Day 33

Day 33

A very kind reader sent me a message today “I have learnt a lot more about you than I otherwise would in the business world.  You’re a great writer, you like the outdoors and walking, and you’re a big softy when it comes to your parents“.

Writing each day for the length of the Lockdown was about several things for me. Creating a worthwhile pattern or chain, straight out of Cal Newport’s Deep Work and something I mused on earlier on in the Lockdown. Practice is an under-rated thing, linked closely with the ability and time made to do genuine deep work. Work that truly makes a difference to what you’re trying to achieve.  The Lockdown was and still is, a perfect time for trying some deep work. The experiment of the daily blog has been rewarding, and hasn’t at all felt like hard work. It’s helped me process thoughts and feelings, and created a discipline of continuous work that felt meaningful for me.

I’ve always written in my blog as a reflective process too. In the leadership development work I facilitate, the power of reflection is always top of mind and I’ve, perhaps selfishly, used these last five weeks as a personal reflection. To see what might come out of a condensed, focussed, purpose-driven reflection to achieve lasting change. And it was doing something, when doing nothing seemed like a real possibility!

During the month, Facebook and the like has been great for connecting with family and friends, well that’s what I pretend it’s like, but it’s really full of feeds to meet your personal algorithm, echos of your own views and prejudices, and largely uninformed commentary building on the echos. It, along with Twitter, and an empty email inbox, will have zero consequences when the day comes and people talk about what was meaningful and memorable in your life. The shallow work things in your life don’t matter and the same applies in leadership. Ignore them. Cal Newport’s Facebook Amnesty can help.

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I noticed these last five weeks that a majority of the viewers came to the blog via LinkedIn, which has prompted me to look at it a bit. It’s nice to look at, clean, and the commentary is somewhat more intelligent. Is it just a giant for sale thing or is it just me? Is there anyone there buying? You might know that my main day job in client work is leading the PwC Forensic Services practice – you know, economic crime, conflicts of interest, fraud, anti-money laundering et al. Although during the last five weeks, most of the time has been spent in my people and culture lead role in PwC Consulting, as you might expect. Perhaps I should have spent time writing about all this stuff to sell! Maybe, really, that might have been a better use of my time and energy. Afterall, someone has to pay for all the nice things! Is it worthwhile reflecting and sharing?

Writing wasn’t the only chain I had. I walked everyday – total distance 322 km in 41 separate walks. I love walking and I’m sitting at 140 walks for the year, creating a habit for mental and physical health. The Lockdown has solidified the walking chain and I have a deep sense of contentment and achievement from that.

When we went into Lockdown 33 days ago, it felt quite scary and I was quite anxious.  Living close to the Newmarket Viaduct, the drop in city activity was obvious and confronting. I got irritated about the 80,000 people that were said to die if we didn’t do anything as it seemed obviously wrong. Today that was brought up again, sort of, in a rough looking chart that mapped countries that did nothing vs those that did. That binary message is too simplistic as I doubt anybody thinks we should have done nothing.  It draws from declarations of war language to fire up a community.  It’s hardly been challenged. I’m disappointed in that as it’s an opportunity for authenticity lost.

My anxiety passed quite quickly and I let my own thoughts about where I was each day into the blog.  At its core I think leadership and authenticity are inextricably one and the same. Together. Peas in a pod. When you write your own journal, you’re reasonably likely to write truthfully, honestly and authentically. So the same has always applied here for me. It can feel risky at first. It’s not smooth and manicured like a marketing message. What if you said the wrong thing? What if you offended someone? What if your thoughts today, are not yours tomorrow? Hey, so that’s authenticity right?

I’ve no idea about the writing as my kind reader has said. I’m pretty sure I’ve started way too many sentences, like this one, with “And”, although you are allowed to, apparently. What I do know, is that if you want to build trust in your life, with a team, your family, maybe your readers, you share a bit and build the trust bank. Trust is at the heart of meaningful business relationships.  Possibly even better than a LinkedIn Ad!

What you share must be authentic, things that matter to you. And the more you know about yourself, the more you have to share. Before you know it you have a story, your leadership story which will start with events long before you were in business, probably from your family. So of course, I’m an old softy about the folks!

It won’t be every day from now on, but the blog feels that it has a much better meaning for me now.

I’m feeling grateful for the opportunity to reflect and share. There’s a lot of pain in the world right now and I, relatively speaking, have none. Just the leg a bit still. Thank you.

Stephen

 

 

 

Day 27

Day 27

It could have been the penultimate Lockdown blog, but we’ve still got five more days. David Bowie’s Five Years comes to mind for no other reason that it’s five, although that song is about the end of the earth coming in five years.

Thinking, hoping that it might be only one day to go I went back and looked at the earlier blogs of the Lockdown. Quite a bit of talk of anxiety and being indoors. It did kind of scare me a bit at the beginning.  The 80sqm apartment, my love of freedom,  I think I was a bit sceptical reasonably early on – or more questioning – as it worried me and still does, that the media have acted like an arm of the official information bureau, rather than any deep questions. I mused about what I would do – watch all 25 Bond movies – I’ve watched one only.  Moonraker with Roger Moore – great sets, actually a really good story, but the lines. Ouch, James Bond 007 The Sleaze!. I finished the third series of Ozark and nothing else on TV has really held up well in comparison. As the days stretched into weeks I’ve felt my rational mind more active and have read lots about COVID-19 and consumed a lot of data, some of which I’ve shared here.

