Global pause button

Alongside a few others, I recently gave a talk to a university conference where I explained my progress in the past year, successes and changes, and my plans. What was interesting, hearing my own answer alongside the other start-ups called in to do the same, was that things have generally 'paused.' We have stopped every financial outgoing we possibly can and are reaching out to investors and clients alike only to be told that they are in the same position – 'expect nothing soon.'

There was a slight feeling that it was a disappointment we haven’t all magically overcome the pandemic’s challenges to thrive beyond compare. Never mind not seeing our loved ones, having to self-isolate or weighing up whether going to the supermarket might return a deadly disease to our homes, why hasn’t this positively defined our businesses?

To be absolutely clear, it was an elephant in the room, stood next to another, larger elephant – that we’re all trying to just get through this.

Global pause button

For most, Covid-19 has ground everything to a halt. The entire economy is suffering, and even though some companies are thriving (namely tech giants providing videocall software, and briefly, toilet paper producers), it does not mean that you should be too. It is disheartening to see everything pause out of your control, and although we must be advocates of the 'can do attitude,' we have to be careful that it doesn’t become a stick to beat ourselves with.

Let me unpack that a little. As entrepreneurs we have minds that actively find solutions to problems that many may not even recognise are there. We adapt to many challenges, becoming who we need to be to do anything from customer relations to administrative duties, wearing many hats throughout each day. When the market changes we adapt to it; tweaking our business models, products, and services to suit. But how do all those skills fare when there is a global pandemic that effectively stops all but the essential services?

It is very possible (and tremendously easy) to begin berating yourself for not changing enough, for not being adaptable enough to evolve to the situation, and that is just unfair. During the first couple weeks of lockdown, people panicked – something I mentioned in a previous article – and then the next couple weeks saw social media feeds filled with people on Facebook saying they’re learning a new song every week; on Instagram saying they’ll work out all day every day to finally get fit; or on LinkedIn saying they’re setting up a new coronavirus-orientated business, charity and/or service. This can apply unnecessary pressure, something Dr Julie Smith calls “toxic productivity."

The pause button isn’t square

Now, if things are working for you, and you’ve found a new direction or niche, then great! I’m not here to tell you to stop – far from it. But if you have found that the current pandemic, and subsequent (albeit now a little tentative) lockdown has forced things to pause beyond your control, then that is okay. Be kind to yourself and accept those days that genuinely just feel a little 'meh'. Stressing out, whether through internal or perceived external pressures will do no good and will begin to reflect through your business. Don’t be fooled into doing anything that you simply do not need to do.

For instance, maybe it is unwise to adapt your business too far because all will return to a 'normal' by the end of the year and adapting back could be expensive or disruptive. You will naturally want to reduce all expenses, where possible, and while adapting can help, you must consider the longevity of proposed changes. So far, at around 10 weeks, pre-corona feels like a distant dream, but so too will our current situation. Don’t jump the gun just because you want to look successful (or even just active!) during the pandemic.

If you’re “lucky” you’re just starting out and it’s not your main source of income. However, for others there may be rent, or personal income is directly tied to the business, in which case you already know what you need to do, but there’s no pressure to grow. This is a time for simply surviving. It should be noted that here in the UK, at least, there are government grants available, and Universal Credit applications are currently fast tracked. There is no shame in applying. You may already have.

You obviously know your business best, and it is difficult to address everything when there are so many different types of start-ups, each having existed for very different amounts of time. So, lets focus instead on you, what can be done, and most importantly, your mental and physical health.

Compiling a playlist

Now is a unique time to take a step back, re-evaluate. We have this space to readdress our businesses, our workloads, and our lives. We have this time to focus on new skills, projects, and abilities, to be better prepared when we come out the other side of this global pandemic. Above all, we have this moment to breathe.

At the university conference, one of the start-up founders mentioned that they are attempting to learn and improve their marketing skills, ready for the return to normal. Another mentioned that they’ve learned through a baptism by fire what exactly constitutes the business’ essential practice, and what is just superfluous bluster. I myself mentioned I have used the free time to work with a non-profit civic engagement company to create a tactical urbanism toolkit, (now primed for delivery post-lockdown), and I’m coordinating a local charity delivering art packs to children with financial barriers, for use during lockdown.

However, some days I have simply gone for a walk, read a book, and video called friends and family. The others admitted so too…

Preparing to press 'play'

Before you go to bed each day, write a list of everything you need to do the next day, then “traffic light” the points:

  •  Red for 'Do this immediately!'
  • Amber for 'This can wait a couple days', and
  • Green for 'There is plenty time until this needs to be done'

This will give you an idea of what to focus on, and you will be surprised during this unique time what will steadfastly sit in Green.

Now, if you wake up, feel motivated and want to get things done (even if they are in Green) then of course do so! What I’m saying to you now is that if you want to, if you can afford to get up and acknowledge the 'global pause button' and study that book, begin that exercise plan, or learn that new skill, then now is the time.

However, if you are not feeling too great – you’re stressed, bored, irritable or feeling painfully low – then you can also use that 'global pause button' to go for a walk, sleep in a little later, video call friends and family… Or you could simply relax and put on a great album.