I like to think that I am a pretty good planner. But particularly in the early stages of lockdown, I would find myself getting distracted on some days from the one I had laid out in my head. Not by the obvious and expected things (unplanned client work or reactive calls which are core to our business and always to be expected) or those that are different to a typical working environment ( kids, dogs, TV, chores etc), but by pretty much anything else…..
I’d want to spend the day focussed on a particular strategic goal, but then I would naturally point myself in the other direction and end up creating a new template for something ( clearly not critical but could at some point be of use). Need to create that series of blogs for our marketing? In no time at all I’d start gravitating towards messing around with a new piece of video software.
As someone who likes to be focussed and derives a strong sense of achievement from ‘getting the ‘right’ sh*t done’, this was not sitting so well with me. And if this is ringing bells and either you or one of your team are struggling to prioritise your time and energy on the goals which matter, let me introduce you to Kermit.
Whilst discussing this topic with a friend of mine who was having the same challenge but fresh from reading ‘Eat That Frog!’ by Brian Tracey, she shared some of the wisdom from the book. The title is derived from the Mark Twain quote: “ If it’s your job to eat the frog, it’s best to do it early in the morning. And if it’s your job to eat two frogs, it’s best to eat the biggest one first”. It refers to the tasks that we seem to keep procrastinating over: the ones which we defer and push back, telling ourselves that ‘we’ll get to them later’. Often however, these are the things which are most likely to move us towards our goals (or certainly block us from achieving them) and when we defer them to the back of the day/ following day (and yes, we know you can find all sorts of excuses which we tell ourselves why we can’t do them…) they sit over our shoulder, metaphorically wagging their finger at us, causing us to dread them even more.
We need to recognise that it’s only human to have things that we shy away from and particularly during this odd period, to lose your mojo once in a while (from the 1.6 m copies sold to date of this book I’d say this was a pretty universal problem), but it’s vital for anyone that they can motivate themselves to complete the things which are going to move them forward, if they’re being held back from it. Taking action first of all and ‘just doing it’ is key to eating the frog before it consumes you, but don’t let the ‘morning’ part of this theory defer you further as it isn’t just for early risers. Whenever your ‘morning’ starts, is when you need to start eating. By getting these things out of the way first, the theory is that you’ll feel a sense of satisfaction of having progressed something early in your work, which can carry other activities and outcomes further throughout the day.
But it doesn’t just have to be frogs that can help you and your team prioritise working on the ‘right stuff’ as opposed to just working on ‘stuff’. Some people swear by having their ‘One Thing’ to focus on: the ‘one thing’ being what they need to do today/ this week which is going to move their business/ goals forward the most and which regardless of what else would have been done during that time period, will show progress and achievement.
I’ve tried using this method and whilst I understand the concept of laser focus, I find that particularly during lockdown with multiple hats on, this doesn’t work so well for me. My go-to method of prioritising these days therefore is a bit of a hybrid of these which I’ve adapted from our How To HR…. priorities we coach others on to work with a daily routine. Here I plan out each day with my:
- Musts: things that even if I have to stay up until midnight, I must do due to their importance in moving me forward towards my goals. These might include ‘frogs’ and they definitely include ‘one thing’ but there are often 2-3 things in this section.
- Shoulds: things which will really help me get the outcomes I want if I can get to actioning them, but which are not so critical for that day. These ones may move to a Must if I’m nearing a deadline.
- Coulds: things which might progress towards my end goal in a small way or is necessary but not critical to my role, but which won’t impact significantly if I bump to another day
There’s no one ‘correct’ way in overcoming procrastination or kick starting yourself or your team, but coaching your team is all about helping them find a way forward towards their goals. So talk to them about what you’ve observed in their progress towards them, discuss what styles might be right for them to try so they can work out which will help them achieve their goals.
All options require a little bit of forming habits, something Gretchin Rubin calls “ the invisible architecture of everyday life and a significant element of happiness”. And although creating healthy habits is a sizeable topic on it’s own, I can summarise one aspect here by saying that habits are more easily adopted the easier you make them to do. And that one way of doing this is to break down some of the bigger goals and tasks you face into smaller chunks. You’re more likely to be able to do these when they’re smaller and seeing yourself tick these off your to-do list, will help build you up and have a sense of progress. It’s why your FitBit/ My Fitness Pal (or any other app) works to help your motivation by visually reminding you of your progress. And as a girl who gets a kick out of seeing the ticks on my to-do list, I’m advocating the return of Star Charts for us all.
Now Etsy might make them prettier than they were when we were at school/ potty training our children, however the structure is the same: list out what you want to achieve and reward yourself with a star for all those things you complete. It’s visual and present as a mental jogger and helps to show what Teresa Amabile describes as the ‘progress principle’, the theory that we are motivated by seeing our own progress. And once you get past the initial emptiness and start seeing the stars mount up, I challenge anyone not to feel a sense of satisfaction.
