Navigating The ‘In-Between’ Spaces: Staying Structured, Inspired & Connected

Any fans of Friends may remember the episode where Ross is taking an extended break from work. It’s his first day off and before he’s even reached lunchtime, he has already completed all of his errands for the entire week. His friend Joey turns to him and tells him to slow down; “you’ve got to spread it out”, he says. The concept of slowing down is one that I, along with many people, have needed to get acquainted with. Fast.

We are now well into the lockdown in the UK. While many have been getting to grips with new ways of working, I have been in the waiting room to be on-boarded for an exciting new role. Which is a lot like being on the bench waiting to play in a netball match. It has also meant I suddenly have a lot of time to fill. As someone who is used to moving at a hundred miles an hour from morning to midnight, ‘slowing down’ and ‘free time’ have become alien concepts.

As the saying goes, we can’t control the seas but we can learn to sail. I have approached the last few weeks on the ‘seas of lockdown’ by focusing on developing my metaphorical ‘sailing skills’. Here are some reflections from having built a routine, while staying curious and creating deeper connections. I don’t think there are any hard-and-fast rules or a secret sauce. I believe we can only do what feels right for each of us. I don’t claim to be an expert sailor, but I have found techniques and tools that have worked well so far.

The Pleasure Of Prediction

Founder of The School of Life and all-round legend Alain de Botton believes that how we feel about ‘the nature of existence’ is largely determined by what we have to do in the next few hours. In the absence of a tight meeting schedule or a busy social calendar, I suddenly had greater ownership of the contents of those hours. As daunting as this seemed at first, it’s no secret that planning our days and weeks can produce great psychological benefits. The reason a routine works so well is that our brains need certainty; we like to know what’s coming. Psychologists call this the pleasure of prediction.

I turned to the trusty ‘Now, Near, Far’ planning framework, wrote down my goals then built a schedule more balanced than I achieved when juggling a heavy workload. After experimenting with various daily routines, I landed on chunking my time. Mornings are now dedicated to physical and mental ‘workouts’. I spend an hour exploring the latest news and conversations from the industry, an hour digesting and playing with these over a 5k walk, then an hour developing the ideas that can be inspired by that walk. Afternoons focus on knowledge (usually a course or workshop), nurturing my network and supporting my local community. Evenings and weekends are treat times. Overall, each week has a clear aim, which ladders up to an overall goal.

Will this last once I am out of lockdown? The fact is the schedule will need to evolve. It takes patience and practice to strike a balance that works. Post-lockdown, when the busier professional and social calendars return, working towards a balanced structure will be about focusing on progress, not perfection. And about remembering that ‘the pleasure of prediction’ is sweeter when we take control of the hours in our days.

Unlocking A New Treasure Chest Of Insights

Lockdown in the UK has meant many physical events are adapting for a virtual world. I’ve enjoyed the surge in online learning, talks and workshops. It’s never been easier to access knowledge from such a broad spectrum of industries. Though, a word of warning - the choice overload is real! At the click of a button there are leadership lessons with Vogue’s Editor-In-Chief Anna Wintour, storytelling secrets from the archives of Cannes Lions, events such as the recent Women of the World x BBC Festival and numerous other opportunities to feed our minds.

Clarity about what I wanted to achieve has been crucial. When sifting through the many courses, I focused on those that balanced my own development with the development of the teams and business I form. I also made time for the occasional indulgence (Dominique Ansel’s French Pastry MasterClass was irresistible). Now, more than ever, we have access to a treasure chest of insights. There is a new opportunity for us all to come out of the lockdown loaded with fresh perspectives and insights to inject into our teams and our industries.

What I had not expected was the access I now have to hundreds of other ‘students’ across the world. Virtual classes and events have become the latest places to meet and network. This has opened up access to a truly global and diverse array of viewpoints and ideas, from worlds as far apart as sport, fashion and science. I have started building a record of each interaction, a ‘black book’ of online learning and networking. I’ve found this useful to make the most of each new connection and insight. I hope that in some way we are all able to put our curiosity in the driving seat, be strategic about what we want to learn, and then dive right in.

Connect Deeply And Spread Some Love

“Empathy fuels connection.” I love this quote from the queen of vulnerability, Brené Brown. Humans are neurologically designed to connect with one another, and what powers those connections is empathy. However, this relies on each of us being open about our mental wellbeing. While some of us are practiced at tapping into our emotions, for others this is difficult. So, when it comes to open communication of our mental health, we need to create the conditions for success.

One approach I have loved is Rob Stephenson’s Form Score, a tool that facilitates honest communication of mental wellbeing. My friends and I have been plotting our mental state on this scale from one to ten every day, giving us all a more accurate read of each other, which has led to deeper, more meaningful conversations. Taken into the context of a workplace, tools like this encourage more empathetic leaders, teams and cultures. Ultimately enabling us to communicate more effectively and arrive at better solutions as a result. Which is something well worth taking forward post-lockdown.

I’ve also focused on communicating in ways designed to provoke a smile and provide a lift, even for a second. Whether that takes the form of a surprise doughnut delivery for a friend, a colourful sketch, handwritten letter, or meme shared in a WhatsApp group. We know a smile can be transformative on a grey day. I have always found that sharing positive vibes with those around us can do wonders for the wellbeing of everyone involved. Kindness and generosity go a long way, because there are so many people whose Form Scores are invisible to us today.

We Can’t Control The Seas, But We Can Learn To Sail

Navigating life on the lockdown ‘seas’ is not over yet. As we think about the potential storms and periods of calm ahead, one thing is for sure; we must sail fourth. I’ve got through the journey so far by focusing on growth. I am grateful for the chance to develop a better balance, to keep learning and to connect on a deeper level. I’m not sure all of this would have been possible before. So, I plan to take as much as I can into a post-lockdown world and beyond.

Suzanne Basra is a marketer, storyteller and behavioural science enthusiast. She recently won the WACL Future Leaders Award, which recognises the UK’s top future female leaders.

Born and raised in London, she’s happiest filling the city's living rooms with secret gigs for intimate crowds. 

Drop her an email, follow her on Instagram and connect on LinkedIn.

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