3 Ways to Reprioritize Your Work Life for a Hybrid World

Credit: Michael Bowles/Getty Images

The world has reopened with a vengeance. Instead of toggling between Zoom, Google Meet, and Teams, we now run among aforementioned platforms and galas, commutes, parent-teacher meetings, conferences, and the block party. If you can’t make something, don’t worry—of course there’s a virtual option. Earbuds must be plentiful in the return to some semblance of normality; excuses are not.

This hybrid juggle appears to be taking a toll. New research from Microsoft finds nearly half of employees and more than half of managers say they’re burned out. A Gallup poll finds that the problem extends far beyond burned-out employees not bringing their best to work — they’re also 63% more likely to call out sick, and more than twice as likely to look elsewhere for a job.

What’s the solution? We need to revamp our approach to three areas of working life in this New World Order: schedules, in-person events, and establishing priorities.

Your calendar isn’t what it used to be.

I have written before about some schedule hacks that can help prevent burnout and overwhelm, including clustering meetings mid-week. That means keeping Monday mornings free to set priorities and Friday afternoons free to wind down.

The last two years democratized meetings in a multitude of ways, as screens leveled “turf” (no your office vs mine, nobody at the head of the table) and opened access (think daily check-ins and more intentional meetings). But you don’t want to feel “prisoner to your calendar,” as Khe Hy often points out in his RadReads blog that covers the intersection of work and productivity, among other topics.

In a Twitter thread earlier this year, Hy confessed distaste for one aspect of calendar management that took off in the pandemic. “Scheduling links never worked for me,” he wrote. “The mix of being self-employed, an active co-parent and wave chaser made my schedule too unpredictable.”

There are other issues with this type of scheduling system. Power dynamics abound when you send someone a link asking them to find time on your calendar. One, you are treating your schedule as sacred and theirs as not, essentially telling them to “get in line.” Two, these requests get weighted the same way with access to the same spots, whether a potential contract is worth $1 million or $500.

In his Twitter thread, Hy called out a product called SavvyCal as a schedule manager that allows for instant booking of meetings between two parties (he’s not paid for the endorsement). Features allows users to prioritize more important meetings, allowing them to override lesser ones.

We are all at a stage, regardless of the software we use, where meetings need such foresight and thought before they occur. The rote and almost-robotic impulse to fill our calendars with talking might even allow us for that other necessity of our jobs: thinking.

Stay present in person.

Scheduling in a hybrid world requires a new awareness of settings, yours and others’, and building in buffer time when needed. If you are attending a conference, for example, running off to make a Zoom right after the panel doesn’t really help create the connections or serendipitous meetings that make in-person gatherings so valuable.

My own practices: I now try to cushion two hours on either side of such gatherings. If I have time to make a quick phone call, I try to prioritize checking in with a colleague or direct report instead of a more formal meeting that requires me to prep or shift modes. I also am trying hard to stop scheduling formal calls in the car, or at the very least be off video and commit to listening versus participating.

Philadelphia-based Tezarah Wilkins, who hosts “Who Taught You How to Drive?!”, a podcast about the culture of cars and driving, doesn’t take meetings while on the road. “I feel like my focus is being split in too many ways. I want to be settled and able to share screens and communicate at a high level in a meeting, and frankly it makes me extremely anxious to even know that people are in their cars driving while we’re on a Zoom,” she says.

“Things have changed quite a bit since the start of the pandemic, but I wish people could leave the urge to multitask to that extent in the past.” Indeed, there’s no place like a car ride to daydream, muse on meetings past, and ponder what’s coming up. We are at a stage where such downtime warrants a schedule override.

We need radical prioritization… of ourselves, too.

The blurry lines between work and home that have characterized the last few years don’t seem to be easing up, even as both seem to be asking more of us. If you’re the parent of school-aged children, you’re likely familiar with the learning loss and mental-health effects the pandemic has wrought. On the work front, we remain in an era of uncertainty over the coming recession, rising prices, and a tight labor market.

