Many of us live our lives on auto-pilot and find comfort in repetitive behaviors that yield predictable results.  This natural tendency isn't because we have a character flaw, but instead, it is how our brains are designed.  According to Jeffrey M. Schwartz, M.D., a leading neuroscientist, "brains are built to detect changes in the environment and send out strong signals to alert us to anything unusual." The part of our brain that becomes activated when change is detected is "closely connected to the brain's fear circuitry." This explains why change is difficult.  


Now, let's marry this natural tendency for resisting change to the real fears and disruption that comes with Covid-19.  It is no surprise that the anticipation of returning back to an office may feel like a threat to the routines you have established from working from home.

Since we have no choice but to confront these changes and embrace uncertainties, let's also use this time to challenge some of the default behaviors that may leave us dreading the changes that are sure to come in 2021. 


Revamp your To-Do List

If your current to-do list isn't working for you, consider adopting one of the following versions instead. 

  • Location-based To-Do list:  This type of list is created based on where you can get the tasks done.  For example, I have separate lists to capture action items that can be accomplished when working at a computer, in the office, during my commute or even while waiting.
  • Time-based To-Do list:  A time-based to-do list is a list of activities that can be started or completed at set intervals.  I have lists for activities I can meaningfully make progress on in 15 min, 30 min or 60 min intervals.
  • Energy-based To-Do list:  An energy-based To-Do list is a list of activities that can be done based on how much energy and motivation you have.  Let us face it, sometimes doing nothing isn't an option.  Therefore, having a list readily available when your energy is low can help you remain productive.  I would suggest that your list capture activities that can be done when your energy level is high, medium, or low.


Interrogate workflow norms

Are there long-standing practices that have nothing to do with delivering exemplary service and fulfilling your organization's mission?  Consider asking the following questions during your interrogation.

  • Does your response time to emails and phone calls support our goals?  Spending all day, every day in your email may not be the most effective use of your time if you are left with no time for strategic and creative work.
  • Have you optimized the technology and tools available to you?  If you are using email just for communication, your printer only for making copies, or your phone to simply answer calls and scroll thru social media, then you are underutilizing some of the most powerful productivity tools you have available. 
  • What are the redundant steps in your workflow?  If there are tasks that must be repeated consistently, consider creating a template and/or automation process.
  • Are there too many steps that are needed to execute routine tasks?  If there are, evaluate what actions are essential to get the desired results, then simplify them.


Evaluate how you communicate

Not all types of communication are created equal.  Be critical of how you relay information and determine the most effective way by creating a protocol for evaluating what information is best suited for email, phone call, video conference call or instant messaging.


Experiment with one or a few of these tips so that you can make 2021 a year to thrive and not just survive.


This article was written in partnership with wiseHer - a technology platform that provides on-demand expert advice for small businesses and women to accelerate their business or career.