Looks like 2024 will be chaotic: Be ready to surf the waves

A crisis comes out of nowhere and often triggers innovation. Remember when COVID hit, and the U.S. government failed to stockpile enough ventilators for the health-care system? I do. Innovation in the chaos created a surprising new source for ventilators—the auto industry. Ford and GM adapted the controllers and blowers from dashboards into life-saving medical ventilators. The lesson? A crisis can serve as the driving force behind fresh ideas and creative changes.

An unforeseen challenge transforms organizations from a stable “performance mode” into a more flexible “learning mode.” In the routine world of “performance mode,” people perform defined tasks within defined structures. A crisis disrupts the routine and causes these same people to work in more flexible roles.

While many processes are largely set in stone, a crisis shakes routines. The challenge forces people out of their normal boxes and into larger boxes filled with fresh ideas. Handled correctly, this can result in a more flexible organization that allows people to find a better job fit. These chaotic moments offer possibilities for greater personal fulfillment.

It’s not just chaos. Running alongside the impact of crisis is technology, which also drives radical change. Traditional firms must shift to survive, becoming more technology-focused, customer-centric businesses to be sustainable.

Opportunities for finding purpose

In this world filled with overlapping crises, professionals will have opportunities to shift roles and change expertise, which may allow you to change direction in your career. For example, to remain competitive, organizations will need to be more aggressive in gaining new clients—and they may need to start offering new services.

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As a leader and mentor, you play a crucial role in guiding people through the rough spots. For those who have declining roles in the chaos, employers will look to apply existing skillsets to new positions in demand. For instance, administrative assistants might apply their organizational skills to a marketing or operational role. The critical point is that those who proactively learn future skills will be steps ahead of their peers in finding purpose. Your goal as a leader is to help this transformation happen.

Take a moment to reset

The first step is to step back and stop multitasking. This process requires clarity of thought and space for reflection. As a professional, you are probably working long hours, you’re spread too thin and you think you need to slow down to get everything done. However, research has proven that multitasking makes people less efficient, not more. Multitasking behavior can account for up to a 40% loss in your productive time.

The first step may be counterintuitive, but also straightforward: You must stop and take breaks, but take breaks in the right way. This helps you interrupt the dance of constant interruption and escape the endless jumble of switching from crisis to crisis. You refocus your attention on requiring clarity to deal with more significant issues. If you continually face interruptions or get pulled into meetings, taking regular breaks will help you even more.

Take a productive break

Remember that a quick break and a mental reset will help you focus on your future. In a vortex of multiple, overlapping hourly crises, you will get little long-term planning done, but you will regain focus in the short term by pressing the reset button.

Take a pause. Put down the journal. Take your fingers off the keyboard, step away and take a deep breath. Flex. Stand up. Your habits will resist, but you must relax. Then, when you refocus on work, you’ll make up the time with increased productivity and the ability to refocus on your career direction.

The concept is simple: The key to clearing out “hurry syndrome” and cutting the internal noise is to pause and physically take yourself out of chaos mode. Then, once recentered, begin or return to the work and ask yourself what needs attention most.