A CEO and startup founder I recently met told me he’s all about making his priorities transparent: himself, his family, and only then, his company. Similarly, RadReads’ Hy advocates what he calls “radical prioritization,” a system that acknowledges all outcomes are not equal and thus all inputs should not be either.

How does that work when everything is urgent and important? On his blog, Hy recommended focusing on impact when trying to decide what to do first or what else to take on. An example he offered is between two competing tasks: creating a Twitter thread or a YouTube video. The Tweetstorm will take 30 minutes and will generate 10 new sign-ups,” he wrote. “The YouTube video will take 10 hours and generate 150 sign-ups.” He then calculated, based on the return on effort, that the Tweetstorm should go first. (To be sure, there are additional layers of a calculation based on probability of success.)

Another important part of prioritization, Hy wrote, is knowing the how and why behind every task. “Do you know what you want and why you want it?” he asked. Answering that will help you separate the things that bring you closer to your goals from the things that don’t.

The existential question is critical to this moment as we transition from the pandemic to whatever lies before us. It is the rare person who wants to return to the hamster wheel of pre-pandemic life. As Gallup reported in a recent poll on employee wellbeing, “Wellbeing is often conflated with ‘health,’ but wellbeing isn’t just about the absence of illness or injury, or even the presence of physical fortitude. Wellbeing is about a life well lived; it is about being fulfilled in the aspects of life that matter most.”

That fulfillment rests on knowing where to direct our energy. The antidote to the overwhelm and burnout we know all too well is figuring out what matters most, and why.

By S. Mitra Kalita

Source: 3 Ways to Reprioritize Your Work Life for a Hybrid World | Time


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How To Host The Perfect Plastic Free Picnic

Wood and plastic do not belong in our mouths. Period. Metal utensils – whether spoon, fork, or chopstick – are the only objects I’m happy to eat with. For this reason, I was never the one bringing pasta salads to picnics. And let’s not get started on disposable plates. They too have no place in our world. Apart from the toll they take on the environment, they also simply make the world uglier. But despite these self-imposed restrictions, I still very much love picnics.

And at the heart of any good picnic is the perfect picnic food: the sandwich. The sandwich is the most democratic food on earth; it is the universal equaliser.  I once read a recipe for “rose petal sandwiches” in a book titled The Gentle Art of Cookery by Mrs CF Leyel and Olga Hartley from 1921. The recipe is made using “bright-pink Damask or old-fashioned roses” layered in bread with unsalted butter. Although I’ve never made a rose sandwich, the idea of it sounds very romantic.

What I have eaten a lot of are stewed bean sandwiches. Known as “ful” sandwiches in Egypt, where I come from, they are served in pitta bread with a thick, stewed broad-bean filling. Ful sandwiches are most common for breakfast, but also eaten throughout the day. The idea of carbs-on-carbs may sound odd to some, but I will always reach for a bean sandwich or a potato sandwich when presented with the luxury.

Possibly even more important than what goes in the sandwich is the bread. Which brings me to the first (and arguably) most important principle of sandwich making. Good bread makes a good sandwich. Bad bread… should be used for something other than sandwiches. The bread is a vehicle for the filling, and if your vehicle is old and unpleasant, the ride won’t be as good. And the simpler the sandwich, the more important the bread.

Use any kind of bread that you see suitable, as long as it is good. The same is to be said about most cooking. Instead of being dead set on cooking a particular food before going to the market, make the trip, and then decide what actually looks good. The uncertainty may sound stressful to some, but the more you do this the more you’ll get comfortable, and ultimately the better cook you will become.

Five fresh sandwiches :


Shave courgette into ribbons using a mandolin or a vegetable peeler. Salt the courgette. Slice open focaccia and layer the ribbons of courgette with a slice of mozzarella. Add olive oil and a little more salt.

Tuna/tomato/mayo/rice bread

Tuna and tomato were made for each other. Combine a tablespoon of mayo (preferably homemade, but store-bought will also do) with a few fillets of good-quality canned tuna in olive oil. Flake with a fork. Slice the tomato thin, add salt and layer tomato, then tuna, on top. Slice on the bias and you have a Venetian tramezzino.

