As Director of my own business, the past month has been extremely challenging to say the least. I spent the first two weeks in a bit of a frenzy of activity, watching and taking part in every Zoom call and webinar I could in order to try and make sense of it all, and what it would mean for my business.
I have spent years building up my company, and a client base that I am extremely proud of. And now I found myself extremely worried about not only the immediate impact, but what business would be like when we come out the other side of this. As I am considered to be very creative, and a bit of an innovator, I put myself under immense pressure to come up with the 'next best thing' in the world of events, and frankly I ended up feeling quite overwhelmed and drained by it all.
I have now had time to take a breath and reflect on some of the things that I have learned, and what has worked for me. Working, and spending the majority of my time at home on my own, I have found some real strategies which I thought I would share for anyone else out there who finds themselves struggling to see a way out of all of this.
I will start by sharing a quote from one of my closest friends "You can't be a hero every day!"
Limit the noise to good effect
As I discovered when setting up my nnoodl business, we can be overwhelmed by social media at the best of times. Add to that the constant news updates and it is easy to see how your whole day can be overtaken by Covid-19. Then there are the constant 'funnies' on Facebook etc which are shared over and over. Sometimes light relief - sometimes too much.
Time to limit the noise and focus on the information I needed.
I found that at this time LinkedIn was more valuable than ever with people sharing some really useful content. This is where I found a post from the London Growth Hub, an initiative delivered by the LEAP (the local enterprise partnership for London). They have always been there to support small businesses in London, but this is the first I had heard of them and snapped up the chance to have a business consultation call with one of their advisers. Not only did this give me some pointers on the support available to me, but also served as a reminder that this was a good opportunity to take advantage of the down time to reassess my business and make it even stronger. I was also introduced to a network of other similar business owners.
Reflect, recalibrate and remember you are resilient
One of the most valuable things I have done in my first month in lockdown has been to really take the time to reflect on my business. This is time we never normally have, of course none of us would have wished for this to be imposed on us in this way, but there is no avoiding it, so let's embrace it.
For me this has served as a double whammy opportunity. My good friend Cath Kane had in the past 18 months moved to Washington DC. She has extensive experience working in the public and not-for-profit sector to help them meet the challenges of change through creating environments that foster resilience. She has been developing her own 'Unshakeable Ambition' coaching programme, aimed at women who are passionate about making a difference and connecting on a deeper level with their ambitions. Cath offered me a series of coaching sessions and I snapped up the opportunity!
These coaching sessions have been a real game changer. The pre session exercises in themselves have really made me think deeply about my business and my ambitions. Cath has also set up a private Facebook group for her clients called 'Insightful Strong Women' and this has served as a great platform to connect with like-minded individuals across the globe to share ideas and our tips on how to stay resilient.
Learn but don't overload
This is a great time to delve into an area which you might have neglected as business takes over. Maybe it's marketing, developing your social media skills, or getting to grips with your accounts. It's all good, but be careful not to overdo it.
Again, our social media feeds are filled with over achievers, learning a language, a musical instrument etc. In my first two weeks I committed to finally doing Spanish every day, guitar practice, online yoga, cartoon workshops, choir. I also signed up to about 12 webinars and this was all on top of the actual work I had to do, and my pre-scheduled triathlon training (whenever those race events may happen?) It was just too much!
Another lesson learned, and I have now settled into things and found a rhythm.
I have grouped things into areas at the start of each week and allocated an amount of time I will commit to it. I have found some great content through the guys at Fundraising Everywhere who hosted a truly impressive virtual full day conference at the start of April. I have also been collaborating with colleagues and allocating time to researching an events toolkit that I will be able to share with my clients. I am trying to be as diligent about how I split my day. BUT, always making sure that I make time for some 'fun things'. If that is a cartoon drawing tutorial, or language lesson, it will be because I WANT to do it. Then we have to look on the positive side of the skills we have accidentally learned along the way, for me it is home hairdressing and even dentistry (yes, I recently fixed a chipped tooth...let's see how long it lasts!).
