Beyond Work
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Beyond Work

I’ve Learned How to be Kind With Myself Whilst Still Expecting Progress

Beyond Work with Toni Cowan-Brown

This is the fourth in the Beyond Work looking at how founders and innovators from around the world work from home during the global pandemic Coronavirus. In this interview, we head to Vancouver where Toni Cowan-Brown (usually in San Francisco) found herself on lockdown whilst taking a road trip in Canada with her husband and dog. Staying in Airbnbs until she can return to California, Toni talks me through her day and how she stays productive whilst away from home during a global pandemic.

Toni is the co-creator and co-host of podcast and writes a on ideas that matter. Before, she was VP, European Business Development and Strategic Partnerships at NationBuilder.

Vancouver, Canada.

What does a typical day look like for you now?

It seriously varies, on days where I go to bed before midnight, I’m awake around 6am and I spend an hour going through my newsletters. I try and avoid social media until I’m properly awake but I do like kicking off the day with a good dose of news and content. On days where I need a break from it all, I read for as long as I can. I actually appreciate kicking off the day this way.

As soon as that is done, I take my dog for a walk. These walks tend to help me break up my day and lately I have enjoyed them immensely as you can imagine. A good breath of fresh air and some music or a podcast always do the trick for me.

My day is broken down into three big working blocks. I personally do better with a structured day:

  • I have the morning session where I try to keep it call free as it’s when I’m most productive. It’s by far my most productive and longest session. I work until about 1:30pm/2pm at which point I do lunch, a gym session and/or walk the dog.
  • After lunch, I probably have another three hours of work where I try and take calls and meetings. Generally, once I’ve eaten, I’m far less concentrated hence why I try and eat as late as possible.
  • At around 6pm I try and close everything up and do something that doesn’t involve work; TV shows, cook, read a book, FaceTime a friend… After dinner, most nights I go back to work and work on side projects.

I’ve learned over the years how to be kind and gentle with myself whilst still expecting progress.

How has Coronavirus impacted your life/work?

It’s impacted it a lot in some ways and also not at all. Let me explain.

I’ve been doing the whole remote / WFH for the past five years so when this happened I was very acclimated already. I had a schedule that allowed me to be productive, and I knew already what worked for me and what didn’t.

However, when COVID-19 hit my husband and I were taking a road trip to Canada with our dog. So we ended up being stuck in Vancouver and had to stay there for much longer than expected. The hardest piece for me was not being able to be ‘home’ during the lockdown. I’m an introvert and love being home so I don’t find this time particularly difficult. But doing this whilst being away from our home has been tough. And financially, it definitely wasn’t in our plans to pay rent in two cities so that was an unexpected impact.

Saying that, I have started organizing weekly Let’s Stay In Happy Hours with women from all walks of life. And it’s honestly been magical. I’ve loved creating a safe and informal space for women to come together once a week, meet new friends, ask for help or advice, listen and share, and just have a good laugh. Some of us have bonded quite closely, and seven weeks ago we had never spoken. This has been the most positive outcome of this quarantine time for me.

What productivity tips have you found useful whilst working from home?

I’ve always used Trello as my main way to stay organised. I actually wrote I used the inbox/to do, Monday through Friday and done triage system. I’ve been doing this system for five years now and it has yet to fail me.

Most of my collaborations happen on Slack and Zoom. I’m not sure what I would do without any of those three tools anymore. Really that’s all I need to get the job done. Everything else, in my opinion, is a question of attitude and prioritization. There is obviously a unique skill set needed for working remotely too. The biggest suggestion I have is to focus on creating habits, not goals, and focus on the outputs.

I’ve joined a fair few communities recently on Telegram Messenger, Slack and elsewhere and this has helped me stay connected, get creative, collaborate and connect with like-minded people from all over.

What five books would you recommend during this time?

I have actually been getting into the habit of reading a book a week. You can I tend to document every book I read.

The books I have been sharing a lot lately are:

  1. by Amanda Montell
  2. by Elizabeth Plank
  3. by Malcolm Gladwell
  4. by Anna Wiener
  5. I also absolutely love by Michael Caine

When this is all over, what will the opportunities look like?

This is such a great question. From a business perspective, I think people are going to realise that great humans can get the job done from anywhere. And the technology available to us today allows us to replicate the in-person feeling. But we can’t just count on the technology, we need to adapt and be willing to learn the skill sets needed to work remotely, collaborate across continents…

I also think there is going to hopefully be an opportunity to rethink our education systems.

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Danielle Newnham

Host of Danielle Newnham Podcast — interviews with tech founders and innovators. Writer. Author. Recovering Founder.