Jambon beurre/baguette

A classic, and likely my favourite sandwich of all time. Good-quality butter, flaky salt, a few slices of jambon de Paris and that’s it.


I love mortadella flecked with little bits of pistachio. Slice the focaccia, add a few slices of mortadella, and finish with olive oil and salt.

Wild Card Sandwich: beans/pitta

Take yesterday’s leftover beans and cook further until soft and thick. Add cumin to the beans then spoon into a pitta and, you guessed it, add salt and olive oil.

Once you’ve decided on what bread to use, either butter or add olive oil and then add the filling. I often find sandwiches to be overstuffed. Too much filling jammed in between two pieces of bread that can hardly hold it together. Keep things light and don’t overfill. Rule number four of sandwich making is to salt the sandwich. A little coarse salt before closing up the sandwich goes a long way.

To me, a sandwich that is not salted feels incomplete. Finally, avoid sogginess by adding any wet ingredients, and the salt, at the very last minute. I also like to bring boiled eggs as they’re the perfect portable snack. I wrap them in Gohar World egg lace dresses.

Once my picnic food is sorted, I spend time thinking about the setting and ambience. This may sound obvious, but pick a spot in your local park with a view. I live half a block from Central Park in New York and have a favourite area that overlooks a lake. As far as picnic blankets go, I use any piece of fabric large enough to accommodate the guests. This can be a tablecloth, a canvas drop cloth from the art supply shop, or even just a large piece of fabric from the fabric shop. I also like to pack linen napkins.

Recommended How To Host It Laila Gohar shells out on a fava party Yes, you’ll have to do a little washing at the end, but I think it adds a nice touch. In keeping with the plastic-free picnic theme, I pack drinks served in glass bottles. I also like to pick up a bunch of flowers. Why bring flowers when you’re sitting in a park, you ask? Well, because it feels a little fabulous to have flowers not only surrounding you, but also as a part of the picnic itself. Don’t call me over the top. At least I’m not suggesting that you pick Damask roses for a sandwich.


Source: How to host the perfect plastic-free picnic | Financial Times

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Want To Change Your Life? Don’t Think One Year Into The Future — Think 10

You may be familiar with the saying “The future starts now.” As catchy as this phrase may be, it is fundamentally not true. The future doesn’t start now, or tomorrow, or next month—at least not if you want to get the most out of mental time travel. It takes much longer than that for the full benefits of the future to kick in. But when exactly the future starts depends on who you are and what your life circumstances are like. Let me tell you about a simple game I invented. If you play along, you’ll get a pretty good idea of when the future starts for you.

Every time I teach a futures-thinking class, I begin with a quick game of When Does the Future Start? I ask everyone: “If the future is a time when many or most things in your life will be different than they are today, how long from now does that future start?” I ask them to write down their answer in days, weeks, months, or years.

This isn’t a trick question, and there’s no single correct answer. In fact, usually there are dozens of different answers, all of them valid: a year from now, five years from now, 10 years from now, twenty years from now. (If you want to play along, go ahead and think of your answer to this question now.) That said, 10 years is far and away the most common answer to the question “When does the future start?” In the responses I’ve collected from more than 10,000 students, almost everyone agrees: Ten years is enough time for society and my own life to become dramatically different.

What makes 10 years such a magic number for the mind?

Most of us have internalized the power of 10 years to create change through a combination of our own lived experience and social convention. We think about our own lives as a series of 10-year-long periods: our 20s, our 30s, our 40s, and so on. We use these milestone birthdays to reflect on what we want our next decade of life to be like.

And we talk about decades as units of time in which society changes: think about how different the 1920s were from the 1910s, the 1960s from the 1950s, or how different the 2020s have already been from the 2010s. Anyone who has lived through more than one decade, or studied history, already has a clear mental model of just how much can change in 10 years.

