During a time of crisis or disruption, our first reaction may be to panic. It’s a completely natural, built-in human reaction. The flight-or-fight instinct kicks in — which is a helpful response to have if you want to avoid being dinner for a tiger, but not so helpful in an emergency situation where cooler heads must prevail. This is a very important component to successfully riding out the situation and getting through to the other side.
Don’t underestimate the value of structure and order in times of uncertainty. In the book The Art of Crisis Leadership, authors Rob Weinhold and Kevin Cowherd offer this advice: “When faced with an urgent situation, slow the process down and act nonemotionally. People often want to react with the same velocity with which crisis hits — do not. Slow the process down and make sound decisions that will benefit for many years to come.”
Here are some tips for how to introduce structure and order to your day in a time of disruption:
Establish a routine.
This helps to tame the anxiety, which in turn increases your productivity. It’s difficult to accomplish anything important if you’re constantly running in circles. Take a deep breath, or 10, and write out a list of what you need to accomplish. Focus on things that are in your control, not on things you can’t control. Determine the most crucial problem you face, and start there.
Make and follow a schedule.
Whether it’s hourly, daily, weekly, monthly or all of the above, it’s vital to keeping your sanity. Think realistically, and don’t overburden yourself — it will only cause your anxiety level to rise and your morale to fall.
If you’re used to working in a large place of business with a great deal of human interaction and you now find yourself working from home, you’ll need to get that human interaction in a different way. It’s important to stay connected to family, friends and co-workers. If anything, overcommunicate. A lot gets lost in translation in email. Take advantage of video and telephone calls. There is so much more information you can deduce from tone of voice and facial expression.
Set up a quiet, uncluttered, positive place to work.
If you have a home office, that’s great, but if space is limited, the kitchen table may have to do. Set and enforce rules and time frames if you cohabitate. The people you live with will have to agree that you (and they) need some quiet time with no distractions.
Physical wellness is especially important when you can’t get to the gym or follow your regular exercise routine. If you sit at a desk all day, in a short while, your body will let you know with aches and pains caused by inactivity. Set a regular time to do some physical activity every day. Even if you only take a 10-minute break every hour to stand up and stretch, you’ll reap the benefits. Remember to eat at regular times. It’s easy to start grazing when you’re only a few steps from the refrigerator.
It’s also imperative to safeguard your mental health in a time of disruption. Think realistically and pace yourself. Take time out to meditate or read something inspiring. Watch a video that’s funny or inspirational. Celebrate your victories no matter how small they may seem. Work hard to bring new forms of joy into your life. Watch or read enough news to keep well informed, but don’t obsess over it or binge on it. That will only increase your anxiety as you worry about all the problems of the world. I derive a great deal of pleasure from simply eating dinner on the balcony.
In their article “How to Demonstrate Calm and Optimism in a Crisis,”Jacqueline Brassey and Michiel Kruyt offer this insight: “Self-care goes beyond making sure to have a good regimen of sleep, eating, and exercise. It is also about letting up on the self-criticism or perfectionism, to be able to connect with core intentions and purpose. Practicing this yourself also enhances your capacity to be empathetic with others.”
Seek out and provide inspiration.
Take some time to learn a new skill. Read those management articles you keep meaning to read. Make a list of all the positive things you can do to improve your career, and then actually schedule time for them on your calendar.
If you’re in a management position, spend the time it takes to inspire your people. Motivate them to be their best selves. Check on them often, and remember to ask them how their lives are going during the chaos. A little empathy goes a long way.
In Bill Tibbo’s book Leadership in the Eye of the Storm: Putting Your People First in a Crisis, he writes, “Implemented properly, a people-focused approach to crisis management will not only ensure the recovery process goes well, but can also lead to greater solidity and community than what existed prior to the crisis, including increased loyalty, decreased absenteeism, improved morale, and a strong cohesive team.”
Structure is a necessity when it comes to feeling in control and grounded. Give yourself the tools to weather this time of disruption.
This article has previously been featured on Forbes.