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How to get back on track during the pandemic? A step back is a step forward.

Recently, the “social distancing effect” has helped me to realize the importance of having social support. I have been enjoying more quality time with friends, including those who I have not talked to for a while.

Kathy, Sean and I were graduate school friends. We used to get together more regularly before life got busy. At a casual gathering, I was direct about my declining productivity during the pandemic and feeling of unrest. Kathy and Sean both echoed my concerns.

People who know Kathy would describe her as a very organized and driven person. Her rigorous self-discipline and meticulous attention to calendars and checklists all help to keep her efficient. In a few years, she quickly moved up the corporate ladder. She is rarely late for meetings and never misses deadlines. However, this has not been the case since the pandemic. Right after the health emergency was declared, Kathy’s company sent all staff to work from home. Routine was replaced by chaos. On a daily basis, Kathy found herself jumping between Zoom meetings and phone calls to addressing concerns from her 8-person team and clients. Balancing tasks of home-educating her young children and taking care of her elder parents with her working spouse, she limited her break time to the bare minimum. Even worse, not being able to separate work and life since both happen under the same roof, she could not quit checking her emails even after hours. After living with this turmoil for three months, Kathy was a bit burned out--a troubling but common phenomenon experienced by many professionals with whom I spoke. Is Kathy not mentally tough enough? I don’t think so.

Sean lost his job this April. Since then, he had been struggling with finding work, despite all his great qualifications. Every day, he was in front of his computer for at least 10 hours, immersing himself in LinkedIn and job boards. Sean was used to being busy with work, and he promised his family that he would be back to the workforce in no time. Although he has applied for over 85 jobs in just three months, he has not been successful. This made him anxious - he knew that he wanted to get a job, but he didn’t know what job was good for him anymore. Is Sean not diligent enough in his job search? I don’t think so.

The "new normal" of life during a plague has had a deleterious effect upon everyone's ability to concentrate and focus. Managing the changes brought by this event requires extraordinary effort. Even though we all believe that this pandemic will pass, many are struggling with developing an effective coping strategy. Traditional change management theories would tell us that the first step to properly manage change is to recognize and believe in the need to change. However, when the change is sudden, unexpected and forced upon us, our instinctive reaction is to resist and try to maintain our routine. Then, once we have realized that we must ride with the change, the next natural reaction is to get things done as much as we can, or to escape from the forces that challenge us. Either way, we lose sight of our priorities. As adults, our ability to focus tends to be dependent upon reckoning with distractions. This results in us being able to effectively tackle a limited range of priorities. Assessing situations, establishing priorities, applying resources and making adjustments are essential elements of Personal Change Management.

After realizing this, Kathy came up with her top three priorities at work and defined her own boundaries when working from home. When her boss, staff and clients try to push her into doing something, she clearly communicates her availability based on her priorities. Sean re-evaluated his career strengths, weaknesses, interests and values, which helped to identify his job search target. Then he determined the best job search channels and is now working specifically on those. I took time off to enjoy some back-country activities with my family – letting nature recharge us, during a time that I would ordinarily take my annual vacation.

“Change is the only constant in the world,” is a sentence I hear often. Tackling it head on is not easy every time. Many times, when we cannot step straight forward. Then let’s take a step back, go around or go under obstacles. We can and will go through this together!

Three hikers climbing up a mountain
Climbing Up


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