The worldwide spread of COVID-19 has caused a great deal of uncertainty in many areas of our lives. The change has impacted our work lives, our home lives, and everything in between. Frontline healthcare workers have been working tirelessly to save patients and adjust processes to ensure safety, administrative staff are working from home or furloughed, and businesses everywhere are working to find new ways to meet customer needs so they can stay afloat. No matter what your specific situation is, we all have one thing in common; we are trying to find ways to persevere through the uncertainty and move forward.
Below are strategies from our team that they have found helpful in the midst of challenging ambiguity.
Focus on what you can control
One tip for dealing with the stress that can come from uncertainty is to focus on what you can control. Personally, I like to start each day by writing down what will make this a good day. The list is usually comprised of some work items, household chores, and spending quality time with my kids. These are all things I can control. I can set aside time to do work and household chores and I can make sure that I make time with my kids a priority. I try to be realistic by setting three-four priorities in the day so that I ensure that I can do them well. I find this helps me stay focused on the right things and not expend mental energy worrying about what I can’t control.
At the end of the day I look at my list and do an evaluation on how I performed to the expectations I set for myself. If I did not get to something or did not feel like I did something well I will reflect on why and determine a plan to make it better the next day.
Think about the positive
Another way to cope with uncertainty is to focus on the good. I have seen many healthcare organizations share on social media how they are celebrating when COVID-19 patients are discharged to go home. I have also seen many celebrations of improvement ideas and new processes that frontline teams have come up with to solve problems.
One of our team members spends time each day reflecting on three good things that happened. Maybe it was that her tulips are finally blooming, or that she got to spend an hour of uninterrupted time with her teenage son, or even a lovely conversation she had with a co-worker that she doesn’t get to talk with often about an A3 she is working on. It’s invaluable to look for and celebrate the good things – big and small in our worlds.
Concentrate on PDSA thinking
Using plan, do, study, and adjust cycles can also help manage stress brought on by uncertainty. PDSA cycles can be applied to everything from how homework with your kid is going, to big changes to your business model or work processes. PDSA thinking helps in uncertain times because the process insists that you gather information and address gaps with countermeasures, knowing that not all actions will be successful right off the bat, but that the adjustments made from studying will allow you to get closer to the desired outcome. PDSA is about making progress towards better and learning from our experiences.
I have heard about many healthcare organizations that are practicing PDSA thinking well during this pandemic. One example is INTEGRIS, who set up a process to implement, study, and adjust newly created COVID-19 processes on a continuous basis. Read more in this blog post.
Stay True to the principles
It can be difficult to remain true to the principles of operational excellence in the face of uncertainty, but these are times that require principle-based actions the most. Leading with humility and respect for every individual are principles that often come to mind readily in uncertain times. But all the principles are important. For example, it can be easy to want to throw solutions at problems instead of focusing on the process or assuring quality at the source.
I have observed multiple situations that show the value of creating processes that assure quality at the source. For example, the process used when I went to return my son’s textbooks to the school and pick up his belongings that were left there in March. Quality in this scenario meant that they could catalog that they had received the returned items and that each student received the proper bag of belongings. They asked parents to sign up for a time so they could have the student’s belongings lined up in order of when they would arrive. They gave specific instructions for how the process would work. When we arrived, we were directed to pull up to a tent and open our trunk that should contain a bag with the textbooks to return, labeled with the student’s name. They took the books out of the trunk and labeled our passenger side door with a sticky note with my student’s name on it. Then they radioed to the last tent, so they knew who was coming. By the time we were at the next tent to retrieve our belongings, they had them out and put them right into the trunk and closed it for us. They also had prepared all the staff to know which student it was so they could give them an enthusiastic send off to summer break.
Focusing on what you can control, thinking about the positive, concentrating on PDSA thinking, and staying true to the principles are just a few things that can help you and your staff persevere during uncertain times. Please share things that you have found helpful in managing stress the comments section below.
Sara Thompson, Communications Manager
Virtual workshop: Principles and Behaviors of Operational Excellence