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Changing Your Mental Channel

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Karl W. Palachuk
March 30, 2020

In the midst of the non-stop “virus” coverage, I have heard and read several comments about a daily phenomenon that few of us ever think about: Using our “commute” time to switch from one role we play in life to another. For example, the routine of dropping off kids and then driving to work is also a routine that gradually transitions one from parent to bread winner.

In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I argue that we all play many different roles in our lives. We are individuals first, be we are also parents, spouses, children, workers, community members, neighbors, etc. So we switch from one role to another all day long.

And, for most of us, we probably make those “channel changes” all day long without thinking about it. We love to complain about our morning commute, without realizing that it has also been a 30-60 minute time to change channels from parent to [employee] [employer] [etc.].

Now, suddenly, we realize that our transition period has disappeared. And, on top of that, we may have to switch roles all day long. Spouse for twenty minutes, parent for fifteen, worker for thirty, parent for five, and so forth.

It is important that you be very mindful of these shifts for two very important reasons: 1) Changing channels is disruptive; and 2) Changing channels can be stressful.

Disruptions are one of my major pet peeves. I turn off my phone, my Outlook reminders, and all the junk that wants to pop up on my computer all day long. And I ask my employees to do the same. We need to be super aware of how bad interruptions and disruptions are to our productivity.

Well, if you’re suddenly watching the kids with one eye while trying to get work done with the other, your productivity could be seriously affected. It’s important to develop habits and procedures to make sure that all the roles you play get the right amount of attention. The kids do actually need to be fed at some point, but the work also needs to get done.

Even if there are no kids, but you are suddenly working from home with a spouse or roommate, it can also feel like a lot of disruption. Here are a few tips to make “channel changing” easier and less stressful.

First, acknowledge that this is your new (albeit temporary) reality. You are less likely to have nice, big, one-hour and two-hour blocks of time to focus on a project. But do what you can to try to create blocks as large as possible. Don’t pretend that you can just ignore the situation.

Second, create routines to support you. As strange as it sounds, I have an end-of-day routine for my home office. Normally, around 6 PM, I close out my computer programs, I turn off the light above my desk, and I say the words, “I’m going home now.”

I do this even if I’m alone (which is most of the time). It is a little routine that helps me wrap up the day and move into my evening routine. I don’t watch TV before then. I don’t play games or work on puzzles. I don’t do pleasure reading. And so forth. There’s a line between work and home – even though they’re both at home.

Third, make your routine known to others. Whether it’s your co-workers, family, or a roommate, you need to enlist them in support of your new routines. You might set a timer to avoid interruptions, or put out emergency cones when you’re going to be on a phone call. Whatever you come up with, make sure you let others know how they can support you. Also, assure them that they will get your attention as part of the program.

Fourth – and most importantly – create a new routine for changing channels! Whether your commute used to be five minutes or an hour, you still need something to replace it. How will you transition from spouse to worker? Or from parent to employer?

Again, moving about in your physical environment can be very helpful. You might literally put on a hat that represents your role. Or reorganize something on your desk or work space. I have one chair I sit in while reading for work and another for when I’m writing.

We are all creatures of habit. When our “normal” routines are suddenly gone, we need to create new routines to support our energy, our creativity, and our sanity.

We all play many roles. That doesn’t stop when we’re stuck inside for a few weeks.

Best of luck to you. I would love to hear about routines you use to stay productive (and sane). Drop them in the comment section.


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