02 Mar 2021
Lockdown 3.0: finding your way through the toughest of times
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After a year of uncertainty maintaining the energy to keep going is difficult, but not impossible.
Covid has shocked and surprised us at every turn. It’s hard to believe we entered lockdown close to a year ago. Then, there was that initial rush of adrenaline to push us forward. There were emergency plans and immediate problems to solve. There was no loss of motivation to get up every morning. That’s no longer the case.
Waves of anxiety
With that first wave came the extraordinary pivot to home working, with issues like adjusting to the loss of the office, doing without proper meetings, and so much more. There was admittedly some novelty in doing this for the first time, and of course, it was close to Spring. But all that soon faded as false dawns of unlockings unleashed new waves of corona.
No-one predicted then that we would have not two, but three waves, and that uncertainty would become the only predictable part of our lives. The intersection of work and home has never been more complete, with home-schooling draining families, and concerns for the health of our communities another constant thought.
Resilience has quickly become the most over-used quality required of all of us, but as the months have turned into a year, it has become apparent that even for the most outwardly resilient, the toll on mental health has taken its toll.
The best of us have had dark moments.
The unique conditions of working in isolation, health concerns, job insecurity, heavy workloads and fast-changing priorities have bred depression, loneliness, and anxiety.
Burn-out is real
A global survey conducted by Mercer reported that the majority of the 270 insurance companies surveyed now rate mental health as being actually as much of a risk as smoking.
Yes, there have been corporate remedies to lift spirits and rekindle enthusiasms, either individually or as a collective. But a drop in energy has been inevitable with such a long-term attrition of the normal.
In fact, finding the energy to stay the course has turned out to be the most important key to fuelling long-term resilience.
Like a boxer, it is not about absorbing the opponent’s blow that ultimately counts, it’s how you go on the offensive that wins the fight.
Merete Wedell-Wedellsborg at HBR.org, recently suggested this for leaders, “So instead of lowering the temperature completely and feeling the effect of exhaustion and boredom, it might be a good idea to turn up the heat and go into fight mode. Take a good look at the battles that will meet you next year. How can you stay ahead of the curve? How can you prepare for the next stages? How can you mobilize and be able to attack before dawn?”
Easier said than done, but there are some pointers to getting on the front foot. Some are familiar, but no less valuable for that.
Refuelling the fight
Firstly, you can’t do this (or anything else for that matter) on your own. Friends, colleagues, family, they are your best allies for the long-term. Yes, it means reaching out digitally, being honest about how you are doing and giving time with them equal priority to the urgent tasks in hand, but it is vital.
Secondly, and related to the above, be ferocious about your own time and keep a firm hold on your diary.
Back-to-back zoom meetings are ultimately counter-productive if you want to maintain your drive.
And, of course, it isn’t going to help your colleagues if you become complicit in their attempt to fill every hour of the day with online meetings.
Thirdly, if you need to think, really think creatively, try to do it anywhere else than where you answer your emails. Take a walk if you can, move to another room, lie on the sofa, take a bath, let the ideas come to you as you mentally escape the four walls that hem you (and your thinking) in.
If that escape can involve exercise in the open air, then do it. Exercise is the tonic for all kinds of things, not just your health. An exercise bike indoors is a poor alternative, though for some it is all that’s possible, of course.
Break your routine
Many advise having a proper daily routine, and there is value in maintaining some predictability to your day when so much else is out of your hands. But there is also reward in breaking that routine occasionally, surprising yourself with simple changes of work-desk, clothes, even breakfast!
Most of all, and the great leaders have worked this out, this is no time to hold yourself to impossible standards.
This is not the moment for perfectionism. Rather, reduce the agenda, think minimum viable product, do the things that can get done. This is not an argument for anarchy, the strategic direction and overall priorities must not be forgotten, but if ever there is a time for flexibility it is now. And never ever move onto the next thing without celebrating (with your team) what has just been done, and who has done it.
Thank you, and you, and you
Thank, praise and offer feedback, regularly, and for both the big and small achievements. This is the right time to acknowledge others and their efforts. Even the smallest praise goes so much further when people are soloing. It can be the lift that carries them into the next day. We need heroes great and small right now.
Finally, remind yourself that it will be over, eventually.
Use that prospect as a source of energy. Block out four hours a week to plan what you can make happen when life returns to a future normal. Raising your head to look at the horizon will remind you that today’s reality won’t be the same forever, even it so often feels that way.
The final piece of advice comes from Roman Philosopher King Marcus Aurelius, who might well have been writing about the situation in which we find ourselves.
“Harmonise yourself to the circumstances to which you have been allotted, love the men with whom you share these circumstances, and do so truthfully.”