We are living in increasingly uncertain times. Our work and social lives are being reshaped and remoulded for the foreseeable future, and we are being forced to quickly adapt to that fact. I am very grateful to still be working and have my health, but my anxieties continue to rage havoc in my mind, and I am still grappling for some sort of sense of normality in my life… and don’t get me wrong, I am still adjusting.
I wanted to share some tips with C&C’s assistant network on what has helped me so far in my ‘new normal’ of working from home and how to make the most out of it, whilst prioritising your mental health.
We don’t know how long this situation is going to last. Whilst this might feel like a free pass to lie in, roll out of bed and sit on the sofa in your pyjamas and fluffy cat slippers for the day, I can assure you that you’ll thank yourself in a few weeks for not doing so, and initiating some structure into your life.
I am definitely not saying that you need to follow your usual routine to the letter, but try and hold on to your usual pillars of normality. Get up at the usual time you would usually set your alarm for; do your morning exercise or a variation of your commute (the UK government currently advises that you’re allowed to partake in one outside exercise activity daily – why not use this for a walk around the block to get some sunshine on your face; whilst, of course, advising social distancing rules?); dress in a fun outfit (and share pictures with your friends or on social media – you might find you have more time to try out some clothing combinations that you wouldn’t have put together before, to wear when you’re back in the office!).
This is also a learning curve. You may start to realise that you’re more productive during certain times, so block these out in your diary as your ‘focus hours’ and let your team know. Your routine today may be very different to a few weeks’ time, so let it evolve and adapt according to your needs and workload, but keep the foundations – and your sanity – in place.
Your Happy List
This is a gratitude exercise where you can note down all of the things that have made you happy and that you’re grateful for this day/week (pick your cadence, I’m currently doing this daily to kickstart my mornings with an optimistic mindset).
Although you can definitely do all of this in your head, I would recommend pulling out a notebook and pen. That way you can look back in a few weeks’ time and use it almost like a to-do list for boosting your energy and positivity levels.
A loose adaptation of this is something that I have used as a meeting starter in many of the companies that I have worked for (I would note that this only works for a smaller group – don’t try doing it for a huge team meeting otherwise you’ll be there until bedtime!). Kick-off with a highlight (one from your happy list) and work your way around. This helps the meeting to start on a positive note and is a great way to share tips and tricks with one another.
Transport yourself to a happier place and a happier time. I recently read a fantastic article in the Harvard Business Review, where the author encouraged keeping a balance in your thoughts around coronavirus between a ‘oh my god, the worst situation ever’, and a positive, realistic scenario, not dwelling on one more than the other. I find adding a third space to your mind also helps. Put on some music from a particular time and place, and transport yourself there, free from imagining the best and worst-case scenarios.
It really doesn’t matter where you’re time-machining yourself to, either. I watched five minutes of the news this morning and burst into tears. Then I sat down at my desk, opened my laptop and pressed play on a random playlist. Holocene by Bon Iver floated through my bedroom and I was instantly transported to my old university library, sitting at a creaky table, with my brick of a laptop whirring away and a huge Tupperware of pesto pasta languishing in my bag. It might not sound like the most inspiring of images, but it brought a huge smile to my face and reminded me of other struggles I’ve had and how I’ve resolved them with a change in mindset.
Honesty is the Best Policy
Finally, be as open as possible with your friends, family and, yes, even your colleagues. I’m currently operating on an ‘honesty is the best policy’ scheme with my emotional wellbeing (I now realise that I should be doing more of this anyway. Chalking this down as a mental note for post-virus me in the blackboard of my brain). So you’ve hit a mental wall today? You’re really struggling with your new dual role as a parent and your kids’ teacher? Tell people. And what if you’re having a really positive day? You’ve discovered a new mindfulness tip? You’ve had a super productive morning and you’re really happy the sun is shining? Tell people.
As an assistant, you have much more influence than you may realise. You will have a strong insight into your teams and I’d encourage you to utilise that in a productive way. By doing this, not only can you keep in check your own mental health, but you can work with your executive and/or other key team members on tasks such as monitoring team health. I find when I open up, others do too. There are endless possibilities; a buddy system, virtual coffees, themed team chats on central messaging systems (suggestion: puppies). Be creative!
Being honest about the good and the bad can offer some solace – letting them know they may not be the only ones going through a low patch, or encouraging them to seek further assistance if it’s something they may need more support on. Or simply just sharing pictures of your daft cat and funny stories about working from home can cheer people up.
Please keep in mind that this may not be for everyone. Don’t force someone to share their thoughts, and remember this is totally optional and always confidential.
Good luck, and please feel free to get in touch with your comments or suggestions.
@naomijoanna on Instagram and @naomijowhite on Twitter.
Guest written by Naomi White.
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Naomi is an admin and operations professional and has previously blogged for WeAreTheCity and The Empowered Woman Project. She focuses her career on continuously finding the best ways to support her teams and improve her own ways of working; with a strong focus on mental and physical health. Naomi is currently based in London, where you will find her spending time with her puppy and adding to her ever-expanding plant jungle that she calls her home.