I have to admit that I am still very much adjusting to a life that feels at every turn to have been impacted by the ‘whirlwind’ of COVID-19. I suspect I am not alone, and as I write this well into the swing of self-isolation, this enforced lock down has allowed me to pause for breath and reflect. As the founder of a sunglasses brand that is likely to lose a considerable amount of our wholesale market during this season, I could be frantically running around panicking about how to ride out the storm. Yes, of course I am very focused on minimising our costs and attempting to pivot our strategy to the new situation, but in terms of the panic I actually feel remarkably calm.
I attribute this to a combination of things. The fact is that for the vast majority of small businesses we are all that very same boat right now, feeling the very same pain. As a result, I have noticed a discernible difference in how we are communicating right now. I have found conversations with customers, suppliers and investors underpinned by a mutual recognition and understanding of respective situations. These conversations have been longer, more ‘human’ conversations. I’m having conversations around families in Italy, dog walks in the USA and lamenting the suspension of paddle boarding on these longer summer days. We’re going that little bit deeper; we’re arguably being more empathetic. This is a rare moment when business is taking a back seat.
My belief is that being afforded this chance to re-enforce our connections right now, the tighter bonds we are creating during this downtime will bear fruit in the longer term when some sense of normality returns, and we remember the support and loyalty of this moment in time. We will come out of this stronger, eventually. Hardship to come in the near future certainly, but with enduring wholesale relationships and a re-invigorated customer base to expand on. I am also feeling better prepared to tackle these uncertain times ahead. I have employed a structure and discipline to my work which I haven’t done in a very, very long time and this is reaping its rewards already. Gone is my long list of ‘To Do’s’ that I rarely ever dented and in with my ‘Big Three’. Just the three tasks each day and doing those to the very best of my abilities.
Yes, I know, all the good productivity books shout this from the rooftops, but it’s actually now, having this time to experiment and apply the science that’s making all the difference and I’m getting infinitely more satisfaction in my work right now. I’m calmer and no longer feel intimidated by that long list. I’m not sure this would have come about if I hadn’t been enforced into taking stock. So, what have been the benefits of this ‘slowing down’
Getting back the one thing I had lost
Time. Until now, running Pala has been all-consuming. No matter how hard I’ve tried to achieve balance, it’s been one of those areas I’ve not been particularly successful in. Weekends have merged into weekdays and when I’m not physically working, I’ve often found my mind drifting in that direction. Not being able to switch off is unhealthy and I’m conscious of the number of times I have sacrificed going to watch a film, cycling or simply having a coffee with friends just because there is always more work that could be done. The adversity of the current situation has meant that with business world slowing I too have had to slow with it. Admittedly I might not be able to indulge those simple pleasures even now, but what I am finding has surprised me. I’m working less but feeling more relaxed.
Since ‘lock down’ I’ve done my first online yoga class (we had a naked husband walk across the background during one person’s ‘downward facing dog’ this week), likewise I’ve tried meditation for the first time and like most of the country get clobbered attempting a Jo Wicks workout a few times a week. I’ve painted walls, I’ve repaired things, I’ve plumbed a kitchen tap (okay, that took me 3 hours admittedly) and for the first time in probably a year, I’m actually reading a proper book where I can lose myself for a few hours. All of this would never have got off the bottom rung of my ‘to do’ list had these circumstances not prevailed.
I’m finding this newfound structure to my life enabling me to find balance and a far better level of mental health. I love the ‘moments’ these new experiences are giving me; I still have plenty of time to work through and enact company business strategy for the next six months but I’m no longer blurring the hours and the days of work. I’m meeting my challenges with effective chunks of fresh thinking separated by equally decent chunks of guilt-free downtime. If there was ever a time to convert to this new way of working into a habit, then it’s now. Arguably there may not be another time in our lives when we can give ourselves such focus to change ourselves and create some unbreakable habits and find our better selves.
Learning something new
I’ve touched on this already in some respects. I am ‘learning’ yoga, I am ‘learning’ mediation. However, I’m also affording the time to enhance my business learning. I have business books, a lot actually, but they have remained pretty much untouched in a ‘book spiral’ in my living room. They’ve become more an aesthetic embellishment as to providers of anything practical and knowledge based, and I’m not sure why that is.
However, I’m sure I’m not alone in noticing the smorgasbord of free online training courses, webinars and podcasts that have appeared more frequently into my inbox. It’s all good high-quality material covering every angle of business and mental resilience during these times and it’s been extremely useful. The key for me here is that this format of content digestion really works or me, typing in my observations as I go along so that by the time the ‘session’ finishes, I’ve already got my key action points at the ready. Perhaps I just don’t do business books that well – it’s not my thing, but equally taking stock has allowed me to explore different ways in which I respond to learning better, something I may not have afforded myself the chance to analyse previously.
A time to heal
And what about the bigger picture? Resilience is sometimes described as how systems ‘bounce back’ following a shock. For me it should be about how we ‘bounce forward’ to something better. Our bodies may be in quarantine, but our minds don’t have to be. Nobody wanted this to happen, but if it has to be this way, now we can take advantage of the time and work to get better at what we do. We have an opportunity to use this moment to reset so let’s do it now, let’s do it right.
If I talk shop for one moment here, we have a fashion industry that is in a moment of absolute weakness. The way that the industry has been operating for decades has not been sustainable – the way we treat things, the way we value a product and the people who produce that product. I can see a ‘green lining’ to this crisis if we take the opportunity to learn how we as an industry can reconcile our aspirations for short-term survival and prosperity with the desire to establish a long-term thriving industry that is environmentally, socially and economically sound. Redesigning value will prompt us to create more resilient businesses by bringing sustainable practises to the core of the business models. By re-examining how we can strengthen our relationships to our supply chain partners, our own employees and also our customers, we can help brands discover a newfound purpose and a willingness to emerge on the other side more resilient than ever.
This is an opportunity to future-proof and make our business more resilient, and a chance to for a better future for people and planet. And I’m looking ahead with that clarity to drive me towards the brighter days ahead.