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Give People a Sense of Certainty Through New Routines

By Steve Kane Updated on March 27th, 2020

The Power of Routine

So much of our daily activity is performing routines, even though we may not be aware of it. Getting out bed and ready for work; picking up the phone, wallet, and keys on the way out the door; stopping for coffee; etc. are various routines that we don’t really think about. These routines, or repeated processes, create stability in our day to day lives. When most of what we experience is routine, we’re able to deal with the inevitable unexpected occurrences (problems) that come up.

When Life Goes According to Plan

If most of what we do, or deal with, goes according to expectations, then we tend to have a good day. When most of the day’s events don’t go according to plan, we tend to have a hectic day–and that gets tiring quickly.

Your routines are comforting. They’re comforting for your self and for those around you. When you’re doing what others have come to expect from you, you’re communicating that there’s nothing to be concerned about. Most of our communication is expressed without words. A quick glance while passing in the hall is enough to let people know that all is well or that something’s wrong. Don’t underestimate the power of idle chit chat at the office coffee maker or in the conference room before a meeting starts.

Life Doesn’t Always Work Out the Way We Want

When we sense that everything is okay with the people around us, we can focus more on our work and be more productive. Conversely, if we sense something is wrong, especially with the boss, we’re distracted and unproductive.

COVID-19 has disrupted our routines. Many people have spent the last couple of weeks learning how to work from home. I’m guessing “How does GoTo Meeting work” has been a frequent Google search as of late.

While your routines have been disrupted, so have the comforting effects you’ve had on others, especially if you’re a leader.

What To Do About It

Your day to day has been turned on its head and you’re figuring out how to get back to normal. The sooner you can accept that you will not get back to normal for the foreseeable future, the sooner you can establish new routines and become more effective for your family, colleagues, and customers.

Be Deliberate

Decide in advance what your daily activities will be: make a plan. Work your plan. This will get you out of reactive thinking and help become proactive. At the end of the day, see where the plan was effective and where it wasn’t. Make a new plan for tomorrow. This is essentially leader standard work and PDCA.

Brita Quella wrote a great blog article last week about how to deal with suddenly having to work from home. Being deliberate about my actions was one of the take aways for me. This is particularly important for leaders.

People no longer have the opportunity to pass in the halls or have a brief exchange of conversation at the coffee maker. We’re no longer able to assess the atmosphere of the office just by arriving at work. These small acts, we previously weren’t aware of, now aren’t happening and the result can be added stress caused by uncertainty.

Help people stabilize daily work life through frequent contact. Make a point to speak to each of your direct reports and teammates often. If your team is new to working from home, then checking in daily wouldn’t be too much. I used the word “speak” intentionally and literally. Email or text messages won’t offer the same opportunity to read tone, voice volume, body language, or facial expressions that video conferencing or FaceTime will. Even without video, a phone call is much better than any written medium.

Help people establish and adjust to new routines quickly. Soon, the new routine will become the new normal.

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