If there was one word that could summarize 2020, it is uncertainty. People didn’t know what to expect, how to plan and what to do. Of course, I was no exception.
These difficult time allowed me to add the final pieces to my own productivity system that I call the Monthly Method. Following this system has allowed me to navigate this past year with grace and ease for the most part. This system has passed the test of COVID really well.
Today I will share some of the insights I’ve had about staying sane and productive in the times of uncertainty.
I now live in the UK and we just had a nation-wide lockdown back in November. Then things changed for the better but not too much. Then London was sent to Tier 4 while Manchester, where I live, stayed in Tier 3. The day before the New Year we were told that we are going to Tier 4 as well. I wrote this yesterday and I am recording the podcast today. And yesterday we’ve learned that we are going to Tier 5. No one knows what will happen in even in 2-3 days from now.
It shows that the times of uncertainty are still very present where I live. It affects my life and my work. And the tools I will share today are pretty much things that I will continue relying on for the weeks to come.
Long-Term Planning Doesn't Work
Ok, let’s start with the most important thing. You probably heard me saying that I don’t believe in long-term planning. And oh boy, did I prove myself right in 2020.
What has happened to all of us is that our new year resolutions, our long goals and plans have been flushed down the drain in March when COVID hit. It was heartbreaking news for many. Very few have recovered.
People have decided that since they can’t act on the plan they have set for themselves back in January, it is the reason to just let this year happen. They thought “Well, if I don’t know what’s going to happen in 6 months from now, what’s the point of committing to anything???”. There is some truth to that thinking but only if you operate with the idea of long-term planning.
The funny thing is that even in normal times, long-term planning rarely works. And the most innovative companies of our times have realized it and adopted Agile methodology in handling product development. In uncertain times like these, you should divorce the idea of long-term planning.
The North Star
Don’t get me wrong, there is a benefit of having direction of where you are moving. I call it the North Star. You should have the North Star. It is usually a lifestyle image.
For example, my North Star is having multiple businesses and being location-independent, so that my family can spend winters in a warm place without any financial sacrifices. I am moving in that direction. I don’t have a deadline. I don’t have an exact dollar amount. Or a list of businesses that will allow me to achieve that lifestyle. I just know that this is where I am going. Without a doubt, my North Star will change and evolve and uplevel the closer I get to it. I don’t put a deadline on it. Every month I ask myself “What can I do this month to get closer to my North Star?”
I don’t have all the answers. No one ever does. All you need to know is the next actions you can take. The actions you can take in the next 3 weeks. Because after you take those steps, you will have a better understanding. You will learn new things about actions. You will run experiments. You will know what works and what doesn’t.
You plan, you act, you reflect, you adapt and then with NEW knowledge and understanding you again plan, act, reflect, adapt.
In practice it looks like this – know where you are going, you have the North Star. It’s more of an aspirational lifestyle you want to have.
Then decide on what you can do in the next 3 weeks with the knowledge you have today in order to get closer to the North Star lifestyle.
Focus on Practice, not the Outcome
Since the outside world is so out of order these days, you can’t base your sense of worth, value and productivity on the outside factors. You should only commit to the goals you can control.
Instead of saying that you want to have 100 subscribers on your YouTube channel, say that you want to record, edit and publish 3 new videos in the next 3 weeks.
Only you can control recording and publishing 3 videos. Once you complete this goal, you will feel accomplished and productive. It will bring you a boost of energy to handle the next, maybe bigger, goal. Subscribers will come when you’ve done your part. When you’ve published the videos. When you have improved your editing skills. The number of subscribers is the result of your practice. Subscribers will come, all you need to do is to focus on the practice.
- The Practice by Seth Godin
- The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Jim Huling, and Sean Covey
Your Routines will Save You during Uncertain Times
The more uncertainty you experience in one area of your life, the more stability you need to offset it. It is a balance. Yin and yang.
If everything in the world is uncertain, make your day as certain as possible. Structure your day. Have routines. Do the same things every morning. Have lunch and dinner at the same time. Go for a walk at the same time every day. Fix your sleep schedule. Become the most consistent person you know. And I am not talking about these super-human super-optimized routines. Netflix is ok. I watch it every evening and I don’t feel bad about it.
It is not the time to shake things up, explore or constantly tweak and optimize your routines. It is the time to normalize and automate. Your routines and habits will give you a sense of safety. You will know no matter what the day throws at you, you will have your daily walk, your lunch and dinner at a specific time. These things are stable. They are always there to calm you down.
Don’t start too many new habits. Automate the ones you have. Build the life you don’t need to escape from. When your routine is disrupted, mental energy is depleted and you have less of it left for important decisions during the day.
Some people can call you boring but believe me, the mental energy you will save and accumulate by not thinking about trivial daily tasks will allow you to better deal with stress and uncertainty in the outside world.
Think on purpose. Put your mental well-being first.
Your good mood is your number one priority for the day. If you put everyone else’s priorities first but you forget to take care of your own brain, everyone will suffer. You are a much more effective spouse, parent, employee, a business owner when you are in a good state of mind.
I personally use journaling for that. I journal from my future. I journal from my goals. I choose the thoughts that serve me. When I have a list of tasks that you want to achieve today, I ask myself “What thoughts should I be thinking in order to make acting on these tasks easier?”. My thoughts might be:
- “Building a successful business is fun.”
- “I love every single day of this journey.”
- “I have a great family.”
- “I am creating the best life for myself and my family every single day.”
One of my favourite thoughts is “I can do hard things”, or “I am capable of so many amazing things.”
Another advice I want to offer for your consideration is to enjoy grounding and analog activities. No screens.
These activities teach you to be present.
I am not a big fan of meditation, I prefer to train my mindfulness during my daily activities. Mostly during homemaking.
Paying attention to the act of washing the dishes is as effective as meditating, in my opinion.
Check out the Daily Connoisseur on YouTube. Jennifer has videos with her reflections on homemaking. Check it out. She is very insightful.
When we spend a lot of our time at home, the simple acts of homemaking can teach us a lot about us, about life and interestingly enough about productivity and the cyclical nature of success.
Expect the Ugly
Expect people to go crazy during the uncertain times and learn to not take it seriously. Don’t tune it to the social paranoia. I haven’t had TV for the past 10 years and this is so key to my mental health.
The Idea of Going Back to Normal
Don’t be hung up on things doing back to normal. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t.
You gotta make the best out of any scenario. What if you entertained the thought of you being ok with either one?
You can build the best life possible if things will go back to “normal” or if the world will change forever.
Knowing that you have all the tools to have a good life no matter what’s going on the outside is what brings inner peace and excitement for the future.
This is it for today. Remember to stay present, embrace the practice and put your mental wellbeing first.
What happens between your ears is what dictates your life.
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