Nearly over

Nearly over

I had a sense of slight disappointment when someone texted me to say that most of our restrictions were about to end. I was doing something very mundane – collecting my car from servicing – which almost felt normal although the “service” manager certainly kept his distance.

I’m watching the film Vicky Cristina Barcelona which at its heart is like many other Woody Allen films – about being yourself – at a level of authenticity beyond which we typically engage with in leadership.

Lockdown has been a real gift for me I feel. Firstly, to engage in structure – I’ve talked of that before – but also in deep thought on what matters. At a basic level we didn’t have a chance to have any new “things” for several weeks. Did we feel any loss for that? I doubt it. Did we actually enjoy and embrace more of what we have? I think so. Which might not bode well for the local economy if we realise we don’t need so many new things. Or even takeaway coffee. The $65 home machine is just fine! 

We’ll kinda go back to work if we want to next week, but we don’t have to – we can work at home still – and I suspect many of us will. Some will say they’re being cautious about the ‘rona, but I reckon some of us will stay at home because we like it more. In seven short weeks we’ve actually embraced, enjoyed and thrived in it. I think at a deeper level of personal growth about my own purpose I’ve thrived. I’ve also got far more from my work than the everyday normality – which for me is never too routine – but this was another level.

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There’s a scene in Vicky Cristina Barcelona where Vicky is out to dinner in Barcelona with her fiancĂ© and another couple. The other three are in excited conversation about A/V systems, the latest high-def television, interior designers et al, for their new homes. Vicky gazes in the distance, dreaming of the meaningful life she could – should –  have in Barcelona, in art, with a man she’s passionate about, living life to its full richness.

It’s easy to get caught up in what appears to matter but if I take anything out of the reflections I’ve had in Lockdown it’s to never forget what really matters. They’re not just “to dos”. They’re everything. And only you can work that fundamental purpose question.

Barcelona still beckons.

Stephen

A week in standard 3

A week in standard 3

Not writing each day upset my new structure. This surprised me as I had thought that the extra hour I would have not writing the daily COVID-19 Lockdown Blog would be helpful. It turned out that losing that part of the daily structure made me more disorganised – working after dinner again on the couch. Too much to do.

The traffic amped up significantly since Tuesday. At times it’s almost looked normal, but not quite.

But we really are in the calm before the economic storm. Twenty-four billion dollars spent and we’re still in a post-pandemic haze, wondering what that was all about, or maybe in my Bubble I’ve become too disconnected. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs, our tourism industry is dead, we can’t fly anywhere, most businesses still shuttered. And knowledge workers are still stuck at home, but we should be grateful that we can still work and working at home isn’t that bad. Level three feels no different to me than level four, a bit like Standard 3 and 4 was for me.

Mr Keen was my Standard 3 (and 4) teacher. I remember overhearing the other teachers talking about how the headmaster, Mr Matheson, was friends with Mr Keen and Mr Keen got to choose who his pupils were! Somehow I was a chosen one. Mr Keen was an enthusiastic musician and had us all playing the recorder, other instruments, and singing – that was his real passion.  He also used to talk about the horrors of Belfast.

A search of the name Keen identifies it from County Londonderry in Northern Island. The Troubles in Northern Ireland which started in the late 1960s was almost certainly what he was talking about, but it completely escaped my attention.   Driving through Belfast, the suburb in north Christchurch that State Highway 1 used to run through, never seemed that much in turmoil to me as I observed it from the back of the family car, although I never sought clarification.

Mr Keen also showed us – from the Christchurch Star or The Press – one of the most famous photographs ever taken – the photograph of Phan Thi Kim Phuc, the Napalm Girl – who epitomised the horrors of another war. What I never appreciated was that this young girl was the same age as all of us in the class. Mr Keen probably knew though, and I’m very grateful for the social conscience that he instilled in me about things well outside the confines of our little school. At the time I didn’t realise the significance of what he was trying to get across – but I do remember his passion about these two wars – even if I had no idea where one of them was!

Your leadership story grows with practice and this regular blogging has reinforced for me the memories that are stored in us all but not easily accessed without a mechanism to do so. I’ve quite enjoyed that part of this Lockdown. So maybe there was more than just the structure that I’ve got from it – re-living and reflecting on memories from many moons ago has brought a deep sense of contentment.

Have a great first Alert Level 3 weekend!

Stephen

Day 20

Day 20

I almost broke the chain of blogs today, but no way. I could hear the 1pm press conference echoing in my ear – STAY HOME AND WRITE! – or something like that so lucky I’m compliant.

I had a call with someone outside work today who reckoned that I was just a featureless blob on the screen. I blamed the sun streaming in behind me but she didn’t let up and insisted we find another option. I was concerned that I’d become either featureless or a blob or both but I checked the mirror and I found features, admittedly in two degrees, but that’s the nature of a mirror. Later on we had a telephone call.

It might also be that this third week – three weekends in – has made us all a little stir crazy. Since school, have you ever felt so dependent on another adult for what you can do in your life? Will we get out? What will we be able to do once we get out? Can we go home early after PE? Okay so maybe the last one really was school, but you get the drift.

