10 tips for leading from home
If you’re anything like me you will have spent years carefully fine-tuning your balance of work, home, ministry, and rest. You will have set up intentional rhythms and healthy boundaries that enable you to bring the best of yourself to every environment. And then, all of a sudden and without warning, those worlds came crashing together, making many of those long-established rhythms and boundaries null and void.
Your space for rest is your space for ministry, your time for family has been invaded by work, and your time for work has been invaded by family.
All this can feel chaotic, as though our days are running away from us and we didn’t add anything of value to any of our spheres of influence. At the end of the day we’re exhausted, but not in the good way that follows knowing we’ve squeezed the juice out of the day. We feel busy, but not fruitful. And all those balls we’ve been working so hard to juggle seem to be crashing to the ground one-by-one as we start to lose our grip.
So how do we do this? Can lockdown life and leadership life work together? It’s undoubtedly challenging, and I’m still figuring it out, but here are some of the things I’ve been practicing that have been helping me adapt to leading from home.
TEN TOP TIPS FOR LEADING FROM HOME
1. Start as you mean to go on
Lockdown should not equal lie-in. The way we start our day will have a huge impact on its fruitfulness. So get up, get showered, and get dressed. Set your alarm at the normal time (perhaps even earlier to get ahead before the chaos ensues); make your bed to show yourself you are an organised and ordered person; get showered so you feel fresh and ready to go; and get dressed into clothes you would wear on a normal day, ie: not joggers and tracksuits. By doing these things you are making a powerful statement to yourself: “I am bringing my best to today.”
2. Jesus first, phone second
It’s a shocking fact that 90% of us pick up our phones immediately upon waking. We check our messages, notifications, email, and social feeds while still lying in bed. This is a surefire recipe for a life of comparison, discontentment, fear, and anxiety.
So here’s my top tip - do not spend time in the morning with your phone before you’ve spent time with Jesus. Open your Bible before you open an app. Speak to Jesus before you speak to a friend. Let Scripture, not your Twitter feed, set your view of the world. Let Jesus, not the noise of your phone, set your emotional equilibrium for the day. This is the path to a peaceful soul and a purposeful life.
3. Create Separation
As we’ve already mentioned, the boundaries we previously set up between work and home have come crashing down, so it’s wise to use space to create some kind of identifiable separation where possible. If you have an office or a spare room, utilise that space for work time only, and shut the door when you finish. I don’t have an office or spare room in my home, so I’ve set up a temporary desk in my bedroom. It’s not ideal, but I still try to create separation by shutting down my laptop at the end of the day and packing it away in my bag. It’s a small way of doing something physical to help create mental boundaries.
4. Eliminate distractions
Similarly, try to get all clutter, devices, piles of washing, and any other distractions, out of view, and out of earshot. Focus is hard in this season, so as far as possible we need to take ourselves away from anything that might distract us. Eliminate distractions, though please don’t eliminate your children.
5. Control your phone
The biggest distraction we have, even in normal times, is the phone in our pocket … but these are not normal times. During lockdown, our messaging apps have gone crazy, because all those ‘corridor conversations’ have been shut down. But as we find ourselves multi-tasking across WhatsApp, Slack, Teams, Messenger, iMessage and email, our time to focus on the important things is decimated.
So here’s my Top Tip: Turn off all your notifications and build into your day a few moments where you decide to check and reply to messages. By setting boundaries around your phone you will enable yourself to focus more deeply, get more done, and most importantly, only use your phone when you need it not when it needs you.
6. Fight Zoom Fatigue
Is there anything more exhausting than spending all day on Zoom? There seem to be a few reasons for this: the extended screen time is taxing, sitting down all day makes us feel lethargic, the very slight delay in response causes stress, the inability to see one another’s posture means we are unable to identify regular social cues, and constantly seeing our own face means we spend the whole time feeling overly self-conscious.
So three tips for fighting Zoom fatigue. Firstly, if it can be done on the phone, do it on the phone. This will give your eyes a break from the screen, allow you to get off your seat and walk around as you talk, and even get some fresh air by chatting outside. Secondly, have a clear agenda and finishing time for the meeting, and stick to it; short is most definitely sweet when it comes to Zoom. And finally, use the ‘Hide Self View’ function to get rid of your own video so you’re not constantly looking at your own face - trust me on this one, it makes a huge difference.
7. Get Out
At the time of writing, those of us living in England have been allowed unlimited outdoor exercise, as long as we observe social distancing rules. So make the most of it. I would advise trying to work in shorter, intensely focused blocks (30 minutes is optimal), and then go outside and walk around for five to ten minutes before returning to work again.
A healthy exercise routine is something I strongly believe every leader should prioritise at all times, but in lockdown, it becomes even more crucial. Regular exercise will boost your energy, your mood, and your focus. It will benefit your mental health and reduce stress. So if you haven’t taken up running, cycling, or another form of exercise before, this would be the perfect time to build this rhythm into your life.
The people that we lead right now are feeling just like we do: confused, stressed, overwhelmed, uncertain. This, then, is a time for leaders to lead. So let’s not allow the time we communicate with our teams, children, young people, and parents diminish, instead let’s seek to be a regular calming presence in their lives.
This is especially the case for the people on our teams because it’s so easy for culture to slip when separated. And be creative with our means of communication; it doesn’t all have to be digital. How about a phone call, a handwritten letter, or a card through the post? In a time when people are starved of physical connection, this kind of personal touch might be just the thing they need to encourage them.
9. Be Real
‘Authentic’ is an overused buzz word, but there can be no doubt, this is a time for authenticity. When I meet with my staff team right now I am seeking to intentionally share the areas that I’ve been finding personally difficult this week. This creates permission for everyone else not to be OK, to share where they have been struggling, which in turn creates a bond through compassion, empathy, and affection.
This is not a time for you to come across as a superhero who is breezing through these days unaffected, or even as a guru who has all the answers - this is demoralising, not inspiring, for the people you lead. This is a time for emotional stability, yes, but also for vulnerability, and for the leader to go first in expressing their own uncertainty.
10. Be Flexible
In the course of writing this article, I have had to stop three times to go and assist my wife with misbehaving children; not something I have to do when I’m in the office, at our youth group, or preaching at a church. But these are not days where we can simply transfer our pre-lockdown rhythms and assume it’s going to work.
So I have set a new rhythm - I start work much earlier in the morning, and usually work later at night after the kids are in bed so I can give a bit of time during the day to home-schooling - but even that doesn’t work out as planned every day. So leading from home requires that we be flexible enough to roll with the punches, and adapt to the changing circumstances day by day, even moment by moment.
And finally ...
Be kind to yourself. We are all in uncharted territory, and it is going to take some time for us to work it out. Yes, we want to bring our best to each day, but that doesn’t mean we punish ourselves when things don’t go to plan.
Remember, Jesus loves what you do because of who you are, not who you are because of what you do. He takes great delight in you when you smash it, and when it smashes you. So be kind to yourself. You will get some things right; you will get some things wrong. But in the end, you will get through this.
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