Earlier in 2020, there was an inflection point when we all shifted from a mindset of “I just gotta get through this” to “This is my new reality. What can I do to be OK?” 

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs2.svg

We all reached this frame of mind at different times, particularly when we each individually moved up Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from the bottom two rungs to the top three. Or whenever we decided to stop hoarding toilet paper and canned food— whichever came first.

Being “OK” in the madness of 2020 involves taking care of yourself mentally and physically. We all know this is important, but why? AND HOW?

With work, I’m all about maximizing my productivity and making every minute count. But when it comes to taking care of myself physically, I’m the worst. While I watch others running 10 miles a day, you will catch me and my sweet tooth scooping ice-cream into coffee when I run out of oat milk. I’m not one to workout. In fact, I have always hated it. While I may not be the best example when it comes to physical wellbeing, I’m an honest one! And if I can work in a few small ways to take care of myself, then you can too.

TIP #1

Take a moment to breathe

Do you have 30-seconds to spare? Damn right you do… you are reading this blog post. I encourage you to take a break from reading after this paragraph. Set a 30-second timer on your phone, put yourself in a comfortable position, let your hands drop naturally, and breathe in and out— deeply and slowly.

 

Don’t you feel better? That’s because you just shifted your body closer to its “rest and digest (R&D)” mode and away from “fight or flight” mode. In R&D mode, your body is able to focus better, since you are supplying your brain with the necessary oxygen to work optimally. Apple Watch has a built in app to remind you to breathe, or you can check out Headspace, which has a section specifically for work. 

TIP #2

Encourage yourself with repetition

Repetition is powerful. Just think about all of the actions/words that you repeat on a daily basis: inputting passwords, looking at your homescreen, texting loved ones, etc. These tiny things really add up.

 

A month ago, I switched my passwords to be encouraging.

 

Obviously, I’m not going to share what they are with you (duh!), but sometimes it is nice to type something like “YouMakeYourOwnLuck47” instead of your standard run-of-the-mill password. Think about what you need to hear often— affirmations, a mantra, whatever. Typing it regularly will help train your brain to believe it.

TIP #3

Do what you can stick to

Do I wish I loved jogging and yoga? Definitely.

Am I going to wake up one day and do one of these? Yes. Maybe!

Everyday? Hell no.

But you know what I can do everyday? Walk.

Sometimes it’s more important to do something consistently rather than your ultimate goal sparingly. I try not to beat myself up about not doing more, and instead concentrate on the things I can do. If you do something for 21 days consistently, it becomes a habit.

What is something tiny that you can commit to every day?

Here are some ideas:

  • — Take 5 minutes to have your coffee in silence before starting your day of meetings
  • — Before you go to sleep, read a few pages of a book
  • — Reconnect with a different friend each day through text. They’ve been in your phone for 10 years, so you may as well!
TIP #4

Double up on good vibes

Grab a friend

My husband and I have been really strapped for time lately. Though we are working and living in the same house it is hard to catch any time to just be us without distractions. We decided to start taking morning walks together so we can encourage each other to be more active, and have some time to just talk.

 

Reframe chores

I had a workout coach that told me she lost 30 lbs just dancing while she did chores. Since then, I’ve been trying to find productive ways to stay active. My favorite productive workout is gardening. You can easily get plenty of squats, lunges while gardening, and if you are lifting, your shoulders and arms can get in on the action too.

TIP #5

Focus on the things that you can change

We are all in different situations— some of us feel comfortable and in-control and some of us (probably most) feel completely out of control. It is painful to watch the news, provide and care for your close family, and stay in touch with the rest of your family and friends, meanwhile staying productive in your day-to-day.

 

Wherever and whoever you are, there are things within and outside of your control.

 

One of the most helpful books I’ve read for my own mental wellbeing has been The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck. I’m the type of person who cares too much about most things, and whenever someone asks me to do something I tend to go way too overboard. In the past few years, I reached a breaking point of what I could care about. Mark Manson helped me reframe my brain to focus on what really matters to me and only truly stress about the things within my own control. So now, instead of watching 40 documentaries on animal welfare and beating myself up about using chicken broth in a soup, I choose to reduce my meat intake to 1-2 days a week. That is the level of f*cks that I can give and still maintain my own sanity.

