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Follow these two essential steps to prepare for a smooth return to the office

As demands for your time increase, be intentional about what you say yes and no to both professionally and personally. Here are the questions to ask yourself.

Follow these two essential steps to prepare for a smooth return to the office
[Source photo: Pra-chid/iStock]
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Can you remember the route you drove to and from your corporate office? Or the schedule of the train you took every day? And when was the last time you wore pants with buttons?

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In the coming weeks and months, many of us will return to our offices and must adapt again to a new way to work. Ease transition anxiety and prepare for a smooth return to the office with these two essential steps.

C.U.L.L. your calendar

For many of us, the reopening of offices coincides with a re-engagement in personal activities we enjoyed before the pandemic. This creates a pivotal transition point in how we spend our time. As demands for your time increase, be intentional about what you say yes and no to both professionally and personally. What will you add back to your calendar? What will you remove from your calendar? How will you allocate your time and energy? It’s time to C.U.L.L. your calendar.

C – Confirm that you have allocated time on your calendar to complete high-value, revenue-generating projects.

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As a result of the pandemic, many of us replaced our commute time with work. An analysis of survey data published last fall found that Americans spent 60 million fewer hours commuting and spent much of those hours on additional work. When you go back to the office, these hours will probably not be available to complete work.

Use the questions below to analyze your calendar and confirm that you have allocated time to complete your high-value, revenue-generating work:

  • Are all my project deadlines noted on my calendar?
  • Is there dedicated time to work on my strategic goals and priorities?
  • Is there time for me to complete my project work?
  • Is there time for me to think and reflect?
  • What is not included in my calendar that is necessary to support my strategic objectives?

Before you go back to your office, ensure that your calendar enables you to achieve your goals.

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U – Unlock time on your calendar.

During the pandemic, the primal need for human connection and interaction coupled with office-centric collaboration and communication tools resulted in a proliferation of meetings on our calendars—check-in meetings, status update meetings, daily huddle meetings, and virtual happy hours.

Now is the time to critically assess all the meetings on your calendar so you can eliminate meetings that are no longer necessary and that drain your time and energy.

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Answer the questions below for each meeting.

  • Does the original purpose for the meeting still exist?
  • How does the meeting help me and/or my team achieve its goals?
  • How does the purpose of the meeting align with my and/or my team’s strategic priorities and/or the company’s strategic priorities?
  • Does the meeting energize me? Or does it suck the life right out of me?
  • Is the meeting a rehash of five prior meetings?
  • What will I not be able to accomplish, create, or build if I am in this meeting?

L – Leverage alternative ways to share information with your team without a meeting.

Time is a non-renewable commodity and too many meetings are information dumps that waste your team’s time. Consider alternative ways to share information.

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  • In your project management tool, like Basecamp, or chat tool like Slack
  • On your SharePoint site
  • In a weekly recap email
  • “Old school” and post a paper flyer on the doors of the bathroom stalls, on the refrigerator in the office break room, or on a bulletin board in the hall.

Get creative. You have nothing to lose but a meeting that needlessly consumes an hour or more of your team’s valuable time.

L – Leverage what you have learned about what you missed and what you did not miss during the pandemic.

Before you jump back into all your pre-pandemic professional and personal activities, pause, and consider what you want to add back into your life.

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Ask yourself:

  • What brings you joy now?
  • Is there a person or people you did not try to “see” during the pandemic? If so, was this relationship a “should” or a relationship of convenience, for example, your children play soccer together?
  • What professional projects were not completed? Are any of these “busy work”?
  • What activity did you consistently make the time for during the pandemic?

Use the pandemic as a reset button on your time, energy, and focus.

Optimize your task list and make it support how you work now

Will your task list stand up to the rigors of the new world of work where you work a few days in the office and a few days at home? Does it enable you to efficiently use all the minutes in your day to complete work? Can you glance at your list between meetings and find, select, and complete a task using the few minutes you have available?

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Use these “two A’s” to adjust your task list and make it work for how you work now.

Actionable: Look at your current task list. Is it a list of actual to-dos or a project list? The problem with a project list is that it can be overwhelming and lead to procrastination. To avoid this and to maximize the minutes in your workday, ensure that each item on your task list is a discrete next action step. Here’s a hint: All action steps start with action verbs. For example submit, read, email, review, or talk to. When you look at your to-do list, you want to be able to immediately act or execute a task.

Accessible: If you will be working from both your home and the office, it is essential that you can access your task list anytime, anywhere. If you are a pen and paper to-do list person, is your to-do list sturdy and small enough to be carried with you to and from the office? If you leverage a technology tool can you access it on your phone, on your laptop, and from the server at work? Guarantee that you can easily access your task list regardless of where you work.

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Change can be hard. C.U.L.L. your calendar and optimize your task list so it supports how you work now and seamlessly return to the office free of anxiety.


Carson Tate is the founder and managing partner of Working Simply, Inc., a business consulting firm that partners with organizations, business leaders, and employees to enhance workplace productivity, foster employee engagement, and build personal and professional legacies. She is the author of Own It. Love It. Make It Work: How To Make Any Job Your Dream Job.