Category Archives: Solopreneur

The Digital Nomad – Part 3 – Improve Your Productivity Kanban-Style

Last week, when you could not fall asleep because you felt overwhelmed by the increasing number of items on your to-do list, you had the brilliant idea to buy post-its and start to plan your next four weeks. Then, you also thought about writing down your 25 priorities. 

You already felt a little relieved and fell asleep. However, the question remains “did you actually do what you planned the day after?”

I bet you didn’t do it even if you thought it was a great idea.

 

The good news is that what happened to you last week happens to most of us too. The bad news is that when you do this in your personal life, you are more inclined to do the same in your professional life as well. We accept a mediocre solution or we try to put a plaster on a process instead of analyzing the root cause of the issue.

According to Schwarzt et al (2014), the great majority of companies see this phenomenon as a challenge to productivity and overall performance, but struggles to handle it. According to Deloitte, over half of the respondents to her survey  say that “their organizations are not doing a good job helping workers address information overload and today’s demanding work environment.” 57 percent believe their organizations are “weak” when it comes to helping leaders manage difficult schedules and supporting employees manage information flow.

Have we lost all of our ideals of Total Quality Management (This is a management approach to long-term process through customer satisfaction. In a Total Quality Management effort, all members of an organization participates in improving processes, products, services and the culture in which they work)  from the good old nineties? Do you know about Kanban and visualizing process flows?

We need to learn how to become more productive and we need to learn it now. If, like me, you are always eager to receive tips on how to increase productivity, check this podcast out.

Kanban 

Kanban is a lean method which originated in lean manufacturing, which was inspired by the Toyota Production System. It aims at managing work by balancing demands with available capacity, and by improving the handling of system-level bottlenecks. 

In knowledge work and in software development, the aim is to provide a visual process management system which facilitates decision-making about what, when, and how much to produce. 

Among the most important characteristics is that work items are visualized to provide a view of progress and process, from start to finish, usually through a Kanban board. Indeed, in Japanese, kanban means “signboard” or “billboard.”

Kanban Boards 

A colorful, tidy and good-looking kanban board is one of the most effective tools in project management. It can be used to plan and work through any project, both in your personal and professional life. 

Kanban boards visually display a certain process in its various stages using cards to represent work items and columns to represent each phase of the process. Cards are moved from left to right to show progress and to help coordinate teams performing the work. 

Simple boards have vertical columns for the “to-do”, “doing”, and “done” work.  Alternatively, they may be labelled “waiting”, “in progress” and “completed”. Complex Kanban boards can also be divided into horizontal “swim lanes” representing different types of work or different teams performing the work. Additionally, it can subdivide the “in progress” work into multiple columns to visualise the flow of work across a whole value stream map.

Example of a Kanban board:

 

Seven core practices for Kanban

 

Here I suggest six core practices that will make you optimize the efficiency of the tool and become a master of kanban boards.

  1. Visualize the flow of work. You cannot work on a Kanban board, either physical or electronic, if you cannot visualize the process steps needed to deliver your work. Depending on the complexity of your process and your work-mix, your Kanban board can be very simple or very elaborate. Once you visualize your process, then you can visualize the current work that you and your team are doing. 
  2. Use Colors. Use post-its in different colors for different types of projects. Or, if you decide to use this tool for personal life projects, consider using different colors for different kinds of activities (orange for the projects you wish to complete at home, yellow for your children’s requests, and so on).
  3. Limit WIP (Work in Progress). It’s important to reduce WIP to a minimum to encourage yourself and your team to complete work at hand first before taking up new work. Work currently in progress must be completed and marked done. This creates capacity in the system, so that you can focus on new tasks. Limiting WIP helps you finish what they are doing already before taking up new stuff. This practice is also useful because it communicates to the customer and other stakeholders that there is limited capacity to do work, and they need to plan carefully what work they ask you or your team to do.
  4. Manage Flow.. A Kanban system helps you manage flow by highlighting the various phases of the workflow and the status of work in every single phase. Based on how well you defined the workflow and set the limits to WIP, you will observe either a smooth flow of processes or work piling up as a bottleneck forms and starts to hold up capacity. Kanban helps you analyze the system and adjust their work accordingly to improve flow. In this way, you will manage to reduce the time it takes to complete each task. By improving flow, your delivery of work becomes smoother and more predictable, making it easier to communicate to your customer when you will manage to get any work done. You will also automatically increase your reliability to your customers’ eyes.
  5. Make Process Policies Explicit. Visualize explicitly your policies, process rules or guidelines for how you do your work. In this way, you create common ground for all those involved in the process to understand how to work in the system. The various policies can be at the board level or at a “swim lane” level or for each column. Examples of explicit policies are: what defines a task complete, what describes individual “swim lanes” or columns, who pulls when, etc. 
  6. Implement Feedback Loops. This practice is an essential part of any good system. Kanban encourages and helps you implement different types of feedback loops. If you want to deliver the right work in the shortest possible time, it’s crucial to get feedback early, especially if you ended up on the wrong track.
  7. Improve Collaboratively, Evolve Experimentally (using the scientific method). The Kanban Method helps you implement small changes and improve gradually in a way that is sustainable for you and your team. It encourages you to form a hypothesis, test it and make changes according to the results you obtain. In a few words, it aims at tackling issues through a scientific method. As an individual or team who aims at being agile, it’s fundamental that you evaluate your process continuously and improve as much as needed.

