New Personal Effectiveness: How The Lockdown Taught Me The Value Of Downtime
The lockdown (and especially my study of business coaching) influenced the way I see effective communication, and I reconsidered my habits.
Eighteen months ago, I wrote a column that simultaneously provoked lots of skepticism and admiration. Some people said that half of what I wrote was fiction, while others admitted that they made a note of the life hacks I shared. The lockdown (and especially my study of business coaching) influenced the way I see effective communication, and I reconsidered my habits.
I no longer schedule morning meetings
Before, I always scheduled meetings for early in the morning: regular 7:30am breakfasts with clients seemed like a sane idea. Inspired by the lifestyles of people who motivate me (especially those who live in London and New York), I gradually turned into a very early bird. I went for a run at 6am, had breakfast with a client at 8, and began my workday at 9.
I lived like that for over three years, and took to it like a duck to water. Sometimes, I would get up at 5am to go for my morning run or do a training session.
During the lockdown, life slowed down: meetings were on Zoom, the business “timezone” shifted slightly, and the answers to my messages and letters began to regularly come after 10am. My schedule also shifted: the runs became longer, the meditations more regular, and I started reading more during breakfast.
That’s when it hit me: the morning should be mine. I want it to be “my morning” and that means that meetings and calls should be scheduled no earlier than 11am. Today, with lockdown over, I begin my meetings at noon, and I feel totally happy.
This is what my mornings look like now: I get up at 8, meditate, drink some water, check for urgent messages and go for a run. I have breakfast and read from 9:45 to 10:30am, and then I begin my workday: check my mail, make calls, or go out for meetings.
I no longer schedule 5–6 meetings a day
I think that before the lockdown, I was headed for a world record for “most meetings held in a day”. As a rule, these were quick encounters that lasted 30–40 minutes, and that I arranged to hold in the same café. Only rarely would I meet anyone at a different place. We always got down to business right away — I thought that this saved both my time and that of my clients, partners and employees.
While all of us were sheltering at home, I had lots of time to analyze my working relationships. I began a course with a new coach, and ultimately realized that 40 minutes isn’t enough to really get to know a person.
Today, I have a maximum of two meetings a day, and each one lasts 1.5–2 hours. This time is enough to do the necessary work, as well as to share some interesting observations, discuss the news, and (for example) the situation of the Russian venture market. Plusit gives us time to talk about one of my favourite things: books! For example, I often ask clients whether they’ve read Thinking, Fast and Slow, and if they have, what are their thoughts. Our conversations are no longer formal; they are full of warmth, interest, and emotions.
I’ve put an emphasis on the depth of relationships
Just two years ago, I conducted business meetings in a matter of 30–40 minutes and tried to combine them with breakfast or lunch. I preferred to quickly discuss the person’s request and the essence of their business, before “closing” the meeting with a decision: to either set up an additional call, or to get back with an offer. Despite always carefully choosing my clients, I definitely leaned on my previous experience and similar cases when doing this. After all, there aren’t that many PR instruments to choose from.
Before signing a contract with a new client, I now meet them at least three or four times: I need to see whether we have the same mindset and understand each other; I want to learn about the person’s values, their personal experience and life priorities; and if they are a good fit, I want to connect with them, and build a working relationship.
During the lockdown, I updated my standard list of questions and added a few philosophical ones. For example: “If you had a house, what view would you prefer: water (sea/ocean/lake), mountains, or forest/park? Why?” I believe this gives me a different kind of insight into them as a person, and helps to build our connection.
I also chose to spend more of my free time with clients. Right after the lockdown, I went with a client to a health resort, where we hiked and rode 4-wheelers. Once, I took a client to Denis Matsuev’s concert, and we went to a countryside restaurant for a luxury meal with a chef. Another client invited me to a sporting event. All of these things help us to get to know each other better, and to find ways to achieve the best results. With this kind of connection, motivation on all sides increases dramatically: both myself and my team are excited by clients’ ideas even more than before.
I began to delegate more
I used to delegate work, but during the lockdown, in addition to my own work, I shouldered all of the tasks connected with my company’s expansion: I hired new employees, reviewed their portfolios, collected recommendations, looked for new contractors, and created presentations.
By summertime, I realized that it’s impossible to do all things outside of your direct expertise perfectly. To that end, I hired a designer and asked him to create a corporate template for presentations and commercial offers. I also signed a contract with an HR consultant who understands the different types of motivation much better than I do. Plus, I found an assistant to help me with personal and job-related tasks.
My workdays now have a scheduled hour of downtime
My previous work arrangements required a fair amount of travelling, and I only had time to catch my breath while in the taxi to the next appointment. But at the height of lockdown I would find myself sitting at my laptop for 12 hours straight. I often ate my lunch and dinner without interrupting my work.
During the lockdown, I did a full health checkup. I asked my family doctor to prescribe me nutritional supplements, or something to keep me focused. Before, I could concentrate no problem for up to 6 hours, but now I could only last three or four. Wetriedtofigureoutwhathad changed.
I did a blood test, and two things became clear: I have a high level of cholesterol (it’s genetic) and I no longer take breaksin my work. My dialogue with the family doctor was more like a session with a therapist. After a number of questions about my nutrition and physical activity, she asked whether I take breaks during the workday, and I started crying. That’s when I decided that from now on, my schedule will have an obligatory hour totally to myself, with a switched-off phone.
I put an emphasis on coaching instead of consulting
My interactions with my employees used to look like this: I told them what should be done and how, and they handled the task. When problems arose, I would point out the mistakes and describe the action plan. My interactions with clients were done in the same way: they came to me with a problem and I quickly solved it.
In July, I completed a coaching program in the EY Business Academy, and it completely transformed my approach to solving problems that involve people. In fact, I stopped solving, and started investigating and directing — and not just my employees, but also my clients.
Here’s an example. A client calls me up and tells me: “You know, we have produced so many publications, but for some reason I’m not happy with them anymore.” Before, I would say: “OK, let’s not write so many.” Now, our dialogue goes something like this:
— Tell me, which publications used to make you the happiest?
— Well, when my columns came out.
— They keep coming out. What did you like in them before?
— There provoked lots of comments and discussions.
— Looks like before we raised contentious issues, and now we delve into smallerproblems and feel like we don’t get the feedback.
— That’s right. I want to raise thornier issues.
The problem wasn’t the quantity of publications; it was their topics. We changed the vector, and the client got what he wanted.
During the lockdown, I also began to hold conversations like this with my employees, by asking them more questions and encouraging them to offer solutions. Forexample:
— Dina, the journalist isn’t answering my calls.
— What could you do to make him pay attention to your message? What other ways are there to meet this person? Whocanhelpyouwiththis?
A quick recap
The lockdown allowed me to understand that my mental health is more important than career, work and even my ambitions. I worked through my emotions with the coach, reinforced my insights and literally felt my life change.
I slowed down and took a look back at the things I’m doing right and the things that can be done better. I revisited the things I want from my life and business, and realized that slowing down is not a sign of weakness or lack of ambition: it’s the rational allocation of my valuable, and finite, resources.
As a result, I reached a higher ground in my relationships with myself, my clients and my employees. And I’ve noticed that this approach has not only benefited me: everyone is getting more enjoyment from the results of our work, and also the process in itself.