This Sunday's blog post speaks on the topics; motivation, productivity and work life balance. Today we can definitely see where the notion of 'toxic productivity' comes from however thanks to the small, (very small indeed) silver lining of Corona Virus, working from home has encouraged conversations around mental wellbeing at work (a conversation well overdue to be taken seriously). For most of us (everyone except Jeff Bezos), Corona Virus has robbed us of our jobs, our businesses, our income streams and most importantly our happiness. However for the sake of maintaining what's left of our economy, those who can work from home, are doing so. However if you were laid off (like I was) and/or are trying to start a business (like I am), then finding the motivation to keep going can be an extremely challenging task. Therefore this week, I wanted to write a little bit about my experience the last few months and share some thoughts I've had on the future of work life balance.
A bit of an exhausted topic now, but routine is everything. Since lockdown, I've gotten myself into a consistent rhythm in the morning. Whether I'm working on the business that day or planning to have a day off, I try not to skip any steps. Get up at a reasonable time. Work out (30 mins). Shower. Blow dry my hair (it looks pathetic otherwise), and get dressed. I have my breakfast after and then if it's a working day, I'll start moving through my list of things I wanted to get done that day. It did take me a while to get into it though. When it's only yourself holding you accountable for your productivity that day, its so tempting just to get up late and not bother with anything that might cause you even the mildest of difficulties. And honestly I did give into the situation for a while. I think we all just had to stop and absorb our new reality for a few weeks, before deciding how we were going to navigate it all. But eventually the novelty of sitting in your PJ's by 3 in the afternoon wears off and the thought that you might spend the next few months like this begins to sound utterly tragic. For me, I started to see the small gift in lockdown and decided I'd use the time to work on my self discipline.
Personally, I was living in London, (I moved there only 8 weeks prior) before Corona Virus meant I'd lost my job and had to move back to Scotland. And one of the main reasons for moving there in the first place was to surround myself in the culture of productivity and the 'side hustle', where it's almost expected that you'll work a main job and simultaneously spend your free time working on an additional project of some kind. Your entire day becomes a race against the clock and you start putting excessive amounts of value on a spare 5 minutes you might be able to carve out somewhere. And while that obviously sounds, completely manic and the 'how to' guide for having a heart attack by 27, it does weirdly become your new normal that you happily live each day because everyone around you is living the same way. But when I found myself taken out of that culture again, but still trying to live by those standards, I was really beating myself up for not managing it. I'm thinking "ok, I usually work 8 hours a day, but now I'm not traveling so at the very least I should be working 9 hours a day now...right?". But when I woke up thinking I had 9 solid hours of work ahead of me, and also that no one was here to fire me if I didn't, I just found myself giving up before I'd even started.
Eventually, I decided to lower the bar, accept I was just not going to manage 9 hours a day, and started aiming for 5 or 6 hours a day. And this is what works for me. While I still try to get up early, I know that if I do get up late, I can still salvage my day by working a little later. And because I feel like 5 or 6 hours is manageable, I actually look forward to setting myself set up and ploughing through my to-do list, knowing the end of the working day isn't actually that far away. Since I've started my 5/6 hour days, I've felt my anxiety levels reduce almost completely. I wouldn't say I actually suffered from anxiety per say, but I did feel very nervous and uncomfortable at the situation if I was sitting around doing nothing, for too many days in a row. Now that I've gotten into a routine that really works for me, I've started considering what kind of working practices I would want my employees to adopt one day (should I be lucky enough to get to that stage).
Sad to admit, but I have worked for some truly awful employers when it comes to the 'work culture' in the office. I've been asked to work through lunches, questioned for getting back from lunches 2 minutes too late, judged for leaving the premises on time (and not hours later), bullied into cleaning the building after hours, made to feel awkward about to not working through breaks and asked to take my lunch at 4 in the afternoon, during busy spells. All in the name of dedication and a good attitude apparently. It was all part of the working day routine. Every time an opportunity arose to prove how committed I was, I could feel people assessing what choice I made. In some work places, it appeared like an unofficial competition, as to who was the most hard working, with people trying to out do each other on the number of hours they would stay behind - with some employees staying after midnight!
