The world is a strange & scary place right now, the pandemic that is COVID-19 is rampant throughout the globe and it is an uncertain time for everyone. People and businesses all over the world are struggling, it is hard to shake the constant tension that is in the air. It is even hard to think of a time when we talked about something other than the Coronavirus. I am not one for small talk but a topic other than Corona would be most welcome right now.
I am lucky enough that COVID-19 it doesn't really affect me that much right now. I spend most of my days alone in an office in my home. I am used to self-isolation; it is almost my way of life for going on a decade now. The only thing that has changed is my fiancée (off work as schools are closed) is at home and is buying lots of food. It weirdly feels like Christmas for me so as I am guilty of thinking that besides my Mom being in the high-risk category and being worried about that, this does not really affect me that much.
Oh, and the fact that I am supposed to be getting married on the Amalfi Coast in Italy in July, but I think it is a fair bet that our wedding won't be happening at this stage because Italy, to give you a short answer, is fucked up right now. Thankfully, our vendors are very accommodating so that can be re-scheduled for 2021 if needs be, no matter how motivated Steph is to wear the Jimmy Choo heels that are burning a hole in her wardrobe, it is out of our control and we won't lose anything financially (yay, wedding insurance!) so I am not too upset if this has to be delayed a year.
Where I may feel it is in 6 months when people decide not to invest back into their business due to funds being a little tighter and their fiscal year being that bit leaner, it could have a real knock-on effect to the economy with another recession becoming a real possibility.
Overnight, businesses the world over have closed their doors with the majority taking the advice of UNICEF & the World Health Organisation on board.
The cynic in me cannot help but feel the pandemic could be helped enormously by the 1% of the world. They leapt into action when the Notre Dame Cathedral went up in flames last year with hundreds of millions being donated in a matter of days but are deafeningly silent on the Corona pandemic. I know Notre Dame is a beautiful landmark with a lot of cultural significance, but it is a fucking building at the end of the day.
While upsetting, it led to 0 deaths, as of the time this article, over 15,000 people have died from the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak. While household billionaires like Jack Ma & Bill Gates have donated sizable resources, some are notoriously quiet, my guess is that they are biding their time to maximise the bounce from a PR announcement against falling stock values. In the meantime, it is the everyday businesses that are struggling, businesses & families who simply cannot afford to close their doors for weeks on end.
The abruptness of the plunge - and the near-lockdown of major cities (besides a section of idiots) - is basically unheard-of in advanced economies, more akin to wartime adversity than to the downturn that accompanied the financial crisis more than a decade ago.
If the outbreak extends beyond April, it will hurt companies like Avalanche more than previously expected, the global economy will enter a recession (we are a lot closer to one than you might realise, even without the pandemic). In this case, the USA, Europe and Japan would all experience recessions, or what will be two-quarters of contraction in a row as the Chinese economy continues its first downturn since the 1970s, the ripple effect will be felt all over the world.
The good news is that a recession stirred by the coronavirus would look very different from the one we faced circa 2008. In the majority, banks & households will not have to grind out a comeback trail as they did in previous times. There is a lot of Corona enforced spending & employment happening, such as bulk buying, the cleaning out of supermarkets on an almost daily basis etc. Regardless of how callous you may think this to be, it will at the very least keep a stimulus of growth in the economy, especially a smaller one such as Ireland's.
The coronavirus crunch, meanwhile, is expected to give way to a speedy rebound once the outbreak is brought under control if that is to happen in the projected timeframe which may very well just be a PR exercise. As a business owner, I have found that there is no option other than to be positive because otherwise, you can fall into a spiral of doom pretty quickly that doesn't serve you in any way. That voice in the back of my head that tells me it will all go to shit is getting louder in these uncertain times.
In the meantime, people all over Ireland have had their routines disrupted, both professionally and personally. A period of working from home is becoming increasingly inevitable for many around Ireland. For a large percentage of the population, the experience is not only new, but it's also strange and for the uninitiated, it can mean that productivity comes to a complete stop with Netflix in your underwear just a step away.
The pros, of course, are very clear: Supreme flexibility, undeniable independence and a commute that consists of walking down the hallway or a flight of stairs.
The cons? It takes practice and requires a considerable amount of self-awareness, discipline and laser-like focus to avoid all the distractions that working from home provides.
