6 min read

Have you lost track of what day it is or how many weeks we’ve spent working in socially-isolated conditions? Are you experiencing a blur in your 2020 calendar as the personal/professional boundaries dissolve? And are you looking for strategies that will help you juggle the competing demands between home and work life with a view to getting more done with less time?

Over the last two months, interest in improving mental wellbeing has spiked, with Reward Gateway clients seeing a 301% increase across the number of employees viewing the "Mind" section in company Wellbeing Centres.

So, it came as no surprise that we've recently been receiving a number of questions from HR leaders about managing wellbeing through this crisis. With these concerns in mind, I’m here to share three tips on how leaders can maintain balance and maximise productivity, for yourself and those you work with.

Create a realistic to-do list

As many companies move into the third month of working remotely, in addition to supporting employees through COVID-19, leaders are also preparing for employees returning to in-office or onsite work. This means that priorities and projects are changing yet again.

In dealing with competing priorities it is essential you focus on the value, and to have a clear sense of who or what you will impact from what you produce, create or deliver. Whether you're new to navigating temporary remote work or your company has always adapted flexible working policies it is important to understand the quantifiable impact of your effort.

One way of doing this is using the “Four Ds”. 

Begin by allocating all the work you have to one of four categories:

1. Do it today: Something you’ve got to deliver today; it’s urgent and a must.
2. Delegate it: We often assume we need to do everything ourselves, instead ask “Who can I delegate this to? A team, a person, another area?
3. Defer it: Many things have value, but they might not be required now. Is this an activity more appropriate to do later? Do you need more time to think about it? Does it involve more people? If you defer it, set time aside in the future — block out time in your diary — so you go back to it.
4. Drop it: We like to think everything's important, but the fact is, it isn't; there are some things that we can stop doing, place on hold, or get rid of altogether.

Now select three priorities for your day; yes just three. Doing so will give you focus and clarity as to what is important for you to get done today.

Remember, the longer your to-do list, the more likely you will not complete it. And as a result the greater the risk you will feel as if you have not achieved.

We know a sense of accomplishment is incredibly important, particularly in this situation, so setting realistic goals for each day allows you to make that progress one step at a time.


Focus on delivering value — not busy-ness

We live in a world that feels as if it compels us to be busy. I would encourage you to push back on this. “Busy-ness does not equal productivity.” Yes, it may be challenging to hear and even more challenging to act on it.

I invite you to adopt it as a mantra. To repeat it again and again, until you become it, not just say it.

Productivity is actually the value you create — it is what you ultimately are able to shape, influence or deliver.

And in working with others to set and achieve their goals, consider asking:

  • "How much are you working on today?"
  • “What is the value of the things that you're working on?”
  • “How can I help you take the next steps to progress closer to delivering that value?”

We know motivation is sustained through small wins, so effective leaders help their people get closer to actually delivering value. Ultimately, what you want is employees who are delivering small drops of value along the way.


Coaching leaders to sustain motivation

To build trust and connection with employees ensure you remember to leverage a coaching approach. There is a basic and well-established and used coaching model called GROW. It’s power is in its simplicity, how it allows you to ask questions to help yourself or others find answers:

G: What is the Goal you’re trying to achieve? I think you can ask this question in many ways to ensure there is clarity on the why and value in revealing the goal. 
R: What's the Reality? I ask, 'What are the facts of the current situation?' Focussing on facts moves thinking from emotional to analytical, it puts us in problem-solving mode. For example, in lockdown it is likely some projects have been put on hold, priorities have likely changed. What are six to eight core things you know to be true about the context of why this happened?
O: What are my Options? There are three basic options: a) Change nothing and stay overwhelmed, b) Attempt everything… which will also likely lead to being more overwhelmed, and c) Tackle your problems in phases. If you or they pick option C, the aim is then identify the 1-3 high level steps to next take.
W: What is the Way forward? From your 1-3 steps, choose the one step to focus on, then identify the action relating to this step to focus on today or this week. A tangible action to avoid feeling “I can’t” or “I have to do everything”. 

The aim is to facilitate a conversation that helps employees think through the four questions; to communicate with employees, and help them identify achievable solutions.

Getting knocked down, and getting back up again

Everything in life ebbs and flows, and I think reinforcing that message is important. There will be some days when it feels you’re pushing water uphill with a rake! If you find yourself having one of these days, I’d suggest three things:

  1. Listen to your people. Listening helps us understand our people’s perspective, what they’re really needing support with, and will help you, as a leader, identify which areas you’ll most effectively help in.
  2. Remind your people that self-care is really important. Reinforce wellbeing basics: eat well, move as much as you can, and get rest through sleep. On a practical level, supporting wellbeing for remote employees might mean avoiding back-to-back Zoom meetings all day, every day or making it possible for them to step away from their desk, go for a walk, take some timeout, or do some basic breathing or stretches.
  3. Give yourself time to process and problem-solve. It generally takes your brain about 48-72 hours to solve a problem, so when you’ve hit a point when you’re working on something and can’t get to an answer, leave it and focus on something else. Your brain will keep chugging away. The answer may come to you on a walk or in the shower. Sometimes switching off and stepping away can be the key to being more productive.

I hope you have found these strategies practical and useful. I would love to hear of your experience with these strategies. And of course, I would also love for you to share your own insights on how you successfully manage competing priorities.

Jan McLeod

Jan McLeod is a High Performance & Wellbeing Coach and the founder of The Capacity Equation and Mad for Health. She draws on 20 years in senior business roles and her expertise in coaching, human transformation and physiology. When not working, Jan enjoys yoga, hiking, photography and travel, and swapping the city hustle and bustle for the peacefulness of her holiday hideaway.

High Performance and Wellbeing Coach

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