6 ways founders can manage productivity and maintain mental health


Professor Almuth McDowall shares practical techniques to stay productive and well.

Founders are well known for living high-pressure, time-poor lives and Covid-19 has only added to existing pressure. Professor Almuth McDowall spoke at a recent Eagle Labs event on managing productivity and mental health. Here is a summary of key insights and recommendations.

Find a release

Creative thinkers who create their own enterprises often have low levels of emotional stability – and so may have a tendency to react strongly to pressure. This means that they become very emotionally involved in their business journey. If this sounds like you then particularly in the current situation it is important to find an outlet for your energies, emotions and attention away from work.

Ideally, this needs to be something which is very different from your work as this helps recovery and creates balance in your life. A physical experience or one that involves touching can be particularly soothing. This could be anything from rollerblading to baking – ask yourself what would help to provide an alternative release.

Take time to recharge

Human brains are not hardwired to have arousal levels continuously peaking - something that happens if you are working all the time. You need to have downtime and need to find a way to make that work for you.

Hide your phone at the end of the day, hide your tablet, hide your laptop: do what you need to do as you absolutely have to have recuperation time in the evenings because otherwise your sleep suffers. Once your sleep suffers you set up a vicious cycle in which your wellbeing and productivity will suffer too.

Set the right sort of goals

One of the best things that you can do to help with productivity and wellbeing is to set yourself goals. These goals need to take into account the high levels of uncertainty that exist at the moment.

Focus on the short and medium term and on things that you can control. For example you may not be able to organise face-to-face new businesses meetings but you can set goals around digital marketing and concentrate your efforts accordingly.

Don’t forget to set personal goals outside work including exercise, healthy eating and regular outdoor time. Share goals with others so that you make yourself accountable.

Create variety

It is very easy for out lives in lockdown to turn into Groundhog Day where everyday just seems to be a re-run of the day before. Bring structure to your days to stop that from happening.

More importantly you have to make a real effort to have some days that are really unlike your working days. This means making a conscious effort to protect certain days or times such as weekends. Find something really different that breaks the pattern of work and gets you away from the pressures of your business and your working environment.

Escape the home office

Don’t feel you have to be sat at your desk to be effective. Research shows that getting outside can prompt greater creativity, and that is something that many founders need at the moment to meet new challenges.

Occasionally working in the garden or a park may be a good way to gain fresh perspectives – take your ideas for a walk! It’s also worth noting that there is absolutely no research that links performance and productivity to the time people spend at their desk. The current crisis might actually be helpful to encourage us measuring work by quality of output and not time spent.

Accept uncertainty

In an ideal world having a plan makes us feel more grounded and psychologically safe. But it is hard to have long-term plans when there is so much uncertainty. One solution is to accept uncertainty and adopt some form of contingency or scenario planning. Considering a variety of possible outcomes boosts wellbeing, increases resilience and can help reduce stress.

Set yourself a medium term goal, write this down and then also write down the potential obstacles as well as how you could overcome them. Crucially, think about how you can bring in your support network – none of us can do all of this on our own.

Professor Almuth McDowall is an occupational and organisational psychologist at Birkbeck, University of London. She is also a professional coach and consultant working with a range of businesses.

Watch her video guides to managing the psychological aspects of lockdown on the wellness section of the Eagle Labs Support Hub.

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