Rethinking Normal in the New Year

I like the feeling of a fresh start. It’s why I never restore computers or phones from backups. It’s why I periodically go through nearly all my possessions and give away or throw away as much as possible. It’s why I love Mondays, daily checklists, and weekly reviews. As you can imagine, then, I’m a big fan of New Years as a holiday and as a concept. I used to set audacious resolutions along with everyone else (with just about the same success rate as everyone else, too).

I’m not going to rail against resolutions or give you 13 hot tips about how you can keep your resolutions this year. What I would like to do, however, is share what I’ve been using the New Year for the past couple of years — a time to systematically rethink normal.

Here’s what I mean.

Our lives are made up of a thousand different actions, habits, routines, and ways of doing/being that have become normal. We don’t think about them because it’s just what we do. They are the ambient backdrop of being a functional person. For example, I have certain ways of tracking my finances, certain tools I use to write and to do research. I have certain ways I tend to use my tablet, my phone, and my computer. I have certain job commitments that have become normal and certain workflows, processes, habits, and routines that make up who I am and are all part of this constellation of normality.

As December starts to draw to a close I like to identify a handful of these things that have become normal and evaluate them with a critical eye. Is this still the best app to use for this task? What if I tried something else? Where am I experiencing friction in how I work every day? Why am I duplicating the same type of work here and here and here? How can I streamline? Where do I need to un-streamline? You get the point.

For example, here are a couple of results from this year's systematic rethinking of normal:

  • My co-founder and I are closing our consulting company, Outlier Consulting Group. Neither of us has the available time needed to dedicate to starting and running a company like this. We’re grateful for the experience and projects we were able to complete but we’re both ready to focus on other areas. For me, that’s The Workologist (coaching, consulting, writing, and hopefully, speaking/presenting), my PhD work and…
  •  … the willingness to look for a “jobby job.” I’ve been 100% entrepreneurially focused since I quit my teaching job in 2010 and came to graduate school. I still operate a profitable business as an independent professional. However, I’ve cut myself off from even exploring the option of joining an existing team until this point. There are organizations like Undercurrent and NOBL and I’m sure countless others that are doing interesting things in the world of consulting, the future of work, and everything else I care about. My old normal was to ignore these and focus solely on my own businesses. My new normal is to accept that there may be  good opportunities to join an existing team (email me if you're aware of one, eh?)
  • Rethinking the software and services I use on a regular basis. I’m currently engaged in a personal experiment to use only first party software for awhile (Mail.app, official Twitter app, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, etc.). I’ve never used any of these to any extent where I know what their strengths and limitations are and I’m inherently drawn to the idea of being able to use stock software whenever possible. I’m completely willing to accept that my normal of using very nice third party apps is the best normal for me, but right now I’m experimenting with something else.

Anyway — you get the picture. 

If resolutions haven’t worked for you in the past than maybe using this sense of freshness, this sense of starting anew, is best utilized by rethinking your normal and making some big and/or small changes.

Closing companies and looking for a job are big steps away from normal whereas changing the software you use is a much tinier alteration. Regardless, both of these changes have come out of the systematic challenging of what has become comfortable and normal. It’s a nice feeling to know the way you spend the majority of your time has been consciously deliberated and chosen at some point instead of just being foisted upon you unwillingly or unwittingly. When I settle into my new normal I can feel good about it... at least until next year.

Photo by Tyler Wilson