If you look at recent history, 10 years really does seem almost like a magic number. You can find myriad examples of new ideas and actions creating a previously unimaginable social reality over the time span of a decade, give or take a few months. This is particularly true when it comes to social movements achieving historic victories, and new technologies achieving global impact. To consider just a few examples, it took, give or take a few months:

• 10 years for the civil rights movement against racial segregation in the United States to go from its first boycott of segregated bus seating to the successful passage of the federal Civil Rights Act (1955–1964)

• 10 years for the first international economic sanctions against South Africa’s segregationist apartheid system to lead to a new constitution that enfranchised Black South Africans and other racial groups (1985–1996)

• 10 years for same-sex marriage to go from being considered controversial when it was legalized by a country for the first time (the Netherlands) to being supported in global surveys by a majority of people in a majority of countries (2001–2010)

• 10 years for marijuana to go from being legalized for all uses in one US state, Colorado, to being decriminalized in 44 out of 50 states (2012–2021)

And it took:

• 10 years from when just 16 million people, mostly scientists and other academic researchers, were using the internet—they thought it would be used mostly to share scientific data—to when 1 billion people were using it (1991–2001)

• 10 years from the first iPhone release until a majority of people on the planet had smartphones, creating a new era of always-on communication (2007–2017)

• 10 years for Facebook to go from one user to 1 billion daily users, on its way to becoming the first product used by more than 1 in 3 humans on the planet (2004–2015)

• 10 years for Bitcoin to go from being a hypothetical idea discussed in a scientific article to having a nearly $1 trillion market capitalization, larger than the three biggest U.S. banks combined (2008–2019)

• 10 years from Airbnb’s and Uber’s foundings for a full 36 percent of U.S. workers to be engaged in some form of “gig work” (2008–2018)

• 10 years for Zoom to go from its first user testing session to becoming a critical lifeline for humanity during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the de facto tool for learning, work meetings, and staying in touch with friends and family (2011–2020)

In other words: Things that are small experiments today in 10 years can become ubiquitous and world-changing. And social change that seems improbable or unimaginable—well, in 10 years that can change, too.

Of course, not all goals for change can be achieved in a decade—many social movements take much longer. And progress doesn’t just stop after 10 years. The purpose of looking 10 years ahead isn’t to see that everything will happen on that timeline—but there is ample evidence that almost anything could happen on that timeline. And for that reason, 10 years helps unstick our minds. Ten years helps us consider possibilities we would otherwise dismiss.

Ten years even relaxes us a bit as we try to imagine preparing for dramatic disruptions or for a radical rethinking of what’s normal—because 10 years gives us time to get ready. And it’s for this reason that whenever I send people on mental time trips to the future, I almost always send them 10 years ahead. Futurists want people to go somewhere they believe anything can be different—even things that seem impossible to change today.

When we think on a 10-year timeline, it’s not just that we are more likely to believe that dramatic change can happen in the world. We become more optimistic and hopeful about what we can change through our own efforts. This has to do with a psychological phenomenon known as time spaciousness. It’s the relaxing and empowering feeling that we have enough time to do what really matters—to consider our options, make a plan, and act more confidently to create the future we want.

It is almost impossible to create a sense of time spaciousness when we’re thinking in a matter of days or weeks. But when thinking ahead 10 years … ah, it’s so much time! On a 10-year timeline, we don’t feel rushed. We have plenty of opportunity to develop new skills, collect resources, recruit allies, learn from our mistakes, bounce back from setbacks, and do whatever else we need to do to get the best possible outcome. This feeling of abundance makes us less risk-averse and therefore more creative. We have all the time we need to play with ideas, try new things, and experiment until we figure out what works.

Interestingly, brains respond to abundant space in the same way as they do to abundant time. Studies have found that we also think more creatively and set higher, “maximal,” goals for ourselves when we’re in rooms with higher ceilings or outside in a wide-open environment. With maximal goals, we focus on the upper boundary: What is the highest and best possible outcome we can imagine? So I like to think of a 10-year timeline as a kind of cathedral or Grand Canyon for the mind. It lifts the ceiling on our imagination.