Traditionally in school days, once you’d filled your star char, you may get a trip to see the Head Teacher to tell you how great you’ve been doing (I like to see positive reinforcement early doors…) but the nice thing about being an adult is that you get to choose what will reward you most. And with your team, that means speaking to them to see what niceties they would put on their ‘wish list’. Someone I know rewarded herself last month for hitting her goals with a onesie for knocking around lockdown in comfort and style. Another is a specialist gin lover. Both of which are achievable through the powers of Amazon.
But it doesn’t just have to be a financial reward that you provide: my reward to myself last week for finishing something I’d been meaning to do for weeks was an hour in the hammock reading my book. I could have done that regardless of what I’d achieved of course, but it was truly restful to do with the satisfaction of having achieved what I’d set out to do. Made even more so without Kermit tapping on my shoulder…
Fancy a chat about how to get the focus back in your team? Give us a bell on 0203 627 7048 or email on firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll get right back to you.
Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash
School’s out for (what seems like..) forever right now. It shouldn’t be that time of year again… This calendar month is not the one where we are supposed to be winding down into the Summer holidays: a time when ‘juggling’ skills become paramount as parents across the land dread balancing their work deliverables with the fact that their kids have 6 weeks plus holiday stretching out in front of them. But yet here we are. In May. Finding ourselves weaving in our work and home life on a scale never seen before.
For many in your teams, initially working from home may have been a joy to remove from the commute and a time to show how productive one can be without the daily “ do you want another coffee?”. Yet for 7.9 million households where workers have dependent children (and particularly those with under tens who will remember this time as a very ‘special’ time indeed….), the challenges presented by working from home when your kids are off school/ nursery can test even those with the patience of Job.
Indeed many years ago when mine were much younger, I experienced my first very own ‘BBC’ moment when a newly acquired client called up to discuss a very sensitive situation with their team. Thinking both sons were napping, I took the call, put on my most professional voice, only for my son to start hollering about his nappy activities. He’s always been articulate (and did I mention loud?), so there was no doubt whatsoever about the cause of his complaint, although said client did his best to be British in the situation and completely ignore that this was happening …..
It’s been a few years since then and between us at TheHRhub now, we now have a bevvy of children aged between 1 and 15. But whilst the experience of working flexibly over time has given us some insight into how to do this, managing your work and your children 24/7 without external childcare, presents even greater challenges than we’ve seen before. So we’ve pulled together our own tips about managing to keep on top of things, without losing your cool:
- Plan to Fail: Turn ordinary planning on it’s head and assume that whatever you plan for will not stick. Instead, plan for alternatives. Yes, you may have your day mapped out on a visual planner, colour coded and brimming with unicorns so that all know what is going on and the kids can look forward to the fun times as well as see when you have your less ‘fun’ (i.e work!) plans too. But it’s 100% guaranteed that your kids will have other plans about how they want to spend the day…. So plan what alternatives you have when the ‘schedule’ backfires: activities, doing the more thought intensive work with them on your lap or in front of the telly ( yes, we all have those things we can do with one eye on things). I’m also a big fan of bribery at these times & would propose the liberal use of star charts to nudge along.
- Be elastic with your team: There’s not a person on Zoom/ Skype/ Hangouts who hasn’t been interrupted at some point by a chatty/ screaming child or voices in the background. This is life at the moment and unless you have the unlikely scenario of a fleet of nannies waiting in your cupboard, there isn’t a damn thing anyone can do about it. So not only tell your team you are relaxed but show them too, by inviting in your own family to come and say Hi if they’re about.
- Show trust and reasonableness in timings: If there’s a hard deadline for something then make someone aware of this in advance ( and not on the day). But make sure that your team knows you are not going to be checking in every five minutes and are comfortable in trusting all to manage themselves and their time: this way if they need to take the kids out to the park before frustration and fight levels reach DEFCON Five, then they can do so as they feel the need to feel guilt about it because it’s in ‘work time’.
- Working Time Extended: Not in an effort to make people work for longer each day. But to give people the opportunity to start later, intersperse their days with breaks to focus on their kids and manage all that they need to do in the best way possible. In the words of my own teenager: 9-5 is sooooo dead….
- One Size (Doesn’t) Fit All: It’s unlikely what’s going to work for someone with a two and three year old is going to be the same for a twelve year old at home, so recognise that there’s no one-size fits all approach and talk to your team about what might work best for them.
- Be prepared to offer/ take ‘holiday’: we may not be able to escape at the moment to that gorgeous villa in the sun or the yearned for city break in Barcelona, but by taking some of our annual leave and not focussing on work, could help many out by reducing stress levels in order to focus on just one area.