Of course, this is under the assumption that you are working from a laptop all day. If you have 200 cows or if you are part of a two-man team on a mixer for a living, then it is not very practical advice and feel free to jump off this article right now because it probably is not for you. We are aiming this at those who are working from home and more specifically, those who are new to it with the enforced isolation to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
It is not all it is cracked up to be, it can be tough to be introduced to this level of isolation, even if you are not working from home, odds are, you are finding yourself with more free time around the house. Ellen DeGeneres & Sam Smith, both incredibly successful in their fields, financially well-off and just as susceptible to mental health issues as your average Joe are the examples circulating online as people having meltdowns in isolation. Unfortunately for them, sympathy is in short supply for megastars complaining about boredom in their mansions at the moment while people are losing their jobs & are genuinely fearful for their loved ones.
The option to work from home is a great privilege, especially during the coronavirus pandemic. Some professionals, like hospital workers, are required to show up onsite for their jobs. Of course, I can relate to those who are working from home for the very first time but absolutely hate it. Early on, I had a hard time learning how to successfully manage my time and stay disciplined. There was always a message to get back to, a game of FIFA with my brother or basically anything but the list of work that was to be completed, this led to the idea of getting an office for myself.
In the past, I was asked frequently about Avalanche having a physical office, it is something that I toyed with for a while but at the end of the day, nobody is going to walk in off the street and order a website. It just does not happen like that. It is an unnecessary cost and for the life of me, I don't see why any development firm would waste resources on a bricks & mortar office when a Slack group will do the same thing at 0 costs.
Firms saw what Google is doing in terms of huge open-plan office spaces and thought that is what we need to be doing so all our developers can be under one roof and they will love to be here because we will have a ping-pong table. I love to see competitors doing this, it is an unnecessary distraction and for me, a complete waste of money. In my experience, the most talented developers do not need a leash, they need to be let loose and this is why I run my developers on Slack & Skype.
I created my own office last year in my home and I now frequently meet clients here, this is useful for two reasons.
1. I am comfortable in my surroundings and it is quiet. I can walk clients through the entire process of what Avalanche will create for them. I can also live sketch out a custom framework on my main device. Something I could not do on a tablet if I met them in a hotel/working space.
2. Clients will automatically be more open to ideas as they can see the visuals in front of them in live code. They are also a bit more relaxed and this lends itself to frank discussions about their goals and how we can help them.
Way back in 2012, Avalanche actually started in several different places, a dingy apartment in Limerick, a floor in the box room of my parent's house and a café in Ballyduff. These were the three places I split my time building the first iteration of the Avalanche website (currently on MK V by the way).
By the time it went live, it was mostly in the box room of my parent's house and this is where the office remained for several years as I learned how to do what I am doing. It is also when I realised the power of being alone, I have always been happy with my own company and the majority of the time I prefer to be by myself both in terms of work & social situations.
Now I am not going to tell you the usual things you see in articles debating the benefits/drawbacks of working from home like: “Dress as you would going to the office, you will perform better” or “go for a walk to get inspired” because my aim is to go deeper than this.
I want to change the way you think.
I want to try and show you how to do more in less time. After nearly 10 years of isolation, I have now pretty much mastered it, but it took a while for the penny to drop for me as mentioned above.
Late 2013/early 2014, I had a successful business by all accounts, Avalanche had seen massive growth in two years, but I had hit a plateau. A steady stream of clients and ongoing work was good, I had secured a six-figure income & if you were on the outside looking in, I had probably surpassed all expectations anyone had of me & Avalanche at this point.
Looking back, it is clear to me now that I was just going through the motions because I was working with distractions and spending my days chasing my tail, running around after clients, constantly refreshing my email & burning myself out, leading to work suffering. I knew that I would not last with this mindset of trying to do 100 things at once. I needed to change, I needed to isolate myself and focus. I needed to change the way I did everything so I created a new routine to see if I could get some more out of myself.
The following list may sound a bit weird for most people, but I am pretty sure it has led to the explosion of growth that Avalanche has experienced since 2014 so bear with me.
1. I began working at 4.00 am. Nobody is in your inbox at this time. I also set myself a bedtime and adhered to it. I would not allow myself to leave the room and anytime I ventured to a distraction such as opening an article on Sky Sports, I added an hour to this. After 2 days of not eating because I had to keep adding penalty hours, I slowly trained myself not to have any distractions. This took weeks and it was fucking hard.