See, all it takes is a few steps here and there to do what you can to destress and not burn out.

Luckily, we have others on the Hardly team that are way better at taking care of themselves than me.

Let us know in the comments what you do to not burn out.

On a bright day in 2015 (before working remotely), I put on my black long-sleeved dress and a denim jacket. I faced myself in the mirror and said, “Do I really look cool enough to be a brand strategist? No. But this is what I got.”

I had just graduated from my Masters in Branding program earlier that summer— a year of my life absorbing qualitative and quantitative research methods, brand strategy work sessions, creative voice, and business basics. I felt confident walking into that NYC coffee shop for the interview with… let’s call him “Daniel.” At first, he questioned why I was there because my resume was design-focused. I explained that my background was in identity design, but my real strength was in brand strategy and I had received awards for leadership in my program. (You know… the stuff you say in interviews).

And wonders beyond wonders, Daniel wanted to hire me. It started great! The onboarding process was fairly straightforward.

A month into the job, sh&% hit the fan. Daniel quit. He told me that the owners had promised that he would have the ability to better the company culture and hire a larger team to alleviate stress— and well, that never happened.

Suddenly, I reported to the company owners who, I later found out, didn’t really want me there. I was Daniel’s hire and not theirs, but they felt stuck with me. I went above and beyond to win over their favor— I started doing account work, design work, video production work, and strategy work simultaneously.

My plate filled up so fast that I started to drown in my own “yesses” in order to please them. 

My 1hr subway commute to the office in the morning started to feel like a waste of time. On one especially stressful day, I called in and said “I have to stay home today.” And they said “Why!?! Are you sick?” “No, I simply don’t have 2hrs to spare for coming into the office today.” 

Though they complained often, most strategists at that consultancy worked from home at least once a week. But my string of remote working the next few months rivalled the month I skipped of my junior year Spanish class— at the end of which, my teacher said “Allison better show up with a broken leg or cancer.” (Sorry, I don’t mean for this to sound callous to cancer survivors…. or high school Spanish teachers… )

Why would I spend 2hrs in a train when I’m already not sleeping more than 4-5 hours a night? I had so much to do that sleeping felt like a privilege that I didn’t deserve. In that time, I learned I could be self-motivated at home, and if I really focused, I could get more accomplished. In the end, found out that I loved the quiet of it all.

2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44hrs on the subway

The pros of remote work vastly outweighed the cons to me.

  1. No commute. 2hrs each day x 22 workdays a month = 44 hours. That’s a whole work week every month back in my grasp. Boom-shakalaka.
  2. Ability to focus. Nobody asking me for quick favors or distracting me with small talk.
  3. Fewer meetings. Magically, meetings that would normally be called during the middle of the day just disappeared.
  4. I felt like an adult. Having someone literally (yes, literally) breathing down my neck while I was finishing a presentation made me feel like a child. By this point, I was 26. Yet somehow, I felt more like a child than I did when I was actually a child.
  5. And, obviously, I could spend more time with my cats.

That was 2015! Now in 2020, it is easier to work from home. In the past few years, I went to another agency that swore up-and-down that remote work didn’t work for creative teams. But thankfully, they gave it a try before the 2020 apocalypse happened. 

There are tons of resources out there for creative teams and other types of companies needing to collaborate.

Miro, a whiteboarding collaboration company, allows for multiple people to move images, text and other items around the screen. As the person who previously had to copy all the Expo marker scribble from the physical whiteboards onto the computer, I would like to send my personal gratitude to Miro for existing.

And dude, I started using Wrike a month or two ago. You can set up projects, create subtasks and assign to team members, designate priorities, automatically generate charts, and provide context around everything. Even *MY* chaotic brain gets organized when I put my tasks in there.

We have this incredible world of digital work at our fingertips. Did it arise out of a global pandemic and a year that has felt like being shoved into Satan’s armpit? Yes. However, I believe our growing knowledge of digital communication tools will positively change our work environments moving forward.

We have to fight to stay focused, and we have to fight to pull away

Hardly makes remote work easier for everyone, and ensures that work-life balance exists in a world where there is no physical separation between work and life.

I’m looking forward to starting this journey with you. Let’s do this.