My name is Olesia Ulianova. I am the CEO of Telesens and the founder of the ITGC training center, which teaches soft skills to specialists. This article is about what we faced as a company in the new reality, what we managed to overcome, and what we still need to work on.
The article targets those who lost their focus and stand now at a crossroads, who have changed circumstances and don’t understand how to get out of Groundhog Day, consisting of news and depression. I want to share with you the approaches that each of our management team has tried and what successful results this has led to.
Stages on the road to efficiency
Our key values in the modern world have been transformed. It’s not good or bad, but it happened. Goals have become insignificant, and we feel ashamed of some of them. We made plans, discussed prospects, and wanted to become “higher and stronger”. And then we became Ukrainians.
How to return the focus in your life that now is shifted to the news and intermittent communication with relatives? How to focus on something more than work and the minimum life improvement in the new conditions?
A person cannot live in tension for a long time. Our brain is designed to block what gets us intense pain and negative emotions. Neuroscientist David Rock wrote about this in his book “Your Brain at Work”.
When Russia’s large-scale invasion of Ukraine began, no one could believe it was possible in today’s world. Each of us began to go through the five stages of change but before a stage of Shock was. Everyone was shocked: by air alarms, explosions, and bombs; by the fact that we don’t belong to ourselves.
We have entered a new reality.
After the “numbness” phase, we faced shock and denial when we did what was necessary only. In this state, our body saves resources. Physically, we no longer have strength for anything other than basic needs and solving current problems. At this stage, no one thinks about goals and asks “Why?”; we have a “Must!” focus only.
My colleagues and I lived in this state for the first two weeks. Customer support and ongoing processes. Monitoring the team and evacuating it to safe places. In this state, it is impossible to conduct creative activities.
We decided to set up processes in the new reality, then go for new contracts. It was difficult to work productively in such conditions. Our online meetings were interrupted by air raid alerts and poor internet. Someone was in occupation.
Trying to build new goals for colleagues and the company would be simply blasphemous during this period. Our main goal was to keep people, the company, and customers.
Further, anger entered the arena, it didnʼt leave us, but now it has become hazardous. Some people haven’t gotten out of it yet. This destructive emotion can be helpful only if you don’t feel emotions.
We were angry that we couldnʼt involve all the right people: some were in the gray zone, and some were moved all the time or couldnʼt work effectively. We were angry at the poor communications and air alarms and when there was no internet in the bomb shelter. Without this aggression, we would not realize that we need to find a resource for creation. The management team was focused and mature; everyone knew what to do and how. The specialists’ support rested on the HR team’s shoulders, and it’s still happening.
We moved into a bargaining state, discarding everything that is unpromising now and focusing on what is strategically important for the company: tenders, large clients, and a well-coordinated team.
We agreed. Someone abandoned a favorite internal project, some postponed migration, and some stayed where they were and brought the matter to an end. At this stage, the collective “We” defeated the individual “I”, for which I am very grateful to the team.
Our colleagues stopped thinking in terms of the material and began to appreciate what we have now: work and a team. Most of them have minimally comfortable conditions for their families and loved ones. We signed such a social contract with each other: everything that we wanted before the war, we will try to implement when the hot phase ends.
We skipped the Depression phase, some faster, some a little slower. It was more difficult for those who remained in Kharkiv to the last. We gathered for All-hands meetings and discussed how we felt. We held flash mobs and still do. We release news digests and try to show that many of us are experiencing the same thing and are rooting for our Ukraine!
How specialists can return focus and life objectives
I will reveal a few secrets of how we did it:
- Reducing the autopilot mode. The way we did before doesn’t work now. We gather and spell out again.
- Transforming the circle from “stimulus-response” to “stimulus-choice-response”. Every time ask yourself: “Why is it necessary for customers or us?”.
- Using one hour a day for strategic tasks. Think, form concepts, and build architecture. This hour is untouchable, even if there is a lot of work on current projects.
- It’s difficult to focus when there are air alarms 3-4 times a day. Work when everything’s quiet, without being tied to the day of the week.
- Making choices every day. Ask yourself: “For what?”.
- “Close folders”. Every week discuss outstanding tasks and close them if they are no longer relevant.
- Clearly prioritize current and strategic projects through compromise and don’t try to “embrace the immensity”.
- Behave in terms of “what if”. We work with clients in the long run and build long-term relationships. We already know what we will do when we return home.
- Remain optimistic. We support colleagues who are still in a state of Depression and Anger. We sincerely believe in the victory and the future of our country!
- Allow the emotional instability of colleagues and patiently react.
However, focus alone is not enough. You need to learn how to manage your time when you can’t plan effective work hours. Constant switching and multitasking don’t add to mental health.
Many self-management ideologues have advocated moving away from multitasking. But let’s be honest, this is simply impossible in modern realities. We have adopted the following rules for ourselves:
- We respect each other’s goals. We don’t bother with trifles and ask to act at the first call.
- We group questions for meetings and come to the statuses prepared (successes-problems-solutions-questions).
- We don’t touch our golden hour, an hour when we solve strategic problems. Texting and calls are prohibited.
- We write letters → messages in the corporate chat → personal messages, only in this order, according to the degree of issue importance.
- We use multitasking, which is currently a combination of one automatic action and one conscious, not much more.
- If a specialist is involved in several projects, he does one thing daily.
The Four Horsemen of Procrastination
Procrastination came to the fore after we agreed on a focus, goals, and a few rules. It usually happens with teams that don’t have vital resources. To manage it, we have identified the Four Horsemen of Procrastination:
- Perfectionism is high expectations from yourself: “I could do more, better, superior”. The fight against this horseman is simple: we have formed an acceptable work quality in our company and reduced the team’s task scope. Plus, we set up processes for gradual improvement using the Lean approach.
- Mood. “I don’t have the mood, strength, desire, funds (underline the correct) to complete tasks.” What we do with it: we change our mood, look for sense (“why do we need it”), and monitor our health, in particular, the chemical composition of our blood, eat delicacies rich in vitamins.
- Fear is a concern that we can’t cope with the task. The deadline is near, and we haven’t even started yet. We have introduced an approval tendency and joy of success routine within the company. This supports us and allows those who doubt to move forward. The feeling that you have someone to rely on is hard to overestimate.
- Addiction is a fondness for the word “when”. “When the war ends, I will develop…”, “When I return home, I will work better…”, etc. In our company, we repeat the mantra: we must do our best here and now so that we have the opportunity to support our families, help our country, volunteer, and take care of those who don’t have this support. Therefore, we do it immediately and don’t wait for favorable conditions.
The Acceptance phase came suddenly when new clients and contracts came in, and new prospects appeared. We embody these perspectives in our volunteering, in helping our defenders, refugees, and people who can’t help themselves. We won’t get tired and won’t rest until the Victory! Glory to Ukraine!