By Sasha A Foster, MSPT, CCRT

I wake on Day 10 of our COVID-19 self-isolation. The spring sun is streaming through the window here at my sister’s house. The air is cool and quiet. The only sounds are the birds singing and Mimzy, curled next to me, taking her morning bath. I’ve slept eight hours and should feel rested and ready for an energising spring hike, but instead I feel anxious and sad. I’ve learned not to be hard on myself when I don’t feel the way I think I should. Instead, I let Anxious and Sad get out of bed with me.

As I make my cappuccino, Anxious sits on the counter kicking her legs and Sad hangs her head on my shoulder. I let them be because I’ve learned to try to shoo them away will only make them more persistent. Instead, I take the time to make the cappuccino the way I love it; dry, with a single drop of honey on top. As I sip the comforting reviver, leaning against the counter next to Anxious, I take a long look at our living space. The room is crammed with three tables at different heights, free-standing lamps and table lamps, yoga equipment, computers and cords. Ashley and I have transformed her living room into a video set, two computer workspaces, and a sit-on-the-couch dining room that converts to my yoga space after dinner. Basically, it’s the natural downstream effect of production – a disaster. As Anxious starts to giggle, I take a deep breath and remind myself this mess is important. It is evidence that we’ve been working in our businesses (which happen to be in the middle of her home), responding to the COVID-19 culture shift. We’ve moved all of our consults on-line and videotaped her training classes. For both of us, remote teaching was in our future business plans. COVID-19 has moved it to our current business plan.

Before I finish my cappuccino, I’m flinging open windows and the cleaning supply cupboard, eager to do something. I start in the bathroom – counter, sink, tub and toilet – and then I find a tiny brush and scrub all the little spaces frequently ignored. I throw the sheets into the wash. (Mimzy scuttles around helping, chewing on a bone, leaping over books on the floor.) After I’ve dusted, vacuumed, disconnected cords, rolled them correctly, placed them on top of the device they belong to then stacked all the electronics neatly into a bag, I start on the windows. (The windows?!) The tiny brush scrubs all the tight little corners where the spiders lived last summer. Hours later, with the breeze now blowing through the house, the scent of lemon from the diffuser lingering, I stand at the door and look out onto the quiet street. It’s just me and Mimzy now. Anxious and Sad have gone away. I take my second deep breath of the day and remind myself that as I organise and clean my external world, my internal world seems to fall into place. When I work on my life, it improves my ability to work in my life. And the same is true for business.

When I started my first business, I didn’t even know what working on my business meant. I thought, as many of us do, that if I just did what I loved, animal physiotherapy, I would get really busy and then I would have money to hire people to do what I did and I would be free. Wrong. Working in my business – being the physiotherapist – without taking the time to work on my business – being the business owner – meant I was seeing more and more clients and making bigger and bigger messes.  Scheduling, documentation, billing, client communication, DVM communication, accounting, and purchasing all increased as the number of clients increased. I had never taken the time to figure out what the operating procedure should be for each of these important actions. Without an operating procedure, I had no way to train new hires, provide feedback to current employees or grow my business. I was a one-woman show, the expert in all things. My life was my business. In the beginning, this was exhilarating. In the end, exhausting. My relationship with my business was primary. My other relationships suffered.

After my last crash-and-burn business adventure, I ran to our family home in the mountains. Wrestling with the shame of losing another business, I spent my mornings cooking, afternoons gardening and evenings reading. And that’s when The E-Myth by Michael E. Gerber shone a little light in my mind. In my failed businesses, my only concern had been to work in my business; to constantly open my doors to clients. If I wanted to change my future and run a successful business, my first step would be to figure out how to work on my business; how to streamline all those background processes and systems that would keep the whole ship afloat.

And so I started from the beginning, which is always the best place to start. I wrote a business plan. And just for fun, because I was going to do it right this time, I included my personal goals and aspirations. 

A special note

In the midst of COVID-19, each of us faces a different challenge. I spoke with a friend who is working 16 hours a day to keep her business from going bankrupt. Another has a challenging legal decision to make. Another has a mother in hospital. For the first, scrambling is essential. For the second, hard thinking is required. For the third, compassion is needed. Whatever challenge you face today, take care of this one pressing need first;  take care of yourself. And if you are able, in the silence of these strange days, try to take a moment to feel gratitude for an unexpected opportunity.

As a world, we are collectively weary. The COVID-19 culture shift, if we are able and if we allow it, can become a time of rest and reflection. We can decide what is most important to us as individuals, families and communities. We can choose to use our time to work on our lives, just as we do on our businesses. We can think about how to bring business and personal aspirations closer together. If we welcome and use this opportunity, in the next phase of life (whenever that may be), instead building up to exhaustion all over again, we may reap the benefits of having done the background work that sustains us. When unexpected life-altering events occur, we can even accept the temporary presence of Anxiety and Sadness because we will have developed a new resilience – the resilience that comes from paying attention to that background clamour.  

Steven Covey speaks of ‘sharpening the saw’. He sketches a metaphor in which we are all so busy cutting down trees that we pay no heed to the gradual blunting of our saw. Take time out to sharpen the saw, he says, and all future effort will be halved.

What would sharpening the saw require of you?

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