As we head into the third week of lockdown in the UK, the reality of working from home for us office dwellers has well and truly hit.
Speaking with clients, colleagues and friends over the last two weeks has revealed an all-too-common story.
Fear and anxiety of Covid-19 aside, people headed into week one with gusto. Shock and novelty were our friends. And all this extra time was going to mean we could finally deliver that project that would secure our next promotion/attract a bigger audience/expand our small business.
Oh, and we could finally write that book.
All while home-schooling our kids to a level worthy of the Russell Group universities, of course.
Thanks to online training programmes and all this extra time on our hands, we were sure we could definitely fit in at least one yoga and aerobic class a day.
We would emerge from lockdown as healthy, best-selling novelists with children at the top of their class.
Beat that, butterflies.
Chances are, the reality of week one was sobering.
For those suddenly working from home, you probably lost at least a day trying to set up a makeshift home office and connect to your organisation’s IT system.
You were tested by either the close and constant proximity to your nearest and dearest or battling the loneliness of isolation.
And for those who had to tackle homeschooling, you marvelled at how much maths has changed and at the patience of your little darlings’ teacher.
Week two in the Big Brother house
The ‘failure’ of week one may have seen you spiral into week two. The high expectations of the first week were countered by the extreme of low expectation.
Suddenly that list of great things you were going to achieve feels like a list of personal failures.
This week simply getting dressed and occasionally emptying the dishwasher would be a success.
The world seems to be going to hell in a handcart so you might as well binge on Netflix until this madness ends, right?
Finding balance in week three
The good news is that it is possible to achieve a better balance in this third week of lockdown. Some simple and structured planning can really shift your rhythm, productivity and sanity.
In this blog we share our tried-and-tested process for attempting less but achieving more. It’s our ‘single next step’ process.
All you need is a list, some realistic expectations, and flexibility to adjust both as we go through the week.
Here are our five simple steps to recover your equilibrium and take more control this week.
Step 1 – write everything down
Take a blank piece of paper and write down everything that you want to achieve this week. If you are wearing multiple hats, such as home schoolteacher and carer, feel free to make a separate list for each area of your life.
Write absolutely everything down and then walk away from the list for an hour. Watch a TV show, listen to some music, read some of your book, or have a bath. Let the list settle.
Step 2 – set your three goals
Now that you’ve emptied all of the big, medium and small tasks out of your head, take another sheet of paper and set your three goals for the week. Ideally, your goals should be balanced across all areas of your life so all those plates keep spinning successfully.
Imagine yourself sitting down with a cuppa next Sunday, to review your week. What does good look like?
Goal 1 – make sure my Mum has all the food and medicine she needs this week.
Goal 2 – audit my website.
Goal 3 – spend quality time with my children every day.
The only golden rule here is that you are realistic about your expectations. Knowing what you now know about this new way of working, resist the temptation to set your bar too high or too low.
Step 3 – write down the single next step
For each of your goals, what is the next ONE thing you can do to achieve it? Not the full task, just the next single step.
Goal – make sure my Mum has all the food and medicine she needs this week.
Single next step – call Mum for her shopping and prescription lists.
Goal – audit my website.
Single next step – create a spreadsheet of my website elements, with a column for comments as I review it.
Goal – spend quality time with my children every day.
Single next step – sit with them and write a list of the things we could do together through the week (play card games, keep a daily diary, FaceTime Granny).
These are your key tasks for day 1. Write them down. Schedule them in. If you can, make these the first things that you will do, to give your most important goals some impetus (before other things have a chance to sneak in).
Step 4 – add your daily tasks
There are things we just have to get done each day. Cooking meals, washing clothes, or sending a daily update to colleagues, for example.
Right now your daily tasks might also include helping with schoolwork or taking your one walk each day.
Add these tasks to your calendar for day 1, with blocks of time for each.
At this point it should be visually clear that it is not possible to clean the entire house and declutter your wardrobe and batch cook a week of meals in this first day.
So edit. Don’t let overwhelm be the single biggest reason for doing less than you want or need to do. What can you delete, defer or delegate?
Step 5 – your last appointment of the day
Block out an appointment with yourself as your last calendar item for day 1, at whatever time makes most sense for you to stop working.
In this appointment you’re going to review your day and plan for day 2. If you didn’t manage all of your ‘single next step’ tasks, move them to tomorrow. If you did manage them all, write down the next ‘single next step’ for each of your three goals and add them to your calendar for tomorrow.
Rinse and repeat
Following this routine every day helps to keep you focused on one day at a time and the reality of how much can physically (and mentally) be achieved in any one day.
But following this system of single next steps will mean that by the end of the week you will have made progress.
And progress is by far the best motivator for more progress.
Be kind to yourself
These are strange and unsettling times. How we speak to ourselves has never been more important. Please treat yourself with kindness. Set your goals and do the work to achieve them, but be open and flexible to your needs and emotions. And remember it’s okay if these change from day to day.
If something just isn’t working for your today, move that task to tomorrow. If you are so tired that actually just emptying the dishwasher feels like a major success, honour that feeling and take a break.
Will this work for you?
We know this process works. We’ve seen it unlock procrastination, start momentum and build confidence.
If you give it a go this week we would love to hear how you get on – along with any of your tips for working from home.
Until next time, stay safe.
Lucy and Emma x