I really value routine and structure. It’s not something that necessarily comes naturally to me, I work hard at it because I know it helps me perform at my best. A month ago, my work, exercise and personal routines were completely in flow. Then along came C-19 and so much of what had taken years to establish and groove had become impossible, impractical or discarded. It has taken me a little longer than perhaps it should to reset and to reorganise myself into my new reality. But now that I’ve done so, I feel so much better and consequently more focused and productive.
I wanted to share my thoughts around the key areas you may want to evaluate for making sure your new reality sets you up to perform at your best.
Create the right environment
Your environment is the space in which you operate. It includes everything from the room you work in, to how you dress and the way you organise your information and equipment. For many that aren’t used to working from home, this can be tricky. More so if you have little ones around and don’t have a separate study or home office. However, if you take the time to identify the things you can control and apply some creative thinking you can almost certainly improve your environment more than you realise.
Set yourself up properly. Make sure you have all the equipment you need to be effective such as
- Two or three screens
- Wireless keyboard & mouse
- A decent laptop
- Software applications
- Remote access
- Proper working space
- Comfy chair
- Upgraded broadband
- Big enough desk
I know it’s obvious, but I bet you can improve your set up, even repurpose rooms, if you give it some thought. People adapt so quickly, even if that means adapting to an inadequate set up. Don’t settle. Make sure you have all the tools you need to do great work. Invest in additional kit, reinvent spaces/rooms, do what whatever it takes because making do is a false economy.
Have a good look at your entire set up and ask yourself if you have everything you need, the way you need it. What do you need to do to improve your set up?
The great thing about being at work is that there are a whole series of official and unofficial boundaries. If you are working from home many of these may have disappeared. So, you will need to think about these and establish/re-establish them were appropriate. Especially if you are being distracted by constant interruptions and distractions. Things like when you start and finish work, do not disturb time, doing personal errands, regular breaks and switching off, should all be considered. You may want to agree a timetable with your partner if you have children to look after. Communication, planning and reaching agreements are critical to ensuring that everyone at home gets what they need to be happy and effective.
What are the distractions and interruptions in your environment and where are unclear boundaries derailing you? What boundaries do you need to establish to be more effective?
Be professional in your appearance and environment. You wouldn’t go to work unshaven, wearing PJ’s and fluffy slippers, so don’t do it at home. Obviously, you need to be comfortable but have the same professionalism and high standards you would ordinarily have where possible. Tidy desk, organised paperwork, mobile phones off when on video conferences, clutter free rooms etc. All this matters because it effects how you show up and how focused you feel. You certainly don’t want your employees dropping their standards because the boss has. Reflect the behaviour you would like to see in your team.
Are there any areas you need to smarten up to do your best work? Have you noticed any of your direct reports slipping into bad habits?
Self-management is about taking full ownership for the decisions you make about how you organise yourself and how you manage your personal effectiveness. It considers things like how you structure your week and day and the steps you take to plan and prioritise the right things to complete, at the right time. If your businesses is not operating at full capacity or at all, this can be more of a challenge, especially if you are used to operating under pressure. Here are a few areas to be mindful of.
Weekly and daily structure
If your weekly and daily structure has changed you will need to reset in this area. It’s easy for routine to slip when you and your team are not in the office together. 1-1’s, team meetings, learning and development time, reporting (KPI’s & MI), internal processes and strategic projects are some of the first things that tend to drift. Don’t let them! It’s all these important (and not urgent) habits and routines that need to be reinforced and stuck to right now. You may need to reshuffle many of these activities to make them fit more appropriately for you and your team. That’s okay, as long as everyone agrees, and they happen to standard. Be as consistent as possible because routine sets you free and gives you and your team certainty when it’s needed most. Remember time is your most precious resource, don’t squander it.
Think about the structure of your week. Are you giving enough time and attention to the right tasks, activities and projects? Have some of the more important strategic activities slipped? How can you plan out a better weekly and daily structure that is fit for purpose and enables you to hit the ground running?
Daily planning and reflection
Daily planning is one of those simple disciplines that make such a difference to your personal effectiveness. When we are under pressure or out of our normal routine, it’s one of the first things people to tend drop. It’s crazy of course, because this is when you need a list of specific priorities the most. In my experience, proper daily planning is critical for anyone determined to achieve better results. Reflecting on the previous days wins and bottlenecks takes your daily planning to the next level, because it better informs your plans and makes them more focused and relevant. Recognising the small steps forward each day also helps your motivation and puts things in perspective.
Are you identifying your daily and weekly priorities and allocating enough time to these in your diary? Are you thinking about your stuck points and wins each day and rolling these into your plans? Which team members do you think could benefit from this section?
It’s not exciting or sexy but it is very important. Discipline is ‘doing what you need to do, when you need to do it, whether or not you feel like do it’. Being disciplined enough to focus on the job at hand, to avoid distractions, to follow your daily plan and to power through a piece of work until it is complete is invaluable. If you have more time on your hands, then it’s about being disciplined enough to work through all those projects you’ve shelved over recent months because of lack of time. At some point in the near future we will bounce back from this. You need to ensure you’re taking the right steps now to position your business to hit the ground running before normality returns.
Where do you need to exercise a little more discipline?
In 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey explains the principal of the golden goose and the golden eggs. You, the leader of your business, you are the golden goose. You need to make sure you look after yourself properly so that you have the energy, focus and emotional intelligence to lead your people and business well. If you focus exclusively on the golden eggs, at some point those eggs will run out because the goose will be tired or unwell. Here are three areas to consider for ensuring you are being the best version of yourself.
Think about your habits around diet, exercise and sleep. This is one area I have personally struggled with recently. I’m used to exercising 5 – 6 times a week, drinking 3 litres of water a day and getting 7 hours a sleep a night. All of that went completely out of the window until recently. Eating junk and not getting enough down time didn’t help either. Don’t underestimate the importance of these things, I don’t believe you can perform at your best if this area is out of balance.
Identify one or two specific healthy habits you need to reconnect with.
Be a radiator
Attitude is a choice. You can choose to be a radiator and project optimism and energy, or you can choose to be a drain and suck the energy and optimism out of the people around you. In challenging times guess which approach is more likely to be effective. Things may be tough but it’s important to have the belief that you will find your way through. I’m not suggesting you should delude yourself into thinking everything will be fine if you wait it out, instead face your challenges with courage and confidence, take action and encourage your people to do the same.
Be aware of when you or your team fall into drain mode and remind yourself daily to show up with confidence and courage. Fake it until you make it if necessary.
Connecting with people
Are you taking the time to connect with your family, colleagues and friends? Humans are an ultra-social species. Prolonged isolation is not good for us, especially if you are an extravert. Make time to reach out to friends and loved ones. Be 100% present when spending time with your ‘lockdown’ family and reach out to extended family members and friends. You can still have a beer with a mate, it will just have to be virtual. Be super aware of employees that are extraverts and schedule additional huddles and 1-1’s to support them because they will need it.
What do you need to do to make sure you are connecting with friends, family and team members?
Being in lockdown has taught me a little more about myself. In some ways, I’ve adapted proactively and quickly but in other areas it’s taken me a while for the penny to drop. This article is by no means a definitive list, but I think it is a pretty good holistic overview of what you should be thinking about to adapt and thrive in the current circumstances. In challenging times, I always try to focus on the things I can control and influence. My intention is to help you identify your controllables so that you can come out of this a better leader and better person.
Remember, everything above applies to your team members too. Make sure you coach and support them through the areas above so that they too can do their best work.