How to take the sting out of 2021

Recently, the IABC APAC Board sat down to talk about the stresses of 2020 and how to avoid carrying them into 2021. Here’s what they came up with.

“I’m just limping over the line”.

It’s a common exclamation at this time of the year. In December 2020, however, the chorus has been especially strong.

That’s not surprising. This has been a year like no other. Longer, more uncertain, and more challenging than many of us have experienced.

Think about remote working. Yes, it’s been a boon for many. But it has also challenged our workloads, work/life balance and, for some, sense of privacy. Of course, remote working is just the start. As McKinsey recently said:

“In 2020, we’ve endured a global pandemic, a massive economic crisis, and widespread social unrest. Layer on top of that forces that are fundamentally reshaping societies - technological innovation, business-model disruption, societal inequality, and workforce automation - and it’s clear that an epidemic of stress has been building, with the COVID-19 crisis as the tipping point.”


Right now, there tends to be a belief that we’ll wander off for a week or two and that will fix everything.

Regrettably, that’s not likely. Next year will throw up many new challenges and it’s likely to be another tough, uncertain time. If we don’t think seriously about simplifying work, we’ll be burnt out again by April… if not before.

The IABC APAC Board has been chatting about this issue. The result (with apologies to surfers all over the world) is this list of IABC APAC ‘Board Thoughts’ about how to simplify the way we work.

So, without further ado, let’s dive in (the final beach pun, we promise). First up, here are few ways you can make work simpler for your team.

Quality, not quantity

The single most important thing you can do as a team is prioritise. Take a close look at your team’s workload. What are the real priorities, as opposed to the busywork and hobbies? Does your team really need to do everything on the list? Is there anything that could be delayed?

The best antidote for overwork is to avoid tackling too much. It’s also the best way to deliver big on those really important projects.

The 25/50 rule

One simple way to make life easier is to hold 25-minute and 50-minute meetings (instead of 30 and 60). In the shift to remote, we’ve lost that short break as we walk from meeting to meeting. Instead, many of us are trapped in a cycle of ‘Enter… Leave… Enter.’

Do you realise that just employing this simple rule could give each of us about 80 minutes of headspace a day?

There’s another potential spin-off from the 25/50 rule.

  • We need lots of meetings because many aren’t effective.
  • They’re not effective because we don’t have the time to plan them properly.
  • We don’t have the time to plan them because we’re always in meetings.

Do you get the drift? This is a vicious circle that’s definitely worth breaking.

Meeting free whatever’s

In a similar vein, try blocking out a day a week or an hour a day so your team can gather themselves. You’ll have to be pretty rigid with both yourself and others, but the benefits of creating this space far outweigh the costs. Another way to approach this is to be selective about the meetings you attend. Say no to any meeting in which you don’t think you can add real value.

Lead with empathy

Lockdown wasn’t easy for many of us. Having said that, consider the challenges faced by the parents of primary school aged children. They’ve had to work AND look after their children AND home school them as well.

The point here is that, in this virtual world, it’s harder to see if someone is struggling. So, try and put yourself in your team’s shoes (or slippers!).

  • Try to get a feel for how they are and don’t be afraid to ask if you’re concerned.
  • Understand and make allowances for their personal challenges.
  • Share your own vulnerabilities. It will help others do the same. It will also help you.
  • And, finally, make sure your team is familiar with the many support services available to them.
‘Bounded optimism’

McKinsey also referred to leaders showing ‘bounded optimism’ as an antidote to disillusionment. This isn’t about sugar coating and pretending that ‘the sun always shines’. As McKinsey says, it’s about displaying “inspiration, hope, and optimism that’s tempered with reality’.

Get social

It’s harder to socialise in a virtual world. You need to be more deliberate about it. Ramp up the social calendar and bring back the water cooler with social events like Friday night drinks or the occasional virtual coffee before a meeting. At the same time, encourage your team to tap each other on the virtual shoulder for a chat from time to time. Try to make sure they’re available first, though.


Now, what about a few ideas for looking after yourself?

Of course, every one of the team ideas above will help you too. On top of that, here’s a few more just for you.

Draw a line between work and home

Here’s an interesting idea. In an office environment, every one of us has a commute. It might be five minutes, or it might be two hours, but we all have one. Why not take some time to ‘go to the office’ and ‘go home’ each day… even when you’re working from home. Go for a walk. Meditate. Do a craft. Whatever the activity is, use it to draw a line between work and home.


On a similar note, get up and move at least once per hour. Stand, walk, stretch, whatever. It all counts towards clearer thinking and an improved mood. A variation on that might be a ‘mini meditation’. There are lots of short, 5-minute or so meditations on Spotify and YouTube. Use them to help transition from one task to the next. Sure, meditation doesn’t (usually) involve moving, but it certainly helps to clear the mind.


Could this be the most important advice of all? Just care. Care about yourself and your family. Care about your team and the people around you. Care about the quality of the work your team is delivering.

Just caring can solve so many problems. And, as an added bonus, caring is catchy as well.

With a little help from our friends

Finally, we all need friends at times like this. And there are few friends more wonderful than the pet sitting by your side each day. So, in closing, here are a few of the IABC APAC Board’s ‘special friends’.

Jyoti Khan’s beautiful Siamese fighting fish, Joey.

Mark Woodrow’s incredibly happy looking moggie, Chia. Why couldn’t all our lives be like that?

Speaking of Siamese, here’s Wayne Aspland’s rather regal looking pal Leo.

Zora Artis’ Cavoodle, Rusty, playing with his koala. Rusty has just been groomed after months of lockdown hair.

Melinda Coyne’s very studious young friend, Harley. Harley is said to be a whizz at editing articles and Powerpoint.