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on Tuesday, 03 February 2015

Five things I learned after my car accident

As some of you will know, I had a car accident at the beginning of December which while in itself wasn't a serious crash (somebody hit my drivers side rear wheel while I was pulling out of my drive, resulting in the car spinning 180 degrees across the road!) I ended up with pretty bad whiplash in my neck and back, and having to take some serious medications to stop the muscles spasming and reduce the pain.

Running your own business is pretty tough at the best of times, but being told you physically must not work, and cannot even use a laptop or computer for at least two weeks ... and thereafter only for strictly limited time periods came as quite a shock.  Being a techie, I turned to technology to find ways to help me - both to prevent me from over-working when I was allowed to work, and to be able to work in a posture which didn't aggrevate my whiplash!  I learned a few things during my recovery which have actually improved my efficiency at work, and others which were pretty important to my recovery process and my business.

#1 - Enforced regular breaks and limiting working hours made me more effective!

WorkRave LogoI used a great Open Source programme called WorkRavewhich I primarily used to effectively prevent me from working more than a specified number of hours per day, but it also allows you to set time periods for micro-breaks (short periods where you stop focusing on the screen and do something else) and longer breaks where I would change position, do my physio exercises, or do something different.

Enforced breaks were really frustrating at first!

At first, I found this horrendously intrusive, and as it can be networked (so I have it running on my laptop and my desktop, which talk to each other) there were a number of tantrums when it blocked me from using either because I'd exceeded my hourly allowance for the day on one device, so I tried to cheat and use the other to look something up or check something online!

Over time, however, I found this made me much more efficient, because I both knew that I literally only had a set number of hours I could work, and because I was acutally taking breaks to rest, do something else I enjoyed (I'm learning to crochet, but that's another story!) I was much more focused when I was actually working.

No willpower? There's a setting for that!

WorkRave has the option to disable the ability to postpone or skip breaks - for someone with zero willpower when it comes to leaving my PC, this was essential - for those who have more self control you can set it to allow you to postpone a specified number of times before it enforces a break or end-of-day lockout.

#2 - Achievable task lists kept me focused

After a week without any access to my computer and despite the team picking up some of my workload, my inbox had filled to overflowing and I had numerous tasks across multiple projects, not to mention business tasks such as signing contracts and banking which were outstanding.  This very quickly led to me becoming totally overwhelmed when I was only allowed to work for an hour in a day!

How do I prioritise tasks?

gqueuesIt quickly became apparent that I needed some kind of system to rank the tasks I needed to do in terms of time, importance and urgency so that I could both capture what I needed to do, and prioritise (at this time I had no short term memory due to medications, so the capturing of tasks was vital!). 

I had already half-heartedly used such a system - GQueues - but I wasn't using it properly, certainly not well enough to rely upon!

Setting up the system

I spent one of my precious hours sifting through my emails and projects, pulling out tasks, and pushing them into a GQueue list - this then helped me to get a handle on what I could feasibly do, and what I simply wouldn't have the time or resources to do within the required timeframe which would need delegating or deferring.  It also meant that in future days I could pick things that I could achieve, rather than stare blankly at the screen wondering what I could achieve in the time I had available.

#3 - It's good to talk (in fact, it's vital)

Being off sick is pretty isolating, and at times I really felt this.  I felt disconnected from my team, out of the loop, and generally pretty low.  I'm definitely a people-person, so being confined to my house and not having anybody to speak to for most of the day was really tough.  I wanted and felt that I needed communication with others, but I wasn't ready to get back to work and nor was I able to get out and visit people.

Learn how to communicate your needs

Being able to reach out to people and communicate my needs felt really important - both within the team at the office and within my social circles I left people know that while I was still pretty poorly and not able to give much back, I would really value hearing from people and keeping in touch.  People dropped me emails, messages on Skype and Hangouts, Facebook messages and text messages.  It made such a difference, I cannot tell you - just a small gesture of letting someone know you are thinking about them can totally turn around their whole day.

It made me reflect how important it is that we feel safe within our teams to be able to make ourselves vulnerable in this way - to reach out and ask for something we need without any fear or hesitation - and to build a culture in which we value the importance of people having their own personal needs met.

#4 - You don't have to be sitting up to work in a good posture!

lavoltablueWhile I already have a sit-to-stand motorised desk, I was a bit stuck with this injury because I could not tolerate either sitting or standing for any length of time.  I also couldn't work on my sofa without triggering spasms in all kinds of muscles, which both set back my recovery and prevented me reducing my medication dose of muscle relaxants (which were causing the brain-fog moments and lack of memory!).

After a bit of searching, I came across a Lavolta desk which would enable me to use my laptop while lying down, but retaining a good neck and back posture.  The great thing about this particular model was that I could adjust the angles to suit whatever posture I needed to be in at that time, whether it be sitting, lying or something in between.  It also has some (rather noisy!) fans on the base which plugged into my USB port, keeping the laptop about 10 degrees cooler than if it was on my lap or a pile of cushions!

I spent my first 'return to work' week working 1 hour per day using this desk, and while it took a bit of tweaking to get the right angles (and a few screen-in-the-face moments where I got it totally wrong!) it certainly helped me to work much more comfortably when I was lying down or sitting.

#5 If you don't have a plan for a key person in your business to disappear, make one

While we've been busy working on projects, building our extensions, managing the team and all kinds of other things, planning for eventualities such as a key person being unavailable was something which we talked about, but never got around to doing.  We had a disaster recovery plan, but not a key person dependency plan.  This time I was lucky - I was able to come back to light duties within a fortnight, but within that fortnight we incurred pretty significant problems in our workflows which we would not be able to sustain for longer periods of time.

If you don't have a solid plan for your key people disappearing from the business, make one now, even if it's a draft document.  If you stand to be at significant risk should one of your key people be unavailable, consider taking out "key person insurance" and putting in place a clear process for both short-term and long-term loss of those key members of your team.  This experience was something of a wake-up call to our lack of such a policy and something we're working to address through strategic planning, documentation and processes.



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