Managing your time - embracing the flexibility
As someone who is very much task and goal driven, I love a list or a spreadsheet. It's a great way of breaking up things into headings and I have a 'master plan' that I am using during this time split into headings 'Finance', 'Business Development', 'Personal Growth' and so on. I then can see what I actually need to do, or where I can dump some ideas for actioning later. There is nothing like turning a task green for me! What I have found is coming through though, is that where things that aren't vital sit untouched, I start to reassess if they are really necessary or am I forcing myself to do them because I feel I should? This is something that has become more apparent in my business coaching too. For my business I use an app called Toggl to track how I am spending my time with each client. I find it really focuses my mind too and makes me very productive. Without the same stress, I have been splitting my days into sections and making sure that I only allocate a certain amount of time on certain business tasks, and then make sure I take a break to do something else...whether it's exercise, having a chat with a friend or just listening to a podcast or watching a tv programme. Most of all, I am trying to embrace the fact that now I can be flexible about how I work. If I am feeling more creative and work focussed at 9pm at night, but fancy playing the guitar at 10am in the morning, then so be it!
Recognising where you are on the 'change curve'
Listening to a webinar by the previously mentioned London Growth Hub was really helpful in reassuring me that we are all going through a similar rollercoaster of feelings just now. One of their coaches discussed the 'Change Curve' and explained how we all react to dramatic changes in our situation. Although we all go through this process at different paces, he highlighted the various stages on it from Shock, Denial, Anger, Bargaining and so on. It really resonated with me as I recognised many of these feelings. Being ever the optimist, I was heartened to see the positive upward curve.
I particularly identified with the 'Acceptance' and 'Problem Solving' areas. In times like this, we start to turn a corner and think "I am ok, does anyone else need help?". I had recently signed up to help my local Covid 19 mutual aid group. I was keen to help in any way I could, having more time on my hands, and recognising there were no doubt people in my neighbourhood whom I didn't know, but may well be struggling. I have to say my days are now even brighter as a chance partnering up with a vulnerable neighbour to support getting her medicines and shopping has now resulted in me giving her guide dog a much needed run around in the park every day. These groups are set up across the whole of the UK and are still looking for volunteers as the lockdown continues. You can find yours here.
Break the monotony
It can start to seem like groundhog day. I laugh when I sign off emails on a Friday with 'Have a lovely weekend' as a force of habit, when in reality it can seem like each day is the same as the last.
It's really important to mark changes in days and weeks.
Whether that is as simple as moving from the room where you have been doing your work emails, or changing your clothes from day to night, it all makes a difference to your mindset. I found at the start of this that I started to dread Zoom calls a bit as I spent so much time on them during the day that the thought of staring at my laptop at night too was a bit much. There was an interesting short article on why this is in Time Out this week. But the upside to this is the amount of people I have managed to connect with who I hadn't 'seen' for a very long time. My mum and dad have only recently adopted Facetime, which makes me very happy given that I had to cancel a trip to see them in Scotland the very week we went into lockdown (I was extra pleased to see that my dad has retained his humour by appearing wearing full protective gear!)
I have been on virtual quiz nights with friends across the world, drinks with friends all over the UK, and we try to continue our virtual choir online, even though it sounds so chaotic that it is hilarious. Just seeing those little 'Brady Bunch' faces makes me smile now. In fact I have just done one of my triathlon bike sessions on my turbo trainer and persuaded a friend in Aberdeen to join me. Apparently I have a side hustle waiting for me as a virtual cycling coach after this in her eyes!
I also find it is important to make a bit of a 'ceremony' of a Saturday night as I get properly dressed up and have 'aperitifs' with my best friend and her family in Aberdeen every week. On the first week of lockdown I went to one of my favourite superstores, Wing Yip to shop for a Chinese banquet. In my mind crispy duck pancakes are one of the ultimate feel good foods!
But most of all....
Remember this is not forever. I can't help thinking that when we come out of this we will somehow all look back on it with a certain amount of nostalgia. The friends and contacts we reacquainted with.....the neighbours we finally met....the time we took for ourselves to slow down and think.....perhaps even the skills we learned along the way.
I can't help but think that in amongst all of the songs that are being inspired by Covid 19, that it is time for Baz Luhrmann to release a follow up to one of my favourites 'Wear Sunscreen'. And with that I leave you with that song, and a very poignant couple of lines...
Understand that friends come and go
But a precious few, who should hold on
Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and lifestyle
For as the older you get, the more you need the people you knew when you were young
Stay safe everyone!
Denise Yeats is an events director, communications consultant, endurance athlete and avid adventurer.