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Opinion Editorials

Learning to love COVID-19-induced involuntary simplicity

(EDITORIAL) Staying home and relying on fewer outside resources or activities, it’s time to embrace involuntary simplicity, or try. You might feel better.

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time to relax

COVID-19 has ushered in a new era of stillness, taking social and professional gatherings off the table. People are spending unheard-of amounts of time at home, and you either are learning to love it or going bonkers, or both.

In a world where “hustle” is the name of the game, and at least 37% of U.S. workers make part or all of their income with gig economy jobs, many of us have forgotten the art of slowing down. With the required physical distancing orders in place across the country and millions of people out of work, many people are experiencing an inescapable slower pace.

It’s…jarring at first. It can also be beautiful and restorative. We need it, too, most likely. Between our jobs and side gigs, and even vacation itineraries loaded with must-sees and must-dos, this involuntary simplicity is no doubt needed. The longer people have stayed home longer, the more they appear to be finding new ways to occupy their time at home.

Busy people in the routine of commuting, going to the gym, attending social events, volunteering, getting dressed in work clothes, actually working, or attending kiddos’ sportsball games and the like are not okay with down time, necessarily. Frankly, we miss our “places to go, people to meet, and things to do.” Yet, in this unforeseen down time, many are discovering ways to divert that energy, to return to some simplicity.

My Facebook and Instagram feeds tell the tale: people are spending time in their newly shrunken world, and it doesn’t suck. I’ve seen (and made) more posts of lizards, flowers, jigsaw puzzles, and homemade meals than ever before, with an outpouring of appreciation from others in the same boat. The parents I know are tapping into their dormant creativity and craftiness, sharing ideas with each other. It’s sweet, really. Plus, it’s probably a good thing that the U.S. shelter-in-place rules are happening during springtime, when something new is in bloom every other week.

I see people who are gardening, painting, baking, writing music, journaling, blogging, or embracing other creative endeavors. Still others–bless their souls–are working on their novels. I’m envious of that one for sure. Good on them. Some people are taking advantage of a cleared out calendar by learning a new skill or hobby. Kudos to them.

People are finding ways to connect, beyond online happy hours or birthday parties. Lots of people are now taking leisurely walks and bicycle rides through their neighborhoods in lieu of driving to a crowded gym to sweat it out on the machines. They are rewarded by waving a howdy (or a hello if you’re not in Texas) to their neighbors who’ve taken to lounging in lawn chairs in their yards or on their porches.

Some of these neighbors may have never greeted each other before the COVID-19 era. What a neat thing this is, to meet your neighbors, without any pressure to immediately make plans to “do” something together, like a potluck or bunko game. I don’t mean you can’t make neighborly togetherness happen later, if it’s your thing, only that obligatory socializing is temporarily off the table, much to the delight of introverts everywhere.

Now, this is all well and good, and I am genuinely happy for those among us who can embrace a more toned down lifestyle. However, not everyone copes with change the same way. Some people are crawling the walls with the additional time on their hands and lack of social stimulation. Type A people will always be Type A. Not everyone can flip a switch, hang their hammocks, and start appreciating the gentle breeze making the leaves on the trees dance. It isn’t in their DNA.

If you see yourself in that description, don’t dismay. More resources for enrichment, relaxation, exercising, and mindfulness are proliferating online. Many have turned to these virtual gurus to aid them in transitioning to this suddenly slower lifestyle. This could help you, too. If you need a challenge, look into online learning. There are loads of online courses and certification classes going up for free or a greatly discounted price.

You can always use this time to plan out your strategy for world domination. Nobody’s stopping you, champ! In the meantime, you can find me outside watching the butterflies fluttering about the yard. To each their own.

Joleen Jernigan is an ever-curious writer, grammar nerd, and social media strategist with a background in training, education, and educational publishing. A native Texan, Joleen has traveled extensively, worked in six countries, and holds an MA in Teaching English as a Second Language. She lives in Austin and constantly seeks out the best the city has to offer.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Heather

    April 15, 2020 at 11:34 am

    I love this! I feel validated for how much I’ve struggled to slow down and enjoy the simplicity of this new schedule. Thanks Joleen, way to go!!

  2. Pingback: Quarantine may be the opportune time to take stock

  3. Pingback: How to keep your business partner on your same page during COVID-19

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Opinion Editorials

How strong leaders use times of crises to improve their company’s future

(EDITORIAL) We’re months into the COVID-19 crisis, and some leaders are still fumbling through it, while others are quietly safeguarding their company’s future.

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strong leaders

Anthony J. Algmin is the Founder and CEO of Algmin Data Leadership, a company helping business and technology leaders transform their future with data, and author of a new book on data leadership. We asked for his insights on how a strong leader can see their teams, their companies, their people through this global pandemic (and other crises in the future). The following are his own words:

Managers sometimes forget that the people we lead have lives outside of the office. This is true always, but is amplified when a crisis like COVID-19 occurs. We need to remember that our job is to serve our teams, to help them be as aligned and productive as possible in the short and long terms.

Crises are exactly when we need to think about what they might be going through, and realize that the partnership we have with our employees is more than a transaction. If we’ve ever asked our people to make sacrifices, like working over a weekend without extra pay, we should be thinking first about how we can support them through the tough times. When we do right by people when they really need it, they will run through walls again for our organizations when things return to normal.

Let them know it’s okay to breathe and talk about it. In a situation like COVID-19 where everything is disrupted and people are now adjusting to things like working from home, it is naturally going to be difficult and frustrating.

