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How To Make Sure Disruptions Won’t Stall Your Progress

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

The last 12 months of pandemic, economic upheaval, and societal violence have thrown countless people and businesses off course. Even if you’ve had the good fortune to do work that’s in high demand, a sudden expansion of activities or staff still brings a lot of pressure and confusion. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a senior manager trying to corral your team into too many Zoom sessions or a parent trying to work and be a teacher’s aide at the same time, there’s a good chance that, for at least part of the past year, you’ve felt disrupted, out of sorts or not quite sure how to move forward.

Disruptions happen all the time: employees quit suddenly; a crucial supplier changes its systems and you temporarily lose access; weather events knock out the power for days or perhaps someone in your family falls ill and you’re suddenly the primary caregiver. But while events around you may toss your plans out the window, it’s still possible not to lose yourself or your forward momentum. Here are seven strategies for stabilizing yourself and your team so you can continue your work while you’re coping with everything else.

Check to see if you’re okay and restore whatever equilibrium you can. Once you’ve assessed that you’re not in immediate danger, the first thing to do is to ground yourself so you can continue to think clearly and make balanced decisions. It will help a lot if you’ve already established some personal resilience as a kind of psychological cushion for the inevitable bumps in the road. The building blocks of resilience are social relationships and self-care as well as a sense of purpose, mission or goals; they’ll help you reset and get back on track.

Review the critical path for projects and triage your commitments. As soon as you’re thinking clearly, list out your priorities and deliverables, along with the time frames that have been promised for each. Which ones have been affected by the current disruption? Does your calendar have any slack time for adjustment and catching up? It’s worth slowing the action to gauge which initiatives can be bumped temporarily to open some breathing room. You can also check to see if there’s any damage that must be cleaned up immediately to prevent even greater losses ahead.

Seek the help or resources you need. Identify the kinds of resources that will help you and your team get things back to a steady state, or to where you formerly were on your trajectory. Can some of the tasks be recovered more quickly if they’re shared? Do you need extra funds to replace and repair equipment? Try not to self-censor any appeals out of fear that others will not be interested or supportive. Instead, prepare your requests as mini-pitches; let your colleagues understand the benefits to the business of helping you now, as their turn may come at some point. And be explicit so they understand exactly what you need and can figure out the best ways to deliver for you.

Ask for leeway and express gratitude for flexibility. Let both internal and external customers know as quickly as possible that circumstances have changed and that you may be late on some deliverables. The sooner you explain the reality, the better chance they’ll have to adjust to it. Recipients tend to be more flexible about deadline extensions than they are about shoddy or incomplete work. Expressing gratitude for their flexibility is usually more effective than apologizing for your lateness.

Reassure team members and make revised plans together. Unless you’re a sole contributor, recovering from a disruption will depend on your team as much as on you. Ask how well they are coping and see how they’re able to contribute given whatever turmoil they may be experiencing themselves. Then overcommunicate your thoughts because when everyone’s disrupted, it can be difficult for them to regroup. Emphasize the big purposes that need to be satisfied and the group’s values and explain how these have guided you as you started the process of moving forward in this time of challenge. Seek out others’ views and listen carefully to their input; depending on their relationship to customers or processes, they may have much needed perspective on how to adjust work assignments or procedures.

Practice and model self-compassion. Make sure you continue to take care of yourself as you work through whatever problems you’re facing, and explain to your team that they will also do better when they’re being kind to themselves. Give them examples such as how you know when you need to take a break, how you ensure your self-talk is generous rather than harsh and how you’ve asked for help when you’ve needed it—all of which they can do too.

Check on how others are doing. Keep everyone connected, whether you use daily standups (either via video or in person), call each team member weekly or hold semi-monthly reviews with customers. The recovery period will be less distressing for everyone if they feel they understand what’s really happening. Otherwise, their speculations and worries can lead to missteps and miscommunications, and pile on the need for rework and repair.

When times are disrupted and outcomes are unclear, applying these approaches can help you manage yourself and your team as humanely as possible while giving you the greatest chance of satisfying customers and keeping commitments.

Onward and upward —


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