As I said on the D-Day Home-D blog, Freedom is my most important value. I don’t care much for unnecessary control as a consequence, so the dangling, the hope, the scolding, is all a bit much at times. But hey, we may, if we’ve done the right things, have 8 days to go until the worst is over.

There were four more deaths today. A nurse on Checkpoint this evening texted in and said that the annual influenza cuts through the elderly in rest homes in much the same way as COVID-19 does when it takes hold. A podcast of a Saturday morning interview by Kim Hill with Dr Chris Smith, a UK virologist was replayed tonight (yes I’m boring). Dr Smith said that they expect the death rate to be significantly lower than currently described once the data is in on the very large numbers of people with COVID-19 who are asymptomatic. The story of this virus will have remarkably different headlines in three years time than it does now once full information is known.

But governments can only be expected to act on data that they have available to them at the time. When they data shifts, the politics of owning the decision suddenly make it more challenging. That’s fascinating, especially given that we’ve all been under the impression that most key decisions were political, when in fact they’re not.

There’s a leadership learning here and relevant to leaders everywhere.  Have you put so much leadership or political capital into a decision that to change course unbalances the ship?

It truly was a winter’s walk tonight – 14 degrees –  dark, wet and cold and that chain, the walking chain, stayed intact too, although it was only 4 kilometres. The police approved I’m told.

And it’s Wednesday already! Plan for that last weekend – or maybe don’t just in case it’s not.  After all, Saturday week is ANZAC day and we might just sneak out and make our own freedom parade if we’re not ordered to stay home!

Stephen

Day 18

Day 18

Jerry Seinfeld attributes his success as a comedian to one particular habit. As he was developing his career, every day he wrote jokes and when he’d written the joke or jokes, he crossed the day off on his calendar.  Seinfeld called it “not breaking the chain”. No day missed.

Last year, having retired from running a couple of years before, I got more serious about walking for fitness. When I got to the end of the year I noticed on my app that I’d done about 325 walks in 2019. So close but yet so far to one a day. So I decided to make a go of it in 2020.

I’ve been asked why I’m so particular about logging every walk on my app. It’s the crossing off thing. I make a habit of it and the little sense of achievement drives a behaviour that keeps me walking. A quick overnight to Wellington? Pack the shoes and clothes and I’ll almost always find the time for few kilometres around the Capital. The benefits are obvious, but benefits alone don’t create beneficial habits.  I “bank” some days by walking more than once a day- although I don’t allow a longer walk to be split – no gaming the system! And there’s a minimum walk distance too. I can use those banked days when it’s just not possible – unexpected travel, long working days and so on can occasionally get in the way. So far that’s been only twice this year and I’m well ahead.

So the Lockdown has fitted very well into this routine. In fact, out and about walking these last couple of weeks has brought another dimension to the habit. Everyone seems to be in the habit all of a sudden.  Regular walkers, like runners and cyclists are a  friendly bunch and you can always count on a greeting being exchanged. When the Lockdown started, the newbies didn’t seem so certain. There was the two metre thing of course, but also could the ‘rona fly if you said Good Morning.  I noticed this weekend it’s become friendlier and more relaxed. As we head down towards freedom again, wouldn’t it be great if some of those families, couples, singles and groups who’ve made a habit, kept it going? They won’t unless they have a system.

Keep the daily walk going by not breaking the chain

This “not breaking the chain” is laid out in Cal Newport’s Deep Work that I read earlier and I’ve referenced a couple of times already during the Lockdown in the context of the Facebook amnesty and Deep Work.

When I combine a set amount of time for deep work with a daily “don’t break the chain” habit for that deep work, I’ve found a winning formula for doing what is meaningful. I realise this sounds quite obvious and it’s tempting to think “I could do that if I needed to” which is a little white lie I can tell myself. If you don’t need to do meaningful work – deep work – regularly, what do you need to do? It certainly isn’t clearing emails, filling in forms and signing off stuff – yes we need to do it, but it shouldn’t be a priority – which is where a habit for what matters comes in.

So when the Lockdown was about to start, I challenged myself to write each day on this blog. I’ve never been able to get regular with it, but I thought, make some good out of a situation and see if I can create a habit. The new insight about this chain I’ve noticed after 20 odd days, is the “skin in the game” principle that’s made it a decent challenge and kept me going. This is a blog that I try to keep authenticity in leadership at its heart – so it’s important for me that I stick to that principle. No abstract blogs, it’s my experiences combined with my own reading.  Put another way, no going through the motions. If it’s worthwhile creating a habit for, do it with integrity – some skin in the game – you won’t always get it right, but better to give something a crack properly than skim the surface. Save that for clearing the emails.

One chain we do seem to have broken in New Zealand, if we ever had it, is COVID-19. Eighteen cases on day 18. But there’s a new statistic – breaches! Hopefully that fades away real quick. And what about Iceland – they’ve tested a massive percentage of the population and found 50% of those with COVID-19 didn’t know! Asymptomatic, which begs the question about how widespread the virus is, and how really impactful it is on some people only. There’s a full story yet to be told.

But one story still going is my blog chain – unbroken for the Lockdown – although I could cheat and “bank” the three I wrote before the actual day (couldn’t I?) and  I’ve walked 122 times this year. I can’t tell you how many kilometres or the police might show an unhealthy interest!

Stephen