A listicle for you this week. I thought I would try a different approach and share my personal thoughts on how to survive lockdown as best we can. Its often said that a listicle is a sign of a lazy journo, but I did think it might be interesting to draw together themes of lockdown work life. I’ve been doing massive amounts of reading this week, and dealing with a high workload, so its also nice to have a bit of a different headspace! I offer no promises only hope that it does help facilitate some ideas for you. Love to hear from you. So here goes…
- Time limits.
We all have a natural limit of concentration, and I have found that my personal sweet spot is that my ideal is no virtual meetings over an hour and to spend the majority of the day not on virtual meetings. I don’t think I am massively out of kilter with colleagues on this. I think firebreaks in the day are absolutely essential, and in a world where work does not so much finish as get abandoned* anything you can do to set finite routines for the beginning and the end are all very much needed. I’ve had some success in building firebreaks into the day but then its unplanned events and urgent issues which need to be allowed for in the working week too.
2. Right channel for the right job
I am a habitual multi-tasker — I’m relatively unfazed in having four or five comms channels open all at the same time. Goodness knows how teenage me managed to pass any exams revising with music and the TV on! Most of the time I don’t mind it and I don’t think its something to be that proud of I should say. Years ago I remember reading an article about push apps, which collated multiple platforms into one place, and secretly sniggering at it, thinking what kind of idiot needs one of those? Future me, that’s who. Even I am starting to get slightly discombobulated when a largely WhatsApp contact emails me (or vice versa).
I haven’t always been very good at this, but I do think its important to broadly stay consistent with the channels for communication with a particular colleague over a period of time. We seem to need to take time to establish the “grammar” or ground rules of how that chat is going to work for us. Once it flows it flows quite well. I probably could do more to explain why I shift from one channel to another (I don’t say see you on the other channel for example) but I do think it would help if I did.
3 Love your workspace
I have invested a fair amount of time in improving my box room office, with thanks to my OH for installing a fabulous desk arrangement which means my kid and I can work side to side. It took me a couple of weeks of denial to realise the rickety desk wasn’t cutting it. But it wasn’t the desk. It was the fact that I was struggling internally to acknowledge the reality that we were in it for the long haul. After the upgrade I did feel better about lockdown, I truly did. I do think it helped me make peace with the situation and retain some sense of control, which I am sure is a huge part of dealing with change. And buying the kit and the gizmos (love a gadget me) It also helps me to think of the desk as a hub, not the only place I can possibly work, with short “virtual day trips” to the sofa, the kitchen and my favourite the garden. Never the bedroom though. I don’t get a wink of sleep if I do that. My heart goes out to people who don't have the opportunities to move about a bit, and they need to be factored into future office considerations**.
4 Lockdown as a practice
I’ve found it helpful to frame lockdown as a strange experiment in everyone all learning to adjust to profound societal change and for most people a huge change and threat to their working lifestyles. If ever we were living in VUCA then this is it. In my workplace, we truly are learning to work quite differently all of a sudden, and rather like yoga, nobody is perfect at all of this on day one. I’ve got a lot from yoga because I am not very yoga-y — I don’t think anyone is likely to find a chakra in me any time soon and I’m strong, not flexible, but real improvement comes from small gains, every day, not a one-off superhuman effort.***
5 Distraction is not your friend
Not unrelated to the multi-tasking point above, every woman and her pooch has a podcast these days and in the absence of human contact it is easier to become distracted by the inbox and trivial things. There is some evidence that distraction levels are uneven in lockdown**** but I’ve certainly found it harder to do deep work and stay on track, being mired in email at times. I have a lot of stakeholders! We could have done more to port processes to a better channel than email in retrospect, but I’ve been referring back to Stephen Covey’s four quadrants at lot in my head.*****
I have caught myself sliding inexorably from “urgent and important” to “urgent and not important” many many times. In my case I like to talk through and take stock with others (external processor I think its called) and I miss this a bit. When I remember journalling is an alternative approach which works, but it doesn’t quite have the same appeal. Different neurologies may find the experience different of course. No matter the preference and style certainly the extra effort in concentrating to the lack of full non-verbal cues communicating remotely is a problem. The sustained demands on attention can add to dissipation of focus. I guess I am saying we have to spend our attention very wisely, not least because there is more change coming down the road and we are going to need to be agile to address it.
6 Intend to be open
Metaphorically speaking, your office door is only ajar to colleagues in lockdown, and of course we do not have the same level of informal water cooler moments working from home. It requires more effort to reach out to others, and we all know that means under pressure we might not do it enough as a result. Also any cracks in relationships can take longer to become evident and can get more difficult to darn as a result. The capacity for misunderstanding in the midst of the change and uncertainty is great. I’m sorry for the cryptic notes I dash off sometimes, being able to type fast doesn’t help! I’ve made some effort to be more transparent in recent times and it has generated some lovely positive feedback. For me, its more than just something that’s work. Its necessary. Humans are the successful species that we because of our ability to collaborate.
**** https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-01294-9 (women’s research unduly affected by lockdown)
***** https://resources.franklincovey.com/franklincovey-blog/habit-3-put-first-things-first (an excellent resource centre — highly recommend!)
Have been reading Humankind by Rutger Bregman. (I rather paraphrased his point, but we are collaborative)
Coffee update — still nil in lockdown.