at acceptable levels in the face of ambiguity. While the shifts that occur during constant change aren’t always predictable, the ways you respond can be.
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