When we feel time-poor, on the other hand, it’s like being stuck in a tiny, depressing room with no windows. We shrink ourselves and imagine less. We adopt “minimal” goals, which means we try to do just enough to avoid a bad outcome. As one team of expert psychologists put it: “A maximal goal reflects the most that one could wish for, whereas a minimal goal reflects bare necessities or the least one could comfortably tolerate.”

Do you have a sense of whether you’re waking up each day focused on maximal or minimal goals? Whether you’re feeling time-rich or time-poor? Setting goals for yourself (or your family, or your community, or your organization) on too short a timeline usually creates the feeling of being time-rushed. So does being too busy, but that’s not something you can always control. So rather than drastically reduce what’s on your schedule, it’s much easier to control how far out in the future you’re imagining when you think about changes you’d like to achieve.

You may not be used to goal setting on a 10-year timeline. We usually think about making personal change year by year, most commonly by making resolutions at the start of the New Year. But a one-year resolution won’t help you think maximally, and you won’t feel a sense of time spaciousness if you’re trying to achieve a big goal in just one year. So next New Year’s Day, why not try a new tradition? Make a 10-year resolution.

What could you (or your family, or your community, or your organization) accomplish if you had 10 years to do it? What would the long-term impact of a new habit be if you practiced it for 10 years? Let your mind play with some bigger possibilities. Now this idea may not sound appealing to you at first. When it comes to making resolutions, you don’t want to be different in 10 years; you want to be different as soon as possible! So go ahead and keep making short-term resolutions. And try to stretch your imagination a decade further too, while you’re at it.

If you want to get a taste of time spaciousness right now, here’s a trick you can try: pick a tiny task—and give yourself 10 years to do it. You might think that having all this time will make you more likely to procrastinate, and you’ll never actually get around to doing it. But procrastination, paradoxically, is more likely to happen when you feel time-poor. When you feel like you have less time to get things done, you do less.

And when you feel you have ample time, you do more. Studies show this is true completely independent of how much “free” or unscheduled time a person has. What matters is whether your brain perceives an abundance of time. So give it a try. Give yourself luxurious 10-year deadlines. You might be surprised at how much faster and more happily you do things you’d otherwise put off when you feel time-rich, and therefore more in control of your timeline.

I want you to try this, for real: go ahead and put a deadline, or some other small goal, on your personal calendar, for 10 years from today. Google’s and Apple’s calendar apps will let you schedule things 10 years in the future. While you’ve got your mental or digital calendar open, let’s try a mental time trip. Imagine it’s 10 years from today, and you wake up incredibly excited about … something. You’ve got a special event on the calendar. What is it?

To help you imagine this future more clearly, skip ahead in your digital calendar to 10 years from today. Now, fill in the blank space. What do you have planned, 10 years from today? Who are you doing it with? What will you be wearing? What supplies will you need? Why is this activity important or exciting for you? And how do you feel now that the day is here? Try to answer all these questions and imagine the day ahead as vividly as you can. Be sure to think about how you and your life circumstances might be different from today, and how those differences might change what you want or are able to do.

As with any mental time trip to far in the future, it may take a few moments for your brain to start filling in the blanks. Sometimes it helps to plant the seed of imagination in your mind now and come back to it later. Just keep the calendar open and keep playing with possibilities. My challenge for you is to put something exciting—maybe even something life-changing—on your real-world calendar for 10 years from today. You’ll have a whole decade to decide if you want to actually make it happen.

By Jane McGonigal

11 Self-Sabotaging Phrases To Drop From Your Vocabulary

Sometimes we say things to ourselves that aren’t in our self-interest. Calling yourself a loser or saying “I’m such an idiot” every time you make a mistake isn’t having a positive effect on your self-esteem (on the other hand, you should definitely try affirmations), but beyond the obviously negative self-talk, there are a host of things we say that hold us back more quietly.

