I had neck surgery five weeks ago. This has severely limited my activities and this time has proven to be a blessing.

It has given me time to think.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog. This was not my plan, but the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020 was an incredibly busy time for me professionally. So, I, a business coach, committed one of the big no-no’s of running a business and I began skimping on marketing and outreach to make more room for billable time. Don’t do as I do, just do as I say! Yikes.

Then, in March and April, COVID-19 slammed through Colorado and suddenly everyone was scrambling to figure out how to stay productive from home. This had the effect of making it even busier for me. It was not lost on me that many people were in financial crisis while I was swimming in work. This is one of the financial inequities that plagues our society right now.

All through the summer I was going full-speed ahead — that is until some paralysis in my right arm resulted in a diagnosis of spinal stenosis, impingements, and disc presumably degeneration in my neck. It was 9 days between the diagnosis and surgery.

What this forced downtime has restored to me, besides good health, is the time to think. This is something we take for granted, and is usually the first thing we jettison when things get busy or stressful — especially in the business world. But time that is open and unencumbered is truly our most valuable asset. It’s the place where problems are solved, ideas are fomented, and our minds, and even our bodies, are renewed.

I took the first week off after surgery. I worked about 20 hours the week after, and I’ve been flirting with full-time since. However, I’m also cognizant of the need to preserve this newly-rediscovered time in-between. In my work with clients, I have had many discussions over the past few weeks about the changing nature of creative thinking in the COVID-19 world. While many people have lost their face to face interaction with other creative people and stimulating physical environments, as they are predominantly working from home, they have gained the ability to more easily control when and how they bring unstructured, creative time into their lives. That long walk to think through a problem might happen immediately and not over the following weekend when the inspiration is stale.

It may seem counter-intuitive, but for me some of the most productive weeks have had this year were the first two weeks after surgery. I may have “worked” a lot less, but I used that time to help make sense of everything that has happened this year. I was so busy I had built up massive amounts of unprocessed thought — ideas, concerns, worries, plans and a whole bunch of scenarios. In short, I really needed to process the events and experiences of 2020 and I had allowed them to pile up.

I don’t expect many changes over the winter of 2020–2021 — those who can work remotely will continue to do so — but as we go deeper into 2021 and some semblance of normalcy returns to life over the second half of next year, I expect to see many attempts to forge this new work reality. Some will be brilliant, but many will be well-meant failures. Why? We have no history to fall back on. 2020 was, and continues to be, the first real convergence of necessity, social change, and technology when it comes to working remotely. As we climb out of the pandemic, we’ll be reinventing how we work and it’s not going to look like 2019.

For me, a big theme in 2021 will be how to create and support the kind of eclectic interactions and environments that enable creative thinking. There are good examples out there, but many of them are from techie companies who have long been early adopters of remote work. Scaling, stretching, synthesizing, and adapting these examples across a broader set of industries will be a major undertaking filled with false starts and dead ends— but also an exciting time with replicable success stories.

Finding and supporting time to think will be an essential part of this new model of work. It’s those in-between moments that really differentiate dynamic from static organizations.

Photo by Ante Hamersmit on Unsplash

Helping leaders embody competence, wisdom, resilience, and purpose since 1991. www.jpmclaughlin.com

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