In 2008 I established Landor in India. By 2012, we had a double-digit growth rate; we acquired marquee clients and we grew the team. But then, the slowing economy caught up with us. The business started floundering and there was some serious pressure from my bosses to do better. I was compelled to do the most difficult job of my career: let people go. It was an extremely stressful period of my life.
On one hand, I had to deal with the delicate and fragile emotions of my team members and tell them that they no longer had a job and on the other, I needed to maintain sharp, strategic foresight to think where the growth was going to come from. I had to appear calm while wading through these troubled waters.
It was in this moment of crisis that I suddenly thought: Why are we so focussed on India? What if I just expanded my playing field? I had been reading about Sri Lanka and the massive post-war growth in that country. Immediately, I leveraged many relationships, went to Colombo, and tried to get my team to win one, just one project there. We put all our focus on winning.
And then, we did it. We won the project. That success transformed my team’s confidence. After that, our business in Sri Lanka grew (to become a third of our business today) but in India, too, the team’s renewed confidence made a huge difference. A happy team, a confident team became, and still continues to be, a winning team.
It’s in that vein that I often say that staying positive, having the tenacity and resilience to pursue your dreams, along with clear, logical thinking can help you achieve anything.
While our approach towards life is a question of our individual mindset, here’s how I break the script and concentrate on improving:
Don’t keep banging at the problem
I believe in walking away from the problem—both physically and mentally. I’m not someone who says, here’s the problem, let me keep banging at it. I believe that walking away from it, speaking to people who’re not directly involved but are your friends or well-wishers, helps. The mere act of four-five people listening intently can be stress relieving.
Physically as well, walk away from your desk and take deep breaths. You’ll be amazed at how such a small intervention can calm you down.
Change your routine
I go through phases where I lack motivation. I experience motivation dips. That’s what leads me to shake up my routine. I take a class, I travel. I change what I do on a Sunday afternoon or what I eat for dinner, it allows me to get out of the routine and get that spark of inspiration.
Monitor your cell phone usage
The truth is, I use a phone a lot but I am now increasingly conscious of my usage. They say, what you can’t measure, you can’t manage. Therefore, I monitor the screen time on my phone and try to be less dependent on it. But when you’re getting rid of something, you have to have something to turn to.
Mentally, I have decided if I have urge to waste time on my phone, I’d listen to something or read something and avoid that urge to check my phone. Every day, for an hour or so, I also put my phone on airplane model to stay away from all kinds of distractions.
I used to wake up and look at my phone but now, I’ve been experimenting. In the past several days, I have woken up and not looked at my phone for two hours. I’ve written an article or done something else, and the results have been liberating.
I try to lead a healthy life. I exercise. I go for long walks, which ensure that I get my creative juices flowing. I am in bed by 9 pm and I try to sleep for seven hours at least. When there’s a lot of work, I wake up at 4 but often, I try to avoid it because I know that I am eating into my sleep time.
I will be honest. I am a restless person, I am impatient. I drive my yoga teacher nuts. I cannot sit quietly for even two minutes. Therefore, it’s my personal goal to understand meditation and incorporate it in my life. I am sure it will help improve my creativity and my attention to work.
Currently, I block time for clear, uninterrupted thinking on my calendar. If I don’t block thinking time, it runs away. It’ll get booked. Before I know it, I’ve been in meetings all day.
Take down time
The problem is that all of us want to do everything. I, for example, want to write, read, and come up with the next big idea. I rarely give my brain a rest. It’s a never ending wish list.
This exhaustion of the brain is not right. You ultimately reduce your own productivity by doing this. We have to consciously tell ourselves that we don’t have to fill every waking moment with something. We need down time. I believe we have to let go of this desire to do so much and get comfortable with consuming less, finding quiet moments and taking things slowly.
Balance work and life but know that ideas have a mind of their own
I am not overly harsh on myself because I know that in the creative profession, ideas can strike anywhere. Creative professionals today have to be on all the time but it’s important to take breaks as well. But, sometimes you’re on a holiday, and your mind is fresh and ideas strike.
On a recent holiday, for example, my children were looking forward to spending all day with me. I had woken up at 6 but I had an epiphany, an idea that I immediately had to work on, and I needed an hour and a half to do it.
If I were really strict about it, I would have said no, no work on holidays, but it was fresh, it was there. I could feel that my mind was dictating it to me, and I told my kids to give me some time to flesh it out.
It happens the other way around, too. My job gives me the flexibility to harmonise work and life. Once or twice a month, I am away at school things for about three hours. A good company culture, therefore, is very important. Especially for women, because they have numerous roles to perform while continuing to meet career objectives.
Insist on good company culture
Finally, a word of caution: India has followed a model that’s growth over all else and that’s not very healthy. We have a lot to learn from Scandinavian countries that have respect for work-life balance.
Here, we need enlightened leaders who’ll set the agenda, who’ll examine the business model and the working hours to sense when people are burning the midnight oil. It’s important to monitor the health of employees and therefore, the health of the company and ensure that company culture benefits everyone and doesn’t become toxic.
(As told to Apekshita Varshney)
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