While not as plainly negative as “I suck at everything,” these phrases sabotage us in a sneakier—but still damaging—way. Here are some words and phrases that work in the background to stealthily undermine us; things we’d be better off leaving behind when trying to reach our goals.

“I don’t have time”

Consider that it’s a misconception that we do or don’t “have time” for something, because we control what we prioritize. In actuality, we have time for things we make time for. Sometimes, “I don’t have time” can be a smokescreen for: “I don’t want to” or “I’m afraid.” When it comes to pursuing life goals, it’s easy to cite lack of time as a reason to not get started. But what if you dedicated just 10 or 20 minutes a day to start work on your next big goal?

“I don’t know how”

And where would we be if we only did things we knew how to do? Somewhere between Boringtown and Dead Inside-ville. It’s normal we don’t all know how to write a book proposal or run our own business. No one does when they first start. Instead of resting on the excuse that we don’t have some magical fount of necessary knowledge, we can get going on the what, and learn how as we go.

“I’m not ready”

This excuse is gold because it lets us off the hook. Most people will sympathize or corroborate our ironclad reasons for not taking action yet. The problem with “I’m not ready,” however, is that it assumes there is some magical time off in the future when we will be. But there isn’t.

Even if we earn more money, get more experience, or “settle down,” we still may not feel ready. Because it’s not really about those things, anyway. It’s about our relationship to fear, change, and the unknown. By all means, prepare before leaping. But if we spend spend too much time preparing, we may find ourselves in the same spot a year—or ten—from now.

“I’ll try”

In the words of the eternally wise Master Yoda, “Do or do not. There is no try.” Yoda uttered these words when training a young Luke Skywalker out of his surly lack of belief in himself. The concept applies to us non-Jedi knights as well. The words “I’ll try” contain an implicit lack of commitment.

It’s more comfortable to say we’ll “try” to do something, but it’s much more productive when we pick a side and hold ourselves accountable for taking the actions necessary to do the thing we said we’d do.


“Maybe” is a great word to keep us stuck in the comfortable malaise of indecision. To avoid committing to bringing that casserole to book club, “maybe” away. But when it comes to bigger ambitions, there’s no better way to stop us in our tracks than with a weak-ass maybe. Saying “maybe” to something is still making a choice—a choice that leaves us in limbo and pushes the same choice further down the road. What if we decided now?

“I should…”

The word “should” is made of judgment. It implies that something is the right thing to do, and if it isn’t done, there will likely be negative consequences. Instead of using “should,” replace it with “I will.” After declaring what we will do, we can enjoy the empowered feeling of making a choice from possibility, rather than fear.

“If it happens, it happens”

While this phrase can at times be useful as an exercise in letting go of the outcome after putting your heart and soul into something. As a standalone, it implies we have zero self-agency or impact on a given outcome. The things we want most don’t just “happen.” They require vision, commitment, and repeated action.

“But so-and-so really needs me”

It’s a wonderful thing to help others. But there is such a thing as giving so much as to put us in a perpetual martyr position where there is no time, resources, or bandwidth left to improve ourselves. Are there places in your life where you’re over-functioning for someone or something else? Commit to taking back some of that time for you.

“I’m not smart/talented/brave enough”

As the story goes, Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Where would we be today if he had internalized that feedback?

We all “lack” in some areas and are stronger in others. The good thing is, we don’t need to be champions of intellect, courage, financial prowess, and beauty to achieve things. Instead of comparing ourselves to others and despairing about our interpretation of the results, we can focus on what we know are our strengths. (P.S. Courage comes from practicing being brave. If we do little things we’re afraid of, our bravery muscle will grow.)

“Just my luck”

We might say it when there’s “crazy traffic” and we end up being late, but saying things are “just my luck” puts us solidly in the victim position, as if there’s nothing that can be done to change what “happens to” us.

Take the last thing that you were mad about. What could you have done differently to improve the outcome? Empowered change starts with taking full responsibility for our choices—and their consequences—both good and bad, rather than habitually blaming “bad luck.”