People I know have a range of views but many people, sadly I think, appear consigned to defeatist – or they would say realistic – unquestioning compliance. At the risk of sounding like a consultant, that’s not to say that we’re not doing the right thing.  But I think we should, must! question such a massive imposition on our lives the impact of which is long term for many.

On our leadership programmes we really encourage the leaders on the programme to do serious self reflection. At first it’s not natural – it can be seen as time consuming when real work could be done. But as we do more of it, there are real moments of clarity and insights that can cause material and long-lasting change for people in their lives. This is the unquestionable beauty and satisfaction of this work. But it needn’t be a programme or a special event that drives reflection.

This electronic, public diary has helped me to process my thoughts. The changes forced upon us these last few weeks have given me deep and unexpected insights about my own behaviours. I’ve realised that I derive quite a lot of contentment from being much more structured that I have in the past. I feel confident that this new structure is something I take forward. It’s happened on the back of other reading I’ve done – Cal Newport’s Deep Work – is the main reading, so it’s been a happy coincidence. I don’t know whether reflecting each day has been the deciding factor in these insights, but it’s almost certainly accelerated it.

As a police cadet there were a few unusual things we learned. We learned a lot about death and dealing with it practically and emotionally. This has come up quite a bit for me these last few weeks as there’s been lots of dialogue about death, and as my rational mind has come forward, it’s played out here. I’ve felt it’s been quite healthy and therapeutic for me to discuss it here and I do hope it’s not been too confronting.

Another thing we learned about at the Police College was what act is the act that makes an attempt. That is, how close to the crime does the act of the suspect need to be to be an “attempt”? If you’re going to rob a bank, does buying the guns cut it? Does getting into the Ford Transit van to drive to the bank do it? Does marching into the door and demanding to be let in through the sliding doors do it? The answer is, you look for the “penultimate act”, which would be the last example here. The one before is the anti-penultimate act and doesn’t cut it. Of course there might be conspiracy, possession of weapons etc, but not attempted robbery. Some things stay with us forever. Hopefully yours are more useful than the need to explain anti-penultimate just because you started a short dialogue using penultimate. And I haven’t gone all totally structured!

Reflection using everyday tools of deep thought, writing, processing, sharing and being honest with yourself can bring amazing changes for the better for anyone who wants to give it a crack. Those things can stay with us forever and for good.

Stephen

 

Day 11

Day 11

It’s already late! And we’re supposed to have had an extra hour to make us get to bed early. It was dark by the time I got back from a walk and shop and it was only 6.45pm. This was after an afternoon of home-admin: financial planning, an insurance claim for overseas travel postponed due to COVID-19, and other bits of “shallow work” that take time, but need to be done.

Not that financial planning is shallow work. It’s most definitely not. I’m giving serious thought to the changing environment – following my Barefoot Investor* rulebook – and devoting deep work time to it as described in Cal Newport’s book* of the same name.

There’s an awful lot out there right now, that we can’t control, but as I’ve said earlier in on the Lockdown I consider that this is a great time to focus in on ourselves using Windfulness and what is truly important to us. In my experience, narrowing my focus in a way that brings meaning to the things I can control reduces anxiety, and increases my life contentment (or satisfaction – you can choose the work that suits you here).

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Much of what we can’t control is the strong alarm soundings everywhere – the flashing red news site banners (did you know that the colour red raises anxiety) – and strong opinions on the Lockdown in Social Media and the Media generally. It does nothing for me to read much of it. That’s not to say I don’t keep myself informed or that I do have opinions on some matters but can I control it? No. Essentially, no one person can, so I refuse to unnecessarily bother worrying about it, if it’s upsetting for some reason.

This is why I endeavour to remain upbeat and in good humour about the current events. I consider I am much more use to those that need me and rely on me for support – family, team, colleagues.  I’m well aware there are thousands of personal tragedies, directly or indirectly related to COVID-19 and I have empathy for those impacted. But I refuse to let it get me personally down.

And about those opinions we’ve all been reading (that’s most news items in case you hadn’t noticed!). Well, what if you didn’t have an opinion? Is that acceptable? In his book The Art of the Good LIfe, Rolf Dobelli says that it can be immensely liberating not to have an opinion on something. My son Thomas, who’s a great reader, put me onto this and I agree. For example, I don’t have an opinion on either the Cannabis or End of Life reform legislation that are going to a referendum.  I hope I get one when the time comes! But it’s freedom – my most important value – and like Marie Kondo does with your house, you can do it with your mind.

Take the Lockdown time to do some deep work, clean out the shallow work and home clutter that are getting in the way, free yourself of unnecessary opinion, and focus on facts, not on-line windups.

That’s me for the next 17 days at least!

Happy working week 3 (can we call it that? Why not)

Stephen

*There’s no financial or other advice implied or provided here of course. These are just my personal reflections only.