Stamina, strength and speed: Working during Covid is a marathon and a decathlon combined

Since things got even more serious with the coronavirus, with the lockdown in the UK and many other countries, I’ve seen lots of well-meaning quotes aimed at bouying managers and their teams. And I’ve been guilty of this too. I talked about this being a marathon not a sprint, last week.

But I’ve changed my mind.

It’s both.

I actually think this situation we find ourselves in and in particular, those out there on the front line in key worker roles, are having to pace themselves while operating at speed.

I think it’s a marathon and a decathlon.

It’s a marathon because, while we know there will be an end, we just don’t know for sure when that will be but we do have an idea that it will go on for a while. And it’s a decathlon because people are having to do different things, including the occasional sprint, and jumping over various hurdles. Many of my friends and former colleagues in the NHS and local government have been reconnoitered to different teams – going where they’re needed that day or week. They could be placed somewhere else.

Then there are those who are working from home. We have parents trying to do their work, manage their teams and teach their children. We have people, like me, who are trying to keep a business afloat while caring for a sick and elderly family member who lives in a different place. And so on.

This places an extra burden on people – mentally, emotionally and physically – in a way we’ve never encountered before. We can’t just expect to do everything in the way we did BC (Before Covid-19).

Here are a few things you might find helpful:

1. Establish a routine if you can

In the first week of lockdown, here in the UK, I allowed my routine to go out of the window. It was no surprise, therefore, that I started to feel overwhelmed and anxious as the week went on. I was also trying to work to my normal calendar which was unrealistic, since I’ve had to move back to working from home. Some things I’ve done which have helped gain a bit more equilibrium:

Reorganising my calendar to reflect the new circumstances. For example, I now go food shopping on a Friday as this seems to be a better day. As I’m also shopping for my mum, I need to then drive over to hers which is a 90-minute round trip. Scheduling this in to my calendar means I know what’s going to happen and feel a bit more in control.

Getting up and going to bed at my normal times. I was still getting up at my normal time but had been going to bed later and later because I felt so wired from watching too much news. No surprise that the less sleep I was getting, the more wired I was feeling. You can see the vicious circle, right? The last few nights I’ve gone back to my normal routine (including not watching the news or consuming social media late at night) and surprise, surprise, I feel better and able to cope with the new stresses and demands Covid is putting on me and my family.

Get some exercise. We all know that exercise can help us with both our physical and mental health. My go-to is a run outside. However, I did it once last week and found it too stressful. I felt like I was in a video game trying to avoid people and zig-zagging from one side of the road to the other. I’m now exercising inside and it’s fine. There are plenty of people putting great exercise routine content on YouTube and Instagram and all for free. For example, Dr Hazel Wallace (also known as The Food Medic on Instagram) is sharing a daily workout on her Insta Stories that you can do at home.

(Disclaimer: I know I’m coming from a position of privilege in that I can work from home and I’m not having to work back-to-back shifts in an emergency role.)

2. Accept that things might go wrong

Many of us are familiar with the story of BBC Dad. You know the one. His children ambushed a very serious interview he was doing about politics in Korea. As Adam Grant said in a recent LinkedIn post, “We are all BBC Dad now”.

Expecting everything to conform to the same standards as before is unrealistic.

I’ve seen so many stories and pictures of parents sharing when their kids have jumped in to a Zoom call they were having with their team; or partners crawling on the floor to avoid accidentally getting in frame on their other half’s session on Microsoft Teams; or that really important call with the boss that doesn’t work because your broadband cuts out. While it’s important to put in place some boundaries, accepting that sometimes, over the weeks and months to come, things will most likely go wrong can bring some relief. When we accept that, it can reduce the impact of the stressor.

3. Mentally prepare for things in advance

Remember I said this was a marathon and a decathlon? One thing we can learn from athletes is visioning. Many world-class athletes see themselves on the podium getting the gold medal and keep that in mind throughout their training and when they compete. We can do the same and it can help events feel less stressful.

For example, I had been dreading the weekly food shop but then my training as a psychologist kicked in. I acknowledged and envisioned having to queue up to get into the shop. I acknowledged and envisioned that shelves might be empty. And by doing that, when I went to the shops and I saw an unfeasibly long queue snaking round the length of the supermarket, I didn’t feel stressed. I’d got my head in the place where I had already been living this and I’d prepared. (Tip: take some headphones so you can listen to a podcast, audio book or music. It helps!)

4. Be careful with virtual meetings

It seems that people have gone virtual meeting crazy in the past few weeks and this has become unhealthy and unsustainable. Just because you can have a virtual meeting, it doesn’t mean you have to. Virtual meetings place a different mental strain on people and because of this, it’s not a good idea to have back-to-back virtual meetings. Here’s a few ideas for things you can do to reduce the strain:

Have a limit on the number of virtual meetings you have in a day. It’s three for me – whether it’s 121 coaching or a group meeting.

  • Schedule a break between virtual meetings. I’ve seen some people fall into the trap of having them back-to-back, mimicking some of the bad habits we see in real life in organisations. Give yourself and your broadband a bit time-out between sessions.
  • Think about clustering. For example, maybe having your virtual meetings till lunchtime, and then doing other things after that, whether that’s writing a report or helping your children with their math homework.
  • Have some ground rules for virtual team meetings. Again, there is the assumption that virtual meetings are the same as those we have in physical meeting rooms. They’re not. Agreeing some ground rules for virtual meetings can be helpful for ensuring a degree of focus and engagement during a session. Nadia Nagamootoo, a chartered psychologist, has designed some helpful training on how to have impactful virtual meetings.

Did you find this post helpful? I’d love to know, so Tweet me, or drop me a note on LinkedIn. If you have any colleagues that you feel should read this, too, please share it with them. I’d really appreciate it.

I also have a monthly newsletter which is a compilation of blog posts, helpful research, and reviews of books and podcasts – all aimed at helping managers and leaders become more confident in handling a range of workplace issues. You can subscribe here -> SUBSCRIBE

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