“If only…”

These two words often lead into a wish, hope, or a complaint. “If only I was younger.” “If only my rent were lower.” “If only I’d gone to a better college.” Phrases like these keep us in a state of fantasy and helplessness. They presume a certain set of conditions or circumstances that would perfectly set us up for a successful, happy life. (Recognizing this is impossible is actually quite freeing.)

Try shifting this statement into one of declarative action. “When I get my Master’s…” or “Tomorrow, I will…” and follow it up with one step you will take towards your goal.

Source: 11 Self-Sabotaging Phrases to Drop From Your Vocabulary


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The 3 Phases of Making a Major Life Change

The lockdown that we’ve all just lived through created a period during which a lot of people had the opportunity to reflect on plans for a career change. But reflection alone doesn’t get people very far. Those who are mostly likely to act during this kind of period are those who actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that consists of separation, liminality and reintegration. The author explains how to make the most of each of these stages to effect real change.

Many of us believe that unexpected events or shocks create fertile conditions for major life and career changes by sparking us to reflect about our desires and priorities. That holds true for the coronavirus pandemic. A bit over a year ago, when I asked people in an online poll to tell me how the pandemic had affected their plans for career change, 49% chose this response: “It has given me downtime to rest and/or think.”

That’s a good start. But if there is one thing I have learned from decades of studying successful career change, it’s that thinking on its own is far from sufficient. We rarely think our way into a new way of acting. Rather, we act our way into new ways of thinking — and being.

Yes, events that disrupt our habitual routines have the potential to catalyze real change. They give us a chance to experiment with new activities and to create and renew connections. Even in the seemingly “unproductive” time we spend away from our everyday work lives, we conduct important inner business — asking the big existential questions, remembering what makes us happy, shoring up the strength to make difficult choices, consolidating our sense of self, and more.

Enough has happened during this past year to make many of us keenly aware of what we no longer want. But the problem is this: More appealing, feasible alternatives have yet to materialize. So we’re stuck in limbo between old and new. And now, with most Covid restrictions at last falling away and a return to the office imminent, we confront a real danger: getting sucked back into our former jobs and ways of working.

How can those of us who want to make a career transition avoid that? How can we make progress toward our goals by building on what we’ve learned this past year?

Research on the transformative potential of a catalyzing event like the coronavirus pandemic suggests that we are more likely to make lasting change when we actively engage in a three-part cycle of transition — one that gets us to focus on separation, liminality, and reintegration. Let’s consider each of those parts of the cycle in detail.

The Benefits of Separation

“I spent lockdown in this idyllic, secluded environment,” I was told by John, a businessman whose last executive role came to an end around the onset of the pandemic, enabling him to move out into the country. “I got to see the spring come and go,” he said. “I got to see a lot of nature. It was just an amazingly peaceful backdrop. I got married last year, so my wife and I had an enormous amount of time together. My son, from whom I’d been estranged, came to stay with us. So I got to know him again, which was a great experience. This was a very blessed period.”

John’s experience wasn’t unique. Research on how moving can facilitate behavior change suggests that people who found a new and different place to live during the pandemic may now have better chances of making life changes that stick. Why? Because of what’s known as “habit discontinuity.” We are all more malleable when separated from the people and places that trigger old habits and old selves.

Change always starts with separation. Even in some of the ultimate forms of identity change or rehabilitating substance abusers — the standard operating practice is to separate subjects from everybody who knew them previously, and to deprive them of a grounding in their old identities. This separation dynamic explains why young adults change when they go away to college.

My recent research has shown how much our work networks are prone to the “narcissistic and lazy” bias. The idea is this: We are drawn spontaneously to, and maintain contact with, people who are similar to us (we’re narcissistic), and we get to know and like people whose proximity makes it easy for use to get to know and like them (we’re lazy).