The best advice is to encourage people to turn off the TV and stop frequently checking the news websites. As fast as news is happening, it will not make a difference in what we can control ourselves. Right now most of us know what our day will look like, and nothing that comes out in the news is going to materially change it. If we avoid the noisy inputs, we’ll be much better able to focus and get our brains to stop spinning on things we can’t control.

And this may be the only time I would advocate for more meetings. If you don’t have at least a daily standup with your team, you should. And encourage everyone to have a video-enabled setup if at all possible. We may not be able to be in the same room, but the sense of engagement with video is much greater than audio-only calls.

We also risk spiraling if we think too much about how our companies are struggling, or if our teams cannot achieve what our organizations need to be successful. It’s like the difference in sports between practice and the big game. Normal times are when we game plan, we strategize, and work on our fundamentals. Crises are the time to focus and leave it all on the field.

That said, do not fail to observe and note what works well and where you struggle. If you had problems with data quality or inefficient processes before the crisis, you are not fixing them now. Pull out the duct tape and find a way through it. But later, when the crisis subsides, learn from the experience and get better for next time.

Find a hobby. Anything you can do to clear your head and separate work from the other considerations in your life. We may feel like the weight of the world is on our shoulders, and without a pressure release we will not be able to sustain this level of stress and remain as productive as our teams, businesses, and families need us.

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Opinion Editorials

Declutter your quarantine workspace (and brain)

(EDITORIAL) Can’t focus? Decluttering your workspace can help you increase productivity, save money, and reduce stress.

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decluttering

It’s safe to say that we’ve all been spending a lot more time in our homes these last few months. This leads us to fixate on the things we didn’t have time for before – like a loose doorknob or an un-alphabetized bookshelf.

The same goes for our workspaces. Many of us have had to designate a spot at home to use for work purposes. For those of you who still need to remain on-site, you’ve likely been too busy to focus on your surroundings.

Cleaning and organizing your workspace every so often is important, regardless of the state of the world, and with so much out of our control right now, this is one of the few things we can control.

Whether you’re working from a home office or an on-site office, take some time for quarantine decluttering. According to The Washington Post, decluttering can increase your productivity, lower stress, and save money (I don’t know about you, but just reading those three things makes me feel better already).

Clutter can cause us to feel overwhelmed and make us feel a bit frazzled. Having an office space filled with piles of paper containing irrelevant memos from five years ago or 50 different types of pens, has got to go – recycle that mess and reduce your stress. The same goes with clearing files from your computer; everything will run faster.

Speaking of running faster, decluttering and creating a cleaner workspace will also help you be more efficient and productive. Build this habit by starting small: try tidying up a bit at the end of every workday, setting yourself up for a ready-to-roll morning.

Cleaning also helps you take stock of stuff that you have so that you don’t end up buying more of it. Create a designated spot for your tools and supplies so that they’re more visible – this way, you’ll always know what you have and what needs to be replenished. This will help you stop buying more of the same product that you already have and save you money.

So, if you’ve been looking to improve your focus and clearing a little bit of that ‘quarantine brain’, start by getting your workspace in order. You’ll be amazed at how good it feels to declutter and be “out with the old”; you may even be inspired to do the same for your whole house. Regardless, doing this consistently will create a positive shift in your life, increasing productivity, reducing stress, and saving you money.

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Opinion Editorials

How to ask your manager for better work equipment

(EDITORIAL) Old computer slowing you down? Does it make a simple job harder? Here’s how to make a case to your manager for new equipment to improve your productivity.

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better equipment, better work

What is an employee to do when the work equipment bites.

Let’s be frank, working on old, crappy computers with inefficient applications can make the easiest tasks a chore. Yet, what do you do? You know you need better equipment to do your job efficiently, but how to ask the boss without looking like a whiner who wants to blow the department budget.

In her “Ask A Manager” column, Alison Green says an employee should ask for better equipment if it is needed. For example, the employee in her column has to attend meetings, but has no laptop and has to take a ton of notes and then transcribe them. Green says, it’s important to make the case for the benefits of having newer or updated equipment.

The key is showing a ROI. If you know a specific computer would be a decent upgrade, give your supervisor the specific model and cost, along with the expected outcomes.

In addition, it may be worth talking to someone from the IT department to see what options might be available – if you’re in a larger company.

IT professionals who commented on Green’s column made a few suggestions. Often because organizations have contracts with specific computer companies or suppliers, talking with IT about what is needed to get the job done and what options are available might make it easier to ask a manager, by saying, “I need a new computer and IT says there are a few options. Here are my three preferences.” A boss is more likely to be receptive and discuss options.

If the budget doesn’t allow for brand new equipment, there might be the option to upgrade the RAM, for example. In a “Workplace” discussion on StackExchange.com an employee explained the boss thinks if you keep a computer clean – no added applications – and maintained it will perform for years. Respondents said, it’s important to make clear the cost-benefit of purchasing updated equipment. Completing a ROI analysis to show how much more efficiently with the work be done may also be useful. Also, explaining to a boss how much might be saved in repair costs could also help an employee get the point across.

Managers may want to take note because, according to results of a Gallup survey, when employees are asked to meet a goal but not given the necessary equipment, credibility is lost.

Gallup says that workgroups that have the most effectively managed materials and equipment tend to have better customer engagement, higher productivity, better safety records and employees that are less likely to jump ship than their peers.

And, no surprise, if a boss presents equipment and says: “Here’s what you get. Deal with it,” employees are less likely to be engaged and pleased than those employees who have a supervisor who provides some improvements and goes to bat to get better equipment when needed.

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