In the 1990s, I can remember that feeling of satisfaction at the end of most days. I’d clear out the inbox sitting on my desk, complete my to-do list and read every e-mail received. Long before the hashtag culture, I was a #done #accomplishments #✔️✔️✔️ kind of girl.
In 2019, my combined e-mail accounts hold over 87,000 messages. I struggle to manage to-do lists because half are on my phone and the other half are on scraps of paper.
Because of this, some tasks are done twice. I am overflowing in Cottonelle, while white truffle oil is remembered only at the moment when I want to drizzle it on top of freshly popped popcorn. I used to be in the Multitasker Hall of Fame — in the mold of the “Enjoli, 8-hour perfume for the 24-hour woman” vision of perfection. She could “bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan… Work ‘til 5 o’clock, come home and read you tickety-tock… And kiss you and give you the shiiii-vers!” Yeah, back in the day, I could do all of that, even after staying at the office until 7 p.m. What in the world happened to me?
Have you wondered why you can’t seem to catch up and, more importantly, stay caught up these days? It’s the VUCA World effect.
In case you did not know, we live in a Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous world today. Why is the world suddenly VUCA? It did not happen overnight. It snuck up on us, much in the way that technology did. In fact, technology is the main reason that the world is more VUCA.
Technology has created a connected world with change coming at lightning speed. This affects how we communicate with each other. And how we shop, make decisions, travel, begin and end relationships and on and on. Add globalization, artificial intelligence, terrorism, financial crises and climate change to the mix and you can probably feel your anxiety notching up a bit from just reading this.
Living in a VUCA world makes it much harder to manage stress today than at any other time. Tech clutters our day with devices fighting for priority. Does your car ever take over your cell phone and blast music? Do Siri and Alexa inexplicably interject themselves into your conversations with no prompt from you? In addition to playing referee for our families, we now have to do it for our tech devices.
Devices ping all day and night. Light flickers from multiple devices still on in our bedrooms long after we try to go to sleep. Rinse and repeat the next day. And the next. I understand why we are all having trouble keeping up.
The good news is if we recognize that the VUCA world is the new world normal, we can use it to our advantage. A VUCA world can actually make you sharper, more aware and nimbler. As with most challenges, you’re more resilient and wiser having gone through the experience. This often results in a positive emotional downshift to a saner, less stressful state of mind. Instead of fighting in vain against the VUCA world, take a deep breath and embrace it. The volatility, complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity we feel will lessen over time if we adopt these three strategies:
Manage Attention, Not Time
Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist and podcaster, wrote in a recent New York Times article that:
“A better option is attention management: Prioritize the people and projects that matter, and it won’t matter how long anything takes. Attention management is the art of focusing on getting things done for the right reasons, in the right places and at the right moments.”
Do your most demanding tasks and work during your most productive hours. My brain power is best in the hours right after I wake up, especially when I have a cup of Bulletproof Coffee. I do my most labor-intensive, brain-draining tasks early and save the work that doesn’t require intense concentration for later in the day when I’m more fatigued. I feel less stress with this approach knowing that I’ve gotten the tough stuff out of the way.
Go Offline to Gain Uninterrupted Time
Use this time to get creative, plan, and recharge your batteries. The American Psychological Association’s 2017 survey found that 65% of Americans agree that periodically “unplugging or taking a digital detox is important for their mental health.” Even if it is not in cards for you to do week-long digital detox, making yourself inaccessible for a three to four-hour period can boost your focus and creativity. For me, knowing I’m unplugged for a generous block of time brings my full attention and focus to the task at hand. The temptation to do a quick, but ultimately distracting, check of your cell phone greatly diminishes if your phone is simply not on.
Focus on Work-Life Integration Instead of Work-Life Balance
As many of us transition from corporate jobs to side hustles, gigs or into an active retirement life of travel and community service, we need to leave behind some old, tired notions about balancing our “work” and our “life” as if the two exist separately. The truth is that there is a natural overlap. Ignoring this reality is what has made it difficult to maintain the balance.
The key is to focus on work-life integration — where your “work” overlaps with and is connected to your “life.” After age 50, the thought of sacrificing life for work is not an attractive proposition. Most of us are searching for happiness and the opportunity to engage in rewarding activities, both at work and at play. We want time to focus on health, well-being and friends and family. We want our work to represent our values and we want to feel valued at our places of work. Find the ways these desires overlap to help prioritize what needs your attention.
The world may be a VUCA one but that doesn’t mean our lives have to be volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous too. These tips can help you manage technology and stress to live a saner, less complicated life.