This global disaster is bringing out something different in each of us.
While business leaders expedite crisis management, working parents channel their inner pedagogue. Elsewhere, productivity ninjas attain insurmountable results while health practitioners save lives against all odds.
The rest of us are still in pyjamas.
Wherever you land on the personal effectiveness scale today, note – it is transient. Now is not your forever home.
Classic work-from-home scriptures pre-date Covid-19. They are no longer your proverbial passport to success, and indeed as immaterial as any other passport in the current travel impasse.
In the past month, we have spoken with 100+ leaders from different organisations around the world. These leaders say there is one almighty galumphing elephant in the non-virtual room – reality. Children, chores, vulnerable loved ones, lonely and anxious thoughts, harrowing headline news – the list of gargantuan distractions is overwhelming.
In this pandemic, the importance of attention management supersedes time management. The more you become aware of what is stealing your attention, the easier it is to take control.
Here’s what these leaders are doing to redirect their attention.
- Build a Bunker
Sir Winston Churchill did not direct the Second World War from his kitchen table. No-one pestered him to walk the dog or play ball. His underground shelter protected not only his life but also his supreme and single focus – to win the war.
To focus productively on your work, your brain needs a metaphorical bunker. If your home office is the poster child of ergonomic and aesthetic wonder, that’s fantastic. If not, the feral imperative to mark out your territory is crucial.
Start with the ideal, then adapt. Commandeer a room far away from human traffic and any distractions calling for your attention.
Failing this, establish your makeshift HQ with explicit visual cues that you discuss and design with the rest of your household. Get creative.
For example, let everyone you live with know not to disturb you when you:
– wear a physical ‘thinking cap’ or your headset
– sit in your designated corner-facing ‘work’ chair
– take your laptop and phone into the car, garage or laundry room
– put up a door sign that indicates the time of your next break
When you are not in your bunker, don’t work, no matter how tempting or convenient this may seem. A distinct boundary between work and everything else in your world will help you unplug and shift your focus 100% to something or someone outside of work.
- Honour the Unique You
To figure out a better way of managing your time at home, first take stock of your unique needs and circumstances.
Are you a night owl, morning lark or, like almost half of us, somewhere in-between?
What are the needs and patterns of your household?
To do your best work, do you:
Drive for results?
Connect and align with other people?
Crave peace and quiet to think and plan?
Discuss your ideas about possibilities?
How is your physical and mental health? (55% of people in a recent UK survey say it is harder to stay positive day-to-day since the outbreak of Covid-19.)
Listen to your answers. Then ask, “What can I do to make this experience better?”
Your responses will guide you to a schedule and plan to meet your unique needs in a more meaningful way.
Will you seek out an accountability buddy over video or do your most important work before everyone else wakes up? Who will you talk to about your anxious thoughts? Will you go for a walk? Here at HPC, I really look forward to our Thursday morning team coffee and chat. It helps to keep me connected and motivated.
As Albert Einstein famously wrote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.” What will you do differently to get a better outcome?
- Give Your Expectations a Reality Check
Relentless social media posts from people who have learned to play the ukulele or write a book within a month just make us feel inadequate and guilty for not achieving more. Oh look, a man in quarantine has just run a marathon around his tiny balcony.
Cut out the noise. Their journey is not yours and that is OK. As Kristin Neff, a leading researcher in self-compassion, discusses in her Ted Talk, berating ourselves is pervasive and toxic. Her evidence-based approach to soothing such thought patterns is powerful.
Once your brain has made the mental shift to these new crisis conditions, your creative and resourceful self will be waiting for you. To help get there, prioritise the building blocks of well-being, one at a time: sleep, exercise, food and social connection. There will be good days and bad days. This is normal.
Expect to be less productive than you were pre-pandemic. Your brain is silently running its own uphill marathon while it processes painful emotions and distractions. Carve out small chunks of time for different types of work and activities. Start off with 15-minute chunks. Breaking down projects into small steps makes them seem less overwhelming. Identify just one important task per day. If there is another adult at home, work in shifts to share childcare. If you are the only caregiver, show yourself the same compassion you would show someone else in your situation.
Expect to feel more tired than usual. Proper breaks to restore your energy are critical. Every athlete knows the benefits of allowing time to recover after a workout. What will most nourish your mind and body in this moment? Power walk or power nap? Go for it.
Remember the people around you are not mind readers. Brené Brown puts it simply, “Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Be as transparent as possible with your loved ones and colleagues about your work patterns, needs, limitations and struggles.
The Survivalist’s Handbook for Our Times Is Just Getting Started
Of course, one day you will amble back into your office and favourite coffee shop. You will hug and be hugged. Economies will convalesce.
Until then, build your bunker, honour the unique you and give your expectations a reality check.
For a decade at PayPal, HPC’s Jenny McConnell helped to fuel its growth from startup to a multi-billion dollar company. She did this by building cohesive remote teams that collaborated and innovated across multiple locations. As a sought-after virtual coach and facilitator, Jenny attracts ambitious clients globally. She is known for her interactive, high-impact style that engages people from the get go.