Lessons Learned in a COVID-19 World

I come from a long line of hard workers who can’t sit still. Even when we aren’t physically moving, our brains are always thinking about what we’re forgetting, remembering the past or strategizing about the future.

Enter COVID-19.

Forget what’s next. It changes every day. Forget the constant distraction of rushing around. There’s nowhere to go. Forget falling back on what worked in the past. We’re in a new future. Over the last two months, I’ve been busy as ever, but for the first time in forever, I’ve also had the time to be still. To reflect. To dream. To wonder. To reimagine. To be with my family. To just…be.

It’s hard to believe it’s been two months since we packed up our offices and set up shop in our homes. Would it be for a week? A month? Nobody knew what this pandemic would mean for our lives as we knew them. Now, as things begin to shift into that illusive “new normal,” I’m documenting a few lessons I plan to take with me.

Patience is key.

One afternoon, I finished work a little early and sat on the back porch with my son so we could catch up on life. Our neighborhood is full of wild bunnies, and I noticed one feasting away on a patch of grass on the other side of the yard. I gave my son my phone and challenged him to see how close he could get to take a picture. Rather than nonchalantly walking up to it or quickly snapping the photo, he slowly tiptoed on his bare feet across the yard, taking pictures along the way. It was a tedious process, but he got closer to his goal than he ever had before.

Lesson learned.

In business, it’s easy to let the sense of urgency, excitement or panic get ahead of the strategy. Clients want to jump ahead to the press release or news coverage. That’s what you’re paying us for, after all! However, the story will mean a lot more to your customers if it aligns with your goals. What message are you trying to convey? Why now? How does it impact your customers? What does this mean to the bottom line? You may not always have the luxury of time for a full research process, but being strategic will get you a lot closer to the end goal than jumping to the end product. Slow down and really think about what you’re trying to accomplish.

Prioritization means giving some things up.

Part of my weekly ritual is a journal that outlines my goals for the month, areas of focus for the week and activities for the day. All year, I’ve had a goal of working out at least three days per week. I bought a stationary bike for the house, downloaded all the apps, even bought some new workout clothes. Then the alarm goes off in the morning, and reality hits. I went to an event after work the night before, stayed up too late with the kids, took too long to unwind and went to bed well after midnight. There’s just no time to work out if I want to get to the office at a reasonable time, I think to myself. I’ll do better tomorrow.

Each month, I look at that goal and think, “Maybe three is too many. Maybe two is more realistic. I did one day. That’s good enough, right?” However, it’s funny how once all of your extracurricular activities get cancelled, your favorite restaurants are closed and those “critical” meetings can be done via Zoom, you suddenly have time for exercise. And you know those articles that say once you get into the habit, it’s easier to get up and going? They were right.

Lesson learned.

Resources are finite. As humans, we only have so many hours in a day. As businesses, we have a limit to what we can spend or the time we can commit. Many of our clients wear multiple hats, and marketing is just one of the multiple duties on their plate. Even if you want to do it all, it’s rarely a good idea. Set your goals, prioritize which PR and marketing strategies are most closely aligned, and stick to them. You’re going to get a lot further than you will if you try to tackle everything at once.

Communication is timeless.

One of the first things we confronted as a virtual team was creating clear streams of communication. We upped our staff meeting to twice per week, maintained face-to-face communication with Facetime, and even threw in some virtual happy hours, team lunches and a drive-thru baby shower. Our company is built on collaboration and teamwork, and I have no doubt we would have struggled without these tools. Instead, we never missed a beat. When clients called, we were able to answer just as we would have at the office. Our ability to seamlessly respond and think ahead about potential communications challenges allowed us to proactively strategize for them in a post-COVID era. We pivoted with our clients’ needs and helped them rethink how they connect with their stakeholders.

Lesson learned.

In a world that seems to be changing by the hour, communication is the skill that remains constant. Who’s open? How do we know we can be safe? What is the latest data? How many times have you asked any number of these questions? The businesses who choose to communicate will be the ones who are successful in the long run.

Clarity comes from the stillness.

Launching and running a business is hard, and that’s only one slice of my life. I’m a wife, mom, volunteer, professor…and whatever else I fit into my life. I love it all, and give it 100%. The problem is, you can’t have more than one slice that’s 100%. There have been times when I’ve run dangerously close to my breaking point. That’s about the time I start searching for the elusive “me time,” wondering what my hobbies are and booking a massage. Because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you are trying to get centered, right?

When the lockdown first went underway, I was ready with all my action items. Finish a puzzle and pretend like I’m relaxing – check. Paint that laundry room that’s been on my list for 10 years – check. Scrub all the baseboards, miniblinds and doors inside the house – check. I could go on. So what happens when all the laundry is done, the house projects are complete and you still can’t go anywhere?

For me, I realized I didn’t want to.

For two months, I’ve been working from my pop-up in-home office, taking breaks to hug my kids or eat lunch with my family. I learned I have a lot of hobbies, like reading autobiographies, pulling weeds in my flowerbeds and trying new recipes. I remembered I used to love to sketch. If I start work just a little earlier, I can carve out an hour to sit on the back porch and catch a little sun while I wrap up my emails. And while my mind is still always filled with that laundry list of thoughts, I’ve discovered that stillness allows me to actually explore them deeply instead of shallowly skipping to the next one.

Lesson learned.

We need time to think. Stillness leads to creativity, more strategic ideas and less hurried decisions. Our worlds have rushed for far too long, and I for one, am grateful for the forced change of pace. We don’t know what life will look like 6 months from now. But my hope is it will be filled with patience, clarity and more meaning than it was pre-COVID.