The pandemic disrupted at least physical proximity for most of us. But that might not be enough — particularly as we rush back into our offices, travel schedules and social lives — to mitigate the powerful similarities that the narcissistic and lazy bias create for us at work. That’s why maintaining some degree of separation from the network of relationships that defined our former professional lives can be vital to our reinvention.

Tammy English, of Washington University, and Laura Carstensen, of Stanford University, found that the size of people’s networks shrank after the age of 60, not because these people had fewer opportunities to connect but because, increasingly, they perceived time as being limited, which made them more selective. Quite possibly many of our experiences of the pandemic, like John’s, will foster our reinvention by encouraging greater selectivity in how and with whom we spend our limited time.

Liminal Learnings

When the pandemic hit, Sophie, a former lawyer, was transitioning out of a two-decade career and found herself wanting to explore a range of new work possibilities, among them documentary filmmaking, journalism, non-executive board roles, and sustainability consulting.

Lockdown created a liminal time and space, a “betwixt and between” zone, in which the normal rules that governed Sophie’s professional life were temporarily lifted, and she felt able to experiment with all sorts of work and leisure pursuits without committing to any of them. She made the most of that period — taking several courses, working on start-up ideas, doing freelance consulting, joining a nonprofit board, and producing two of her first short films.

Taking advantage of liminal interludes allows us to experiment — to do new and different things with new and different people. In turn, that affords us rare opportunities to learn about ourselves and to cultivate new knowledge, skills, resources and relationships. But these interludes don’t last forever. At some point, we have to cull learning from our experiments and use it to take some informed next steps in our plans for career change.

What is worth pursuing further? What new interest has cropped up that’s worth a look? What will you drop having learned that it’s not so appealing after all? What do you keep, but only as a hobby?

When Sophie took stock, she was surprised to realize that she hadn’t grown in her board role as much as she had expected, whereas she had very quickly started to build meaningful connections linked to the film industry. These were vital recognitions for her to make before she committed herself to next steps in her transition plan.

Reintegration: A Time for New Beginnings

Most of the executives and professionals with whom I have exchanged pandemic experiences tell me that they do not want to return to hectic travel schedules or long hours that sacrifice time with their families — but are nonetheless worried that they will.

They are right to be worried, because external shocks rarely produce lasting change. The more typical pattern after we receive some kind of wake-up call is simply to revert back to form once things return to “normal.” That’s what the Wharton professor Alexandra Michel found in 2016, when she investigated the physical consequences of overwork for four cohorts of investment bankers over a 12-year period.

 For these people, avoiding unsustainable work habits required more than changing jobs or even occupations. Many of them had physical breakdowns even after moving into organizations that were supposedly less work-intensive. Why? Because they had actually moved into similarly demanding positions, but without taking sufficient time in between roles to convalesce and gain psychological distance from their hard-driving selves.

Our ability to take advantage of habit discontinuity depends on what we do in the narrow window of opportunity that opens up after routine-busting changes. One study has found, for example, that the window of opportunity for engaging in more environmentally sustainable behaviors lasts up to three months after people move house. Similarly, research on the “fresh start” effect shows that while people experience heightened goal-oriented motivation upon after returning to work from a holiday, this motivation peaks on the first day back and declines rapidly thereafter.

The hybrid working environments with which many organizations are currently experimenting represent a possible new window of opportunity for many people hoping to make a career change, one in which the absence of old cues and the need to make conscious choices provides an opportunity to implement new goals and intentions. If you’re one of these people, it’s now up to you to decide whether you will use this period to effect real career change — or whether, instead, you’ll drift back into your old job and patterns as if nothing ever happened.

Source: The 3 Phases of Making a Major Life Change


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Is Your Organization Surviving Change — or Thriving in It?

The U.S. Needs to Reimagine Its Pharma Supply Chain

4 Ways to Follow Up After a Job Interview

How to Write a Cover Letter

15 Rules for Negotiating a Job Offer

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The Balanced Scorecard—Measures that Drive Performance

How to Set Boundaries in the Last Days of a Job

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What the West Gets Wrong About China

How to Get Noticed by Your Boss’s Boss

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