Fresh out of high school and in other cases uni, I came to the conclusion that if I didn't work beyond the hours and days set out in my contract, I wouldn't get promotions or any kind of assistance in my career development. When look back on my career thus far, sure enough, I achieved several promotions when I would take work home, take on extra shifts, carry out tasks beyond my pay grade and travel across country at the drop of a hat, without question. But when I eventually decided I'd just work within the guidelines of my contract, in an attempt to protect myself, it was viewed upon as though I were 'uncommitted', and 'inflexible'. These experiences of the fashion industry, meant I really had to evaluate what being 'successful' actually meant. To me, the people that were - what you would typically describe as 'successful' - had no social lives, no interests, no hobbies, no holidays booked, and honestly looked like they were in a deep depressive state, just trying to keep up with their own insane standards. And I do think it's because this way of working was and is heavily praised by everyone around us.
Fast forward to now, where I've moved back home and had previously tried to carry on this madness, it's occurred to me that the problem was not with me. Without the hierarchical pressures to keep working even though my legs are about to collapse underneath me, or that I'm about to faint from lack of food, I just stop now. I can hear my body's cry for help more loudly and I just stop what I'm doing, take a break, and carry on later. And what I've found is that the quality of my work or whatever I'm focused on is actually far superior. My mind now thinks, "how well can I do this job in the hours I've put aside", instead of "how quickly will the hours pass while I'm doing this". Not to mention I actually want to get going with my day, instead dreading when my work day would officially begin and then counting 9 hours onwards from that hour. As I'm working (trying to manage all areas of the business right now), I'm thinking about what might be one of the first tasks I delegate when HERSIDE starts to make money. And as I'm thinking of this, I'm also thinking what kind of work culture I'll be creating over the years. Will it be one where my team don't feel comfortable taking their breaks around me, or instead - an environment where my team feel happy enough to notify me when the work load increases so I can recruit more people instead of expecting them to absorb the extra demands? This, coinciding with the new topics of conversation that 'working from home' has been a catalyst for, makes me very interested in the work life balance culture of Sweden.
Scandinavia is leading the rest of Europe, when it comes to quality of life. It's promotion of work life balance, mental health and gender equality all appear to go a long way towards their number one spot for 'Happiest European Nation'. However it's specifically Sweden's implementation of the 6 hour work day, back in 2015 that I find interesting. While some companies that trailed the 30 hour week, reported that the benefits did not outweigh the additional business costs, most discovered that the business's profits increased, due to the increased level of productivity. Additionally, staff turnover declined, as staff happiness increased. The general consensus across the Swedish companies that embraced the new working style, that there was a new focus on results rather than how many hours were spent in the office.
When considering how these findings might be implemented into my own business, I'm thinking about both my own, positive experience working the 6 hour day, as well as the practicalities of how this would affect a brand new start-up. When trying to get a business off the ground, you're constantly hit with things to do that you had no idea you've have to when you started. And a lot of those things are usually in the form of additional costs to the business, increasing the temptation to ensure I maximise the output of my staff. However one of the main reasons for starting my business (other than being obsessed with fashion design and business) was to lead an organisation and put the interests of its workforce first. What I also consider, is that while I may aspire to create a work culture that mirrors Sweden, an unexpected spike in customer demand or any other unplanned event, could shatter this vision overnight, where staff would most likely have to revert to working the usual 8 hours to see us through challenging times.
All in all, it's really interesting to be a part of the conversation surrounding the work life balance topic at the moment. I'm obviously not the only one who's had to develop a new working routine that you can trust yourself to follow through on. And obviously many people working from home are doing so with a manager that checks in, as opposed to starting their own business. Nonetheless the challenges are shared and I'm very interested to see what new work policies come out of this Pandemic. Already, some businesses have declared they will offer flexible working and the choice to work from home, which for some will go a long way to achieving their work life balance and happiness.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this week's post! Next Sunday's article will tell you how to get your fashion collection into a boutique! If you'd like to be reminded of when this goes live, subscribe to the blog to have it sent directly into your email inbox.
Have a gorgeous Sunday, and thank you again for all the support!