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Virtual First | Effectiveness Kit

Learn to unlearn

Given the speedy clip of modern work, it’s good to periodically check on your habits and patterns to make sure they’re meeting the moment. Because if you don’t grow and adapt to new demands, you risk holding yourself and your team members back. Use this practice to take stock of your current practices and processes and determine which habits to unlearn in a Virtual First world. 


60 min | Personal Exercise

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Step 1: Embrace a new day

Since the shift to remote work, we occasionally hear about “going back”: back to the office, back to normal, back to some old way of working. But the future isn’t a return to anything—and it won’t look like yesterday. 


When things change quickly, it’s normal to dig in your heels and stick with what you know. But this leaves little room for innovation or inspiration. That’s why the things you unlearn are just as important as the things you learn. Unlearning is the practice of consciously and continually evaluating your mindset, approaches, and ways of working in order to identify habits that have become ineffective or problematic.


The first step of unlearning is to acknowledge that circumstances have changed and you may need to change, too. Get yourself in the right headspace to do some mental “spring cleaning,” and keep an open mind about which habits should stay and which should go.

Step 2: Find your motivation

Think about how remote work has improved your life. Maybe you‘re enjoying extra time without a commute, or wearing more-comfortable clothes every day. Or it could be that your meetings are more focused and you have blocks of time for deep work, thanks to your distributed team’s working hours. 


Make a list of your favorite aspects, both personal and professional, of remote work. Keep adding to the list as new things come to mind. Whenever you find yourself feeling frustrated, go back to this list to measure how far you’ve already come.

Step 3: Audit your habits

Once you have a good handle on what’s going well, take a clear-eyed look at what isn’t. If you’re not sure where to begin, try the prompts below. Jot down your own answers independently, then compare notes with your team. Chances are you’ll see some patterns—and opportunities—emerge pretty quickly. 


  • What do I miss most about in-person work? 
  • Where am I experiencing the most friction in my workday?
  • Has the strength of my relationships changed while working remotely?
  • How connected do I feel to the company culture?
  • What are the things that cause stress or strain in my work relationships?
  • Where do wires get crossed most often? 
  • Which things tend to fall through the cracks repeatedly? 
  • Which tasks take more time or effort than they should? 
  • Which practices or habits worked well in an office environment but not anymore?
  • How supportive is my home-office setup (ex: space, lighting, audio)?

Step 4: Make a plan

You know what’s slowing you down. Now it’s time to focus on solutions. 


Check out Learn to unlearn 101 for some handy fixes of the issues commonly faced by distributed teams. Then add your own ideas to the list. Compare notes with your team members and create a customized plan of action. 

Learn to unlearn 101

Ditch the habit(s)

Identify the legacy processes and dated patterns that are causing frustration and confusion. Then detail new habits to replace them.

Learn to unlearn 101 worksheet

Step 5: Think progress, not perfection

You don’t need to unlearn everything all at once. Begin with two or three things on your list and make a conscious effort to embrace those new practices every day. Here’s the good news: Studies show that it takes only about 28 days to create a new habit. Once you’ve mastered the first batch, go back to your list and choose another handful of things to unlearn.


Your team members will be unlearning things alongside you, so make sure to keep an open dialogue as you proceed. Be honest about where you’re experiencing the most friction, discuss solutions together, and support each other in leaving the old ways behind. 

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More helpful tips for making big decisions

Check out these other practices from the Virtual First Toolkit: 

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3 easy wins

Build the habit

  • Tomorrow: Pay close attention to what’s causing you frustration or hurting your productivity
  • Next week: Brainstorm a list of habits to unlearn with your team
  • Quarterly: Check on your progress and make adjustments together 

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