It’s been several weeks since the global health crisis led to a national work-from-home effort. And it’s certainly been long enough to begin to understand the challenges facing millions of Americans who are grappling with a very different way of working.
There’s general agreement that few of us are achieving optimal productivity during this period. A huge portion of the population is figuring out how to work at home -- under tremendously distracting conditions. Many people are grappling with new technologies like videoconferencing while anxiety is running at an all-time high.
Yet despite it all, we know that when we come out on the other side of this (and we will come out), we must be stronger, more resilient and ready to perform at unparalleled levels.
Using this unprecedented time for unprecedented development
That level of preparation for tomorrow demands deliberate and intentional development today. But development doesn’t just fuel the future; it also has the power to address and alleviate many of the challenges facing the workforce during this historic time.
- Stress. You can regulate your nervous system (and address stress and anxiety) by giving something your complete focus and allowing it to absorb your total attention - something for which learning is uniquely suited.
- Excess bandwidth. People unable to have physical contact with customers and co-workers may find themselves with some extra time and energy on their hands. Learning can leverage both constructively.
- Need for connection. Working remotely can leave some people feeling adrift, unanchored to the organization and colleagues. Depending upon the form it takes, learning can allow for the exchange of ideas and support that bridges the gap.
This is an unprecedented time. A block of time that we’ll likely not have again. We can just muddle through or we can use it to better ourselves, deepen our capacity, and position ourselves for greater contribution. How will you use this time?
Find the time
Learning and growth is an individual choice. And one that can serve you well during this extraordinary period. But it requires that you find the time, focus and resources to make it happen.
It’s a truism that we always find the time for what’s important. Whether you’re particularly swamped due to current circumstances or you’re facing a lighter load, there are countless ways to carve out the hours (or even minutes) to build your knowledge and skills.
- Create a learning routine. Many people are struggling to establish a sense of normalcy during this period of adjustment. Routines are a great way to do this. So, set aside a particular time of day. Even 10-15 minutes per day – over a few weeks (or months) – will quickly add up to expanded capabilities.
- Recommit the commute. If you’ve traded the average American’s 100 minutes/day commute for a quick trip from the bedroom to the den, consider replacing the time previously spent on the road with a focus on learning
- Mine the minutes. Whereas we’ve always found ourselves with spare moments between activities, today they aren’t as easily filled with ad hoc connections and office banter. Now, those mini mental breaks can feel empty and disorienting. Learning can provide a constructive focus and leverage even small scraps of time for greater wellbeing, knowledge, and capacity.
- Leverage your lulls. We all have low-energy periods when you feel distracted and just can’t muster the mental energy to be productive. Learning could save you from making yet another visit to the refrigerator or other non-value-add activities.
Find your focus
Be intentional. Finding the time is just the first step, you must also find your focus. And given the disorientation that today’s unusual and ever-changing conditions present, you can’t leave this to chance. You must be intentional. Ask yourself these questions to isolate the skills, knowledge, tools or abilities that might be the basis of a productive and satisfying developmental focus:
- What do i need now to be optimally effective during this period?
- What knowledge, skills or abilities will i need to be prepared for when this passes?
Find your resources
Once you’ve identified how you want to grow and what you want to learn, you’re ready to determine what will work best for you. During this time when gathering isn’t possible and formal training efforts may be on hold, you’ll need to take a diy (do it yourself) approach to craft your own development. Here are several ideas to get you started.
- Curate a learning playlist. Take a low energy period when you might be tempted to scroll mindlessly through social media (again) and instead, search for articles, podcasts, studies, videos and on-demand webinars on your topic(s) of choice. Keep the playlist on your desktop or phone for easy access and use when you have a few minutes here and there.
- Invite feedback. One of the most effective ways to learn about ourselves or anything else is from others. So, use this time gather information from others about what you’re doing, how you’re doing, and how you can add greater value.
- Interview an expert. Reach out to others (within your organization or outside) who have a reputation for being effective at what you’re interested in learning. Schedule short calls to gather their top three tips or strategies. Not only will you gain valuable insights, this also serves double duty as human contact during these isolated times.
- Crack a book. Identify a book that addresses your development focus. Read it and deepen your understanding by summarizing its highlights in a short book report that you share with others who might benefit from it. Or convene a virtual book club to read and discuss a book of interest to you and your colleagues.
- Step up to a new responsibility. Different experiences and tough assignments provide the most fertile ground for testing ideas, approaches and yourself. And during this time, there are countless projects, assignments, and challenges looking for someone to take them on.
- Capture your insights. Every article, video, conversation or experience offers a wealth of information if we take the time to unpack it. Unfortunately, too frequently, we don’t. So, reflect and capture your insights, learnings and skills (which are in jeopardy of getting lost right now in the chaos of this period of time.)
There’s no argument that this is an extraordinary time. A chance to step back, reflect, reprioritize and more. It’s also a chance to dedicate ourselves to our learning and growth. Because when we return to some version of business as usual, the pressure to perform will likely be great. And those who develop today will be able to deliver tomorrow.
I delve into this topic in greater detail during a complementary webinar, "Develop in Place: Using this Time for Growth and Learning," hosted by the Advantage Performance Group,
on April 16 at noon Eastern.
Julie Winkle Giulioni works with organizations worldwide to improve performance through leadership and learning. Named one of Inc. Magazine's top 100 leadership speakers, Giulioni is the co-author of the Amazon and Washington Post bestseller "Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want," You can learn more about her speaking, training and blog at JulieWinkleGiulioni.com.