By Owen Phelps, Ph.D.

Director, Yeshua Institute

“When you’re up to your butt in alligators, it’s a little hard to remember your purpose is to drain the swamp.”

You probably remember that adage. It was one of my dad’s favorite observations.

If you’re working from home these days and beating your head against the wall over little things – all those alligators in your stay-at-home swamp – you might be wishing you could just focus on those immediate short-term challenges and let the rest of the world slip by.

But most likely, once in a while – maybe just to beat up yourself – you start asking a bigger question: How can I keep my brain from shriveling up under these crazy circumstances? Or putting it a big more delicately: How can I grow when I’m stuck here at home?

Here’s the good news: there are ways.

And here’s the bad news: It requires effort – some intentionality – on your part. You gotta wanna.

Assuming that’s the case – or you wouldn’t be reading this – here are a few tips adapted from an article by Julie Winkle Giulioni, author of the book Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want.

Getting on the growth path

Putting yourself on the growth path in this unprecedented time requires a few commitments.

1. Make time – Learning and growth are choices. You need to choose time for these vital activities. It doesn’t have to be a lot. In fact, every little bit helps. And it all adds up over time. There’s that word again: time. Commit some time to your project. And then keep your commitment. If something serious comes up and you can’t do it today, make sure you get back to it tomorrow.

2. Focus – What is your goal? Write it down. Be specific. It can be a process goal: “I will spend 20 minutes a day reading such and such a book.” Or it can be an outcome goal: “I will finish that book by Friday” or “I will master that topic by [date].” Either way, you need a goal.

3. Adopt a routine – This can be a huge challenge under current circumstances, but do try. And try again if you fail. Keep trying. Adjust it if necessary, just don’t give up.

4. Reclaim your commute – Americans spend an average of 100 minutes a day commuting. That’s more than an hour and a half daily. Take that time back. Get up when you have always done so. Keep working until your ordinary commute would be over. If you can exercise the discipline, it’s amazing how much extra time you will find in your day.

5. Allocate the little minutes – Remember when you would get up from your desk at work and engage in some ad hoc banter with office mates? You still need the breaks. Get up and step away from your keyboard. Walk a bit – out in the yard or even just around the house. Find an easy chair. Pick up that book for 10 or 15 minutes.

6. Probe your mind – Give yourself the Third Degree. What skills, knowledge, tools or abilities do I need to reach my goal? Where do I want to go? What’s the best way to get there? What do I need to do now --or do next -- to take one more step?  What knowledge, skills or abilities will I need to be prepared for when the quarantine passes?

7. Take notes – Don’t keep starting over. Write down what comes to your mind. Review it from time to time. Would it help to reorganize it, to prioritize it? Go ahead. Keep a journal. Or jot down things on a tablet – paper or electronic. Make sure it’s quick and easy to access.

8. Curate a learning playlist – As an alternative to scrolling mindlessly through social media or staring at 24/7 news channels, search for articles, podcasts, studies, videos and on-demand webinars on your topic(s) of choice. Keep the playlist on your desktop or phone for easy access when you have a few minutes here and there.

9. Network – Stay in touch with at least a few folks. Try to arrange video calls. Share what you’re doing to grow with the hope of getting feedback. Ask for it either directly or by asking general questions. Ask them what they’re doing to grow and learn. How is it working? What are the obstacles? Share failure and frustrations as well as successes. Offer encouragement.

10. Seek expertise – Is there an expert who will spend a little time with you exchanging emails or getting on voice or video calls? Who would make a good mentor? Reach out with a question. If the person responds, thank them and ask if you can ask some more. If so, soak it up. Save the emails or take notes on your calls. Always express gratitude.




Develop in Place: Using This Time for Growth and Learning

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