For well over a year, we self-employed professionals have largely been wrapped in a home-based cocoon. Yes, many of us have continued to serve clients, sometimes even in person. But we’ve also spent a whole lot of time on Zoom. An entire category of business marketing has been absent — no in-person conferences, workshops, networking meetings, lunches, or coffee dates.
Here in the U.S., most areas are now starting to open up. The U.K. isn’t far behind; Israel and the U.A.E. have already reopened. As I write this, the U.S. CDC has issued new guidance that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks for small outdoor gatherings or dining outside.
With restrictions beginning to lift, there’s a back-to-business scent in the air. It feels like what happens after the holidays, in January, as everyone ramps up for the year. There’s more traffic on the streets; events for the summer and fall are being scheduled; travel is being planned; tickets are being sold. In my own business, I’ve noticed a slow but steady increase in the volume of incoming email and phone calls.
Your business — and especially your bank account — may need this infusion of energy. But are you ready for it personally? Judging by what I’ve been hearing from my clients and students, it’s not so easy to return to “normal” as we may have expected. A recent survey by the American Psychological Association found that 46% of adults said they do not feel comfortable going back to living life like they used to before the pandemic.
I know I’ve had many moments of wanting to push away some of the incoming contacts and requests. I’d forgotten what it was like to have this many days where I must prioritize who I get back to and which invitations I can accept. With the pace of business quicker than it’s been in many months, I’m also seeing an increase in my stress level. Ack!
Here are some guidelines for getting back to business that are helping my clients, colleagues, and me:
1. Take it slow. You don’t need to plunge right into a full schedule of activities like in the “before times.” Your mind and body will function better if you allow some warm-up time before engaging in any heavy exercise. Notice how you’re feeling — mentally, emotionally, and physically — and adjust your plans accordingly.
2. Set boundaries. You don’t need government restrictions to decline invitations you don’t feel ready for. I find it helpful to set up rules ahead of time to guide my choices. For example, “no more than one lunch or coffee date per week,” “no meetings (in person, phone, or Zoom) unless I know exactly what they are about,” and “no appointments after 5:00 pm.” I’m also choosing, for now, to avoid in-person gatherings that take place indoors. You get to set your own rules.
3. Be compassionate. Remember that everyone around you may be experiencing some level of stress. Change is always stressful, even when it’s for the better. Allow people to respond to you at their own pace. Don’t take it personally if someone delays or reschedules a meeting. Take the time to ask how others are doing before jumping into an all-business conversation. Make a special effort to be kinder than usual to everyone, as well as to yourself!
4. Manage your expectations. Don’t judge yourself based on what you used to be able to accomplish. You may be suffering from pandemic brain. At the very least, you’re having to add back in your schedule items that were absent, like building in travel time to get to a work site or a meeting. What matters is what you have the brainpower and energy for now. Whatever your current enough is, that’s enough.
Our lives and businesses are evolving into a post-pandemic state, and that’s a good thing. But as you and your business begin to emerge from your pandemic cocoon, remember that it takes time for a caterpillar to hatch into a butterfly.