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How to get things done when you do not want to, but have to

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At the time of writing this, we are into week three of lockdown, in the UK, due to the global pandemic and it looks like this situation will continue. We do not yet know when the end date is. 

We do not live in an ideal world; most of us do not have the luxury of switching off while this is going on. We have jobs to do, businesses to run (sometimes both at the same time) and children to home-school (not me personally but of course many are in this situation). Yet, staying safe, keeping healthy and staying informed takes up energy. It's unrealistic to expect everything to run as it did pre-pandemic. 

The first section is a list of behaviours I have adopted that seem to be helping. The second section is a list of habits I have introduced to support the behaviours I have adopted. I am sharing these in the hope that they may help you too. 

  • Focus on one thing: the hardest thing to do but the most important change for me has been to focus on one thing and to focus on ‘big’ things. I find it tempting to multi-task and I like a to-do-list as long as my arm.  However, the external situation is so intense that it is much harder to task switch or to keep multiple balls in the air. The key here is prioritisation. Every day, work out what will make the biggest shift to your work or business, hone in on that and double down to get it done.The work out what must get done e.g. reactive pieces of work etc. The habit that has most supported my focus is social distancing from my phone. I will explore this in the next section. 

  • Willpower is like an iPhone battery: save it for when it matters. Willpower is likely to be in short supply at the moment with all the external distractions and concerns, disturbed sleep patterns and draining demands. Identify pockets of time when you have the most willpower and save your challenging or complex tasks for those moments. For me it is always after I am rested or chilled: late mornings (during the week) and weekend evenings/nights. I am surprisingly productive on Saturday nights. In ‘real’ life I am often out but with lockdown I can take advantage of these now.

  • Create space to generate ideas: this was a great tip that I picked up from watching Sara Blakely’s Masterclass (founder of SPANX). At a time when there is so much noise, (we are paying much more attention to the news and social media) and our space is limited (we cannot go outside, we are all on top of each other indoors) it is much more difficult to create the space to think clearly and without interruption. Sarah talks about how important it is to look back to the ‘place’ you are where you generate your best ideas and to replicate that. 

Light bulb moments appear often when you are doing a mindless task. For Sara, it is when she is driving (so she introduced a fake ‘commute’ to drive around in the morning to help her generate her ideas). For me it is undoubtedly the shower where I get my best and clearest ideas; one actually popped up recently so thankfully that is still working despite the distractions! For men, perhaps it is while you are shaving or doing the washing up.  If it is a relaxing bath, try to have more of these and warn the kids not to interrupt! Identify that mindless task that you do which helps you to generate ideas and do more of it.  

  • Go back to the beginning: if you are really struggling for ideas or you feel like you are in a rut, it is always worth going back to the beginning. Dig out your first business plan or your early surveys. Read your old journals. One of the tools that’s helped me has been a handwritten workbook I completed for my brand designer (I love Aligned Design!) that I kept from our very first piece of work. I looked back at it and was amazed at how far I have come, what worked, what hasn’t worked and some ambitions that were in place that I had not revisited.  It is worth doing, you will uncover some gems. 

  • Fix things: if you do not have the brain space to come up with new ideas or the finances to drive new ideas forward you can still do something to fix things that need improvement. Every business has these - perhaps your website is too slow to load. Or your systems are not smooth and need to be streamlined, or there is something that is leaking money out of your business e.g. unnecessary expenses etc. Now is a good time to fix things that are not working in your business and improve them. Write a list, stick it on your wall and each time you do something cross it off and enjoy the satisfaction of systematically sorting things. 

  • Follow up leads: this one is easy. It is always easier to acquire business from pre-existing relationships than from setting up fresh relationships from scratch at a point where face to face opportunities are limited.  Go back to your emails and follow up (sensibly!) any leads that you may have unintentionally dropped. 

  • Get someone to hold you accountable for a particular task: As a person with teacher's pet tendencies, I respond well when I am accountable to someone else. Writing is one of the tasks I find hardest to focus on. A fellow business owner is in the same boat so we have set up a weekly Whatsapp accountability check in. We set out two or three things we will do and check in on each other every Friday, without judgment. We push each other to do more and cut each other some slack when we haven’t made progress. It has helped. 

  • Take tangible and realistic actions that can work around the current context: for me it has been regular posts where each day I share one female black/WoC owned brand on @JanetsList Instagram stories. Check it out and of course do go ahead and buy from and support these fab brands. 

Habits 

There are certain habits that I have adopted or adapted specifically to get me through lockdown and to give myself a better chance of achieving the things I have set out above. Here are some of these in summary

  • No alarms: this has been an interesting one. My working life has been ruled by waking alarms. In my student days, I had to set alarms to juggle my full-time law degree with two part-time jobs. Setting alarms was standard in order to catch early trains to the middle of nowhere for court hearings when I was a barrister. At present, I still set alarms to stay on top of working a thirty hour week while running a business.

Working from home 24/7 has given me a unique opportunity to claw back some time. So I have decided to treat myself and not set any alarms at all. Initially I was worried that I would oversleep and miss things (most importantly a daily 10am COVID call I have to dial into). However, I am a reasonably light sleeper and I have trusted myself and my body to wake up when I need to. It has been great and it feels really lovely to wake up when my body decides to rather than when my alarm demands this of me. I also do not force myself from under the duvet until I am ready to (that can be 7am or 9:53 am!) Small change but massive results for my morning positivity. 

  • Social distancing my phone: this one has been harder but necessary and the most effective. If I am working in the living room, my phone will be buried under the bed in the farthest corner in my bedroom.  My phone is a major distraction as I am generally quite disciplined with not going on the internet or on social media while on my laptop. Social distancing my phone has helped with focus and concentration and I will be taking this habit beyond lockdown.   

  • Keep in touch with people - it’s never too late: most of us are now in a regular zoom/video call routine with friends and loved ones. If there are people on your list you haven’t reached out to yet (and you are somehow convincing yourself that it is too late to do so because you should have reached out on week one of lockdown) it is never too late so send that text or make that call for a lovely boost of positivity. This is a self-reminder for me too! 

  • Exercise, food & CBD oil: this goes without saying; keep fit while respecting social distancing measures. I am generally good with exercise although it sometimes drops during busy spells e.g. concept store season. At the moment, not exercising is not an option not just for the physical benefits but the mental health benefits as well. Food is important; keep an eye on what you eat (this does have an impact on willpower). I like my snacks and use them as treats for work done (sorry!) Take supplements if they help. In week two of lockdown I noticed my sleep had started becoming affected and a daily drop of CBD oil has helped me sleep better. 

All in all remember that this is the first time that we have had to live and work through a global pandemic. Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace - avoid the temptation to be too hard on yourself.   

Best wishes, 

Janet 

PS: In our podcast ‘Making Money Moves’ we have had guests who have shared their experiences and how they work. Listen to the inspiring episodes and subscribe here