Fancy a chat? We don’t need to Zoom ( yes, we’re getting sick of it now too!!). Give us a bell on 0203 627 7048 or email on email@example.com and we’ll get right back to you.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash
There will be good days and bad days for all of you at the moment as you navigate what the impact of Covid-19 means to your colleagues, your teams and your business. And although you will of course be considerate and supportive of the wider team, we know that this situation is likely to be just as tough for you, as it is for them. Often more so, as you also might be feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders in leading at a time when the business pressures are unlike any most have ever seen and many of the answers are unknown.
A Black Swan event is largely described as an unexpected one that has a disproportionate and disastrous effect on our economic world: think Dot Com crash in 2001 and Financial crisis of 2008. The biggies that we all know and remember. Brexit may have been deemed one of them until recently, when the ‘C’ word has well and truly knocked it out of the park.
During such periods of disruption and change that accompany these events, people respond at different levels of intensity and speed, but my experience is that we are pretty predictable in following the Kubler-Ross ‘change’ curve, the model used to describe an individual reaction to grief and death, but which can often be applied to general responses to circumstances and which has also become known simply as the ‘Change Curve’ in the decades since the first research was undertaken.
As a leader of your business, the ‘Change Curve’ is a useful model to understand: for now, and planning for the future. Not just with regards to understanding the reactions which your team may be having and behaviour being displayed, but because it can also help to understand, navigate and adapt your own feelings and behaviour. The last 3 weeks have brought shock and panic to most, followed by confusion and possibly anger as many realised how fast the impact of this would make on their businesses and then themselves (for many business owners of course, this is one and the same).
Self doubt often accompanies these stages and at its worst, it develops into a form of depression: Why couldn’t I see this coming? Why didn’t I plan something different? What am I going to do now? During this stage, productivity starts to drop and the focus on self takes over. However the good news is that – provided you don’t languish in those darker stages for too long – the next few weeks have the potential to offer something much brighter for you, as the fighter in you adapts and develops to seek new opportunities.
You wouldn’t think that breadmaking as an activity was synonymous with energy, but it appears to be an unlikely, yet splendid, example of individuals taking actions to move themselves forward along this curve. This weekend, as images flood social media and family whatsapp groups of various batches, explanations I’ve read of our current obsession, talk of people doing this to tap into their unconscious feelings to retain a sense of control. Something we all need as a basis for moving forward.
Bread not your ‘thing’? From a business perspective – and assuming you’re not a bakery that is – what else can you do to gain this control and propel yourself forward to the ‘Acceptance’ side of the curve:
- Keep talking to yourself: No, really… Start with the positives each day: what are you grateful for; what have you enjoyed the day before. I promise it will help.
- Keep talking to others: other members of your leadership team or (if you don’t have one of those) your networking groups or advisors (we’ve been in conversations with most of our clients in the last couple of weeks and please be assured that our conversation extends way beyond HR if you’re free & keen!)
- Stick with some of your routines: team meetings are good as they form consistent conversations and adapt to what you are doing already. It’s likely that you have increased these in the last few weeks, however as we settle into the ‘new’ norms, be careful not to overload them or have them so frequently that you put pressure on yourself to be able to come up with answers you don’t yet have or that people won’t have actually managed to do anything agreed since the last one… For a bit of a refresher on how to get the most out of working from home generally, read (or re-read) our own general guidance here
- And increase the frequency of others: most will agree that you need to be on top of your finances more than ever right now, making sure you scenario plan for different forecasts.
- Allow yourself time: by all means have a brief pity party for yourself – it’s an acknowledgement of the impact of this and shouldn’t be glossed over – but use the time you have to think of as many different ideas as you can think of for your business. Most business owners I know are not short of these, and many have come up with some of the best ideas they’ve had whilst on holiday. Whilst I’m not pretending this is a holiday for anyone, there may be times you have (gardening this Easter break at all?) when you can tap into your own innovation and start to imagine a post-Covid world and how this might look different. On your own – be it in your head or doodling – you can rip up the rule book all you want and the world really is your oyster. This in itself is motivating and helps provide a lift to most.
- Decisions, decisions….: Most of you will have made some tough decisions already ( furlough, redundancy and cost cutting to name a few) and there are a few ones which will come from external forces, but the decisions I refer to here are the ones which you can take yourself which will take you mentally forward once you’ve evaluated some of your ideas. Want to develop new products or services? Double down on your purpose or client group? Or change it completely? These are the ones which I see as the opportunity for the next few weeks. Most of you will have a strong degree of impatience at your core and won’t be content to sit and wait ‘and see what happens’ , so can use the next few weeks to crystallize your decision making about the direction of your business.
In the words of the late, great David Bowie: turn and face the strange 🙂
We definitely can’t predict when this will end, but we can definitely be here to support you through it. For any help you need – or even if it’s just a chat you’re after – drop us a line via firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0207 627 7048.