The third action in my R.E.M.O.T.E. strategy will help you deal with distractions and create structure.
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This article represents the third action in the R.E.M.O.T.E. acronym I created to help you thrive while working remotely. I created these actions from my years leading Navy SEALs in submarines, where we would be “quarantined” for as long as 50 days. The key behind not just surviving but thriving for long periods of time in isolation is creating structure so you can keep your focus. If you boil it all down, your focus determines your direction, and if you allow your focus to wander, so will your work.
The third action, which represents the “M” of R.E.M.O.T.E., is Manage. Before I go into the specifics of Manage, here’s a brief “sea story” to help you understand the essence of the action. Just before we started Hellweek (six days of virtually no sleep), our SEAL training class was told to clean the instructor’s office. As we started cleaning, there sitting front and center on the first desk closest to the entrance was a large three-ring notebook with an oversized typeface title: CLASS 181 HELLWEEK SCHEDULE. Two curious classmates photocopied the entire schedule and brought the copy back to their room to study it. What do you think happened the moment they started reading all the things the instructors had planned for our next six days of around-the-clock training? They became overwhelmed with the information. It was so overbearing for them, they quit before they even started Hellweek.
When our brains are given too much information, especially if it is information associated with uncertainty, such as in running and swimming longer than we ever had experienced for Hellweek, our first reaction is to say, “I can’t do this” and therefore we stop before we even get started.
I call the strategy for dealing with this: Manage the moment, NOT the mountain.
When dealing with uncertainty, we must manage for the moment. If we let our minds focus on the mountain, we can quickly get overwhelmed, which is not helpful in making decisions, much less trying to be productive. Here are the two main areas I want you to manage constantly to ensure you do not fall victim to a mountain of unnecessary (and unproductive) stress.
Go on a news diet. News is designed to play to our negativity basis. Our brains put a higher level of focus on negativity; it is our survival DNA. News outlets know this, and they structure their programs to deliver news in five-second increments to keep us “hooked” on watching. I know this because this is what infomercials are designed to do, and I created lots of infomercials for the Perfect Pushup, Perfect Pullup and Perfect Ab Carver, to name just a few!
Put electronics in their place. Working from home has lots more distractions than work. Do not allow your buzzing smartphone, TV or radio to interrupt you while you are concentrating on deep work. Use the on/off, airplane mode or out-of-office options to reduce in-bound distractions.
Family schedules. As mentioned in the first action, Routines offer a critical structure for you and your quarantine “mates.” Make sure you share important workday moments ahead of time so you can prevent potential distractions from happening. Three things that help us minimize distractions in our family of six are scheduling chores, WiFi usage and eating (that one seems like all the time!).
The other critical element to Manage during uncertainty is expectations both for you and your teammates who are working remotely. Here’s the most important framework to remember when it comes to helping others be productive during uncertainty: Safety –> Structure –> Service.
Step 1: Safety. When working remotely with others, know that the first thing on their minds is their (and those in quarantine with them) safety. Address their safety needs first. This serves three critical proposes: first, it shows you care about them; second, it helps them understand their true safety needs from their “wants”; and third, it helps give perspective.
Step 2: Structure. Once a teammate’s safety needs are met, then you have a foundation on which to build a routine of structure that will help them shift their focus from their “selfish” needs (i.e. safety) to the “selfless” act of serving others. Structure is the bridge that enables a transition from an inward focus to forward progress. (You can use these articles as your framework for creating structure for your teammates.)
Step 3: Service. Once we are able to shift our focus from our own personal safety to serving others, we can be more helpful to our teammates, customers, co-workers and the communities in which we live. When we are serving, we are selfless, and we will find more value by helping others while also fending off the demons of depression.
Situational depression during times like these is real and can be reduced if you stay vigilant at creating Routines, Engaging with others and Managing distractions and expectations. Remember we are social animals by nature and we thrive on human connection. Creating structures that enable human connection while keeping our focus on the task at hand will keep everyone moving forward together. And when this happens we can overcome any mountain.
Next up is Action #4 of R.E.M.O.T.E. called Opportunity. Until then stay safe, be well and keep thriving!