2. I removed all phone notifications and locked it away. I tinkered with the idea of deleting all social media, but it is necessary for business, this is a constant battle I have. The phone is not looked at until 12.00, my entire focus is coding for 8 hours.
3. I would ensure I went to the gym every single day; I could turn my brain off for an hour so I would not burnout.
4. Video games/sport. These were essential to keep as my downtime. Quality downtime is not mindless web browsing or watching Netflix. Both of these have specific tasks that keep me in a competitive “have to win” mind space where I could easily apply back to work
5. Intermittent fasting. This was not planned. As any Irish person in their parents' house will tell you, using a household device (such as the shower) outside normal hours is just a mortal sin. As I could not use a blender for my daily breakfast of a protein shake (Diet chocolate whey, peanut butter, banana & low-fat milk as if anybody cares), I had no choice but not to eat until the house was up. This would distract me from my 8-hour window & I was not allowed to leave the room, food was ruled out.
As we live in a world of distraction, long uninterrupted stretches of time at work are all but impossible. So, the above was necessary for me to move to the next level and I still apply them today as I successfully work from home. The bulk of my workday is now usually finished for lunchtime while Avalanche produces on average, more than any other firm in the country.
This allows me to work on my own business for 3 hours a day, my own SEO, apps I am creating, tinkering with software, freelancing for other companies, lecture, write and arse around on the internet.
It has allowed Avalanche to grow into a firm that offers a full digital suite of services rather than just a kid who is useful with a laptop. I am 100% convinced the above list is what turned Avalanche into a premier level agency and allowed me to reach my potential in business and set out the mental capacity that has allowed me to overcome business problems I would go on to face in later years, without my commandments, I probably would have crumbled and fallen apart.
Now, the above may seem extreme but in order to get the results that only 5% get, you need to have the guts to do what only 5% are willing to do.
I find it hard to stomach people who complain about something but then do nothing about it because they are scared to back themselves. If you are overweight and complain or project it on to somebody else rather than going to the gym or changing your lifestyle, who is really to blame? Look in the mirror and you will find your answer, the same logic can be applied to any part of life and I really believe that to be true.
Success & overcoming social fears are directly linked because anytime you deviate from the norm, people do not like it, it almost becomes personal. People will criticise you; it is just the way the world is. It is never easy walking one way when the larger group is walking another, it is not rocket science, but it is also why so few people do it.
People will take shots rather than do something themselves, once you accept this, you will realise that it will not affect you as much. Learn to thrive on it because you will never be able to please everybody.
Isolation will lead to success if you can be disciplined with it, I can guarantee it.
It is nothing new and is best summed up by a phrase that I found in 2016 coined by Cal Newport: Deep Work
Something I did not realise I had adapted until I read the book after the fact but it really resonated with me.
Newport states that as the world advances, three kinds of people will survive and prosper:
• Owners of capital or people with access to it.
• Those who can work with intelligent machines & tech.
• Superstars in their field of work.
Deep Work focuses on the third type, superstars and this option is open to absolutely everyone. To become one, you need to develop two skills: the ability to quickly master hard things and the ability to produce at an elite level, in terms of both quality and speed.
Deep Work is the concept that links these two skills.
High-Quality Work Produced = (Time Spent) x (Intensity of Focus).
Hard things are complex, and you need to give them all of your attention and focus. Easy things like social media, email and any distracting things like that are the simple tasks you complete every day, almost on autopilot.
At its core, your work life can be divided into deep (hard) & shallow (easy) tasks. It is those who master the concept of deep work that will thrive. Blocking out the shallow for hours on end is the key.
Deep Work is about working smarter, not harder.
It is the superpower of the 21st century.
I won't go into Newport's theory in full, I will link his book at the footer of this article if you wish to purchase but it is applicable to those who are currently cracking up in isolation and may help them to grow and focus. Hopefully, even my experience with isolation is a good read for those looking to pass the time even.
Working from home is not for everyone, that is obvious, I ran a poll on my Instagram yesterday and 56% (875 people) chose that they prefer to go to work in the traditional sense. I hope that things will snap back to normal in the coming weeks but that may not be realistic so we may need to get used to isolation for the time being.
Massive surprise, the computer nerd doesn't mind too much.
Stay safe people, Aidan out.