Lockdown has been very challenging for me. It’s taken me much longer to adapt to working from home than I would have expected.
I’ve struggled with a lot of things – video call fatigue, work / life balance, focus and motivation – to name a few. If I’m honest, I lost my edge at times. I feel like I’ve had the least impact I’ve had over a three month period for a long time.
That said, over the last few weeks I’m getting into a much better place with it. I’ve been reflecting on what’s helped the most, and five things came to mind:
Lowering my expectations
I got very frustrated in the first half of lockdown. I wasn’t able to operate at the level I was used to – perhaps, about half as effective. I felt detached from what was going on.
It’s really important for me to feel like I’m being effective. I have to be able to see how I’m having a significant and obvious impact. And this kinda slipped away from me.
I got frustrated and was very hard on myself. It took one of my colleagues to remind me that it was unrealistic to perform at the same level. Our whole world had been turned upside down after all, and it was going to take some time to settle into it.
Immediately, something clicked into place for me. From that moment on, I lowered my expectations and was kinder to myself. That helped me see things more clearly, and I was able to more calmly re-organise myself.
The balance between meeting, doing and thinking
Before lockdown started, my week was beautifully organised. There was an almost perfect balance between meetings, doing and thinking – which I think is essential for any manager to operate at peak. This was no fluke, I designed it that way.
As soon as we went into lockdown, it went out the window. Meetings expanded to fill most of the space in the week. I found myself on back to back video calls, with hardly any time to do anything – let alone space to think.
I fell behind on things and made some rushed, poor decisions. Urgent topics dominated my day. I found it harder to spot problems heading our way, and felt super overwhelmed.
Only recently have I been able to get this balance back – and WHAT a difference it’s made. I’m back to feeling in control, and on top of things. I’m spending more time on important things, and less on urgent things. I’m still in alot of meetings – but, I now have time to get stuff done, and also some space to think. How did I get that balance back? That leads me onto the next thing…
Re-organising my calendar, and my time
When I was at my most overwhelmed, I decided to take a step back and make some ruthless changes to my calendar. I’ve always been very good at managing my time, but my old system wasn’t dealing with lockdown very well.
I went back to basics, and re-thought everything. I stopped some 121’s, and reduced others in frequency and length. I stepped out of some recurring group meetings, and decided others were now optional. I went back to an old system of reserved time blocks for interviews.
The above gave me a LOT more space straight away. At the beginning of each week I’m now much more disciplined about getting my calendar exactly how I want it. It has to be the right ratio of meetings, doing and thinking. I start by getting my meetings how they need to be. I then time box two or three blocks which I reserve for focused work. After that, I need to see enough free space around the meetings and focus blocks. This gets used for spontaneous things, or as space to think.
This week was a perfect example. Monday morning was full of meetings, with the afternoon mostly free. Tues was back to back meetings (rare, but I had a lot going on). I had the entire morning Weds for focused work, and the afternoon for meetings. Thurs is off (I work four days a week). And Friday is about 2 or 3 hours of meetings, and the rest would have been a mix of focus work, and free space, but is now a holiday (more on this below). I’ve felt great the whole week, and already feel confident the week will end well.
Over the last few years I’ve gotten very good at being on when I’m on, and off when I’m off. I leave the house, commute to work, and then double down on work. When I’m done, I commute home, walk in the house, and then my laptop rarely comes back out. I have no work emails, messengers or calendars on my phone. This structure helped create a separation between the work and my own life.
Lockdown disrupted that pattern. I found myself working later, and also into the evenings. Part of it was because I no longer had a clear separation between work and the rest of my life. The other part was, I was feeling overwhelmed and my expectations were running away with me. So, I compensated by trying to work more (never sustainable, and usually always a bad idea).
It took awhile for me to lower my expectations, and re-organise my calendar and time to get into a better place. I also took some of Cal Newport’s advice about having a shut down ritual. I am trying to be more conscious about setting the time at which I will stop working when I plan my day out. At the end of the day I try and clear any unread emails, and then I shut my laptop.
This is still a work in progress. I completely failed at that last night. I opened my emails to check on something about 8PM, and from there got sucked into some other email topics. I ended up doing that until about 9.30PM. I wish I hadn’t because some of the frustration of those topics stuck with me and I found it much harder to sleep. I knew when I was doing it, it was stupid. But, I did it anyway and and then felt stupid afterwards 🙂
That said, I’m much better than I was a few weeks ago, and it’s helped me get most of my evenings back.
This seems to be something a lot of people I’ve spoken to have found useful. There’s something about being on video calls that is draining. It also tends to keep you in the same spot for a long time.
I started to take some of my meetings on my phone, and whilst I walked outside. This broke up the day. It got me moving, some fresh air, and away from video for a bit. The days I do this and far less exhausting.
Don’t try and multi-task looking after a five year old, and doing work
If you’re on the ball today, you’ll notice this is the sixth thing 😉 I couldn’t resist.
When you try to multitask parenting and work, all that happens is you do both badly. My heart goes out to people that are forced into this because of their situation. Ella and I feel very grateful and lucky. We’re both continuing to work and have income. Ella works part-time, so has been able to handle the bulk of the home schooling. She’s also a teacher, so she has a leg up on most people. I really do appreciate how lucky we are.
But, there have been times when Ella has had to go to work, and I tried to juggle both. It left me super frustrated at doing neither well. I rushed my work, and neglected Fearne (my daughter).
Fearne’s school shuts down at midday on a Friday, so they can deep clean in the afternoon. Ella works Friday, so I have been on childcare for the last two Friday afternoons. I’m also on the hook for the next 4 weeks.
I tried to juggle both in the first week, and it was a car crash. I’ve since booked my Friday afternoons off as holiday for the next four weeks. That way, I can just focus on having a nice time with Fearne. A far better way of going about it!
I hope you find these useful. If you’ve found something particularly useful, feel free to drop me a line and let me know.
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