Notable tools

This is a list of tools that implement the Kanban method. You can test some of them for free.

  • Asana, with boards.
  • Azure DevOps Server, an integrated ALM-platform for managing work in and across multiple teams.
  • CA Technologies Rally, provides teams with the option of managing pull-based, lean software development projects.
  • Unicom Focal Point, a portfolio management and product management tool.
  • Jira (software), provides kanban boards.
  • Microsoft Planner, a planning application available on the Microsoft Office 365 platform.
  • Pivotal Tracker provides kanban boards.
  • Projektron BCS, project management tool, provides kanban boards for tickets and tasks.
  • Trello, cards-based project management.
  • Tuleap, an agile open source tool for development teams: customize board columns, set WIP (Work In Progress), connect board with Issue Trackers, Git, Documents.
  • Twproject (formerly Teamwork), project and groupware management tool.
  • Wrike, an Agile Collaborative Work Management Platform.

Reflection

Think of three ways a Kanban board could facilitate your own professional and/or private life. When you come up with ideas, try to be very specific. They have to reflect what you do and how you operate on your daily routine. 

If you haven’t tried Trello yet, try navigating it and setting up your own account.

 

Resources

If you want to learn more about Kanban: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban_(development)

If you want to learn more about Kanban implementations and Kanban boards:

https://www.digite.com/kanban/what-is-kanban/ 

If you want to know why you should use Kanban in marketing https://business901.com/blog1/why-you-should-use-kanban-in-marketing/

If you think your lack of digital competencies is affecting your productivity: https://globalpeopletransitions.com/lack-of-digital-competence-affecting-your-productivity-heres-how-you-escape-that-rut/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2014/hc-trends-2014-overwhelmed-employee.html#:~:text=The%20overwhelmed%20employee%20Simplify%20the%20work%20environment&text=Too%20much%20access%20to%20information,us%20into%20%E2%80%9Coverwhelmed%E2%80%9D%20employees.&text=Sixty%2Dfive%20percent%20of%20executives,ready%E2%80%9D%20to%20deal%20with%20it

Productivity Makeover with Graham Allcott (Podcast): https://www.sundaebean.com/2019/12/02/152-productivity-makeoverwith-graham-allcott/

If you’re curious to know more about the benefits of handwriting: https://www.fastcompany.com/90389979/5-times-when-using-paper-and-a-pen-is-better-than-using-an-app

References

Piper, J. (2018). Focus in the age of distraction: 35 tips to focus more and work less. Panoma Press, St. Albans.

Schwartz J. et al. (2018, Aug. 4), ‘The overwhelmed employee: Simplify the work environment.’ Deloitte University Press. 

Are you one of those settled professionals who suddenly had to get out of the last job? Did you love to write as a high school senior but figured a career in journalism would take too many years of crafting the art?

Maybe this is the time in your life when you want to get back into the habit. Perhaps this is really the time when you want to consider starting a writing career in Switzerland. 

Seven Reasons to Start a Writing Career in Switzerland

1)   You cannot handle frustrating meetings any longer

2)  You don’t want to conform to the typical 8 AM to 5 PM working day

3)  You’ve decided that you finally want to feed your passion and earn an income out of it

4) You’ve always been good at telling stories and want to do it more consistently

5)   Your values constantly clash with your company’s values

6)   Parenthood completely overwhelmed you

7)   Your partner got a wonderful –it-was-always-my-dream-to-move-to Switzerland-Singapore-Santa Barbara-kind of job offer and you are in a new country without a professional network.

How many of these points can you tick? If you can relate to at least one of them, I encourage you to keep reading what comes next. 

Four Signs You Feel the Urge to Develop Your Creative Side

1)   You neglected writing in order to earn a living but you always journal during your holidays.

2)  You did not know you were more creative than others until a psychologist told you.

3)   You are bored and need to do more than painting your nails, cooking and washing clothes to satisfy your creativity.

4)   You are going through a transition and that triggers the urge to WRITE, PAINT, SING, PLAY AN INSTRUMENT…

Your writing could become a new source of income for you. You will probably not land a bestseller overnight but even publishing a book has become rather easy in the age of kindle desktop publishing.

It is important that you have the skill of language composition and you know your grammar well.  Unless you wish to become a literary fiction writer,I don’t think you need a diploma in writing though.

Three Tips to Start a Writing Career in Switzerland

#1 Guest Blog

You could guest blog for “Hello Switzerland” for starters or submit your articles to www.ezinearticles.com. They also have good writing tips there.

http://blog.ezinearticles.com/

http://www.helloswitzerland.ch/

https://www.contently.com/

https://serp.co/content/what-is-content-marketing/

You can also check the categories on our website to see if you would be a good fit as guest blogger for Global People Transitions. We’d be happy to read your content! Write to angela@globalpeopletransitions.com if you’re interested. 

#2 Join a Community of Writers

As a large and international expat hub, Zurich has a great community of writers and independent authors and there is a lot to learn.

http://www.nuancewords.org/

https://rowinggirl.com/

https://zurichwritersworkshop.com/

http://www.dicconbewes.com/category/writing/

http://triskelebooks.blogspot.ch/2013/11/tis-season.html

#3 Educate Yourself with a Good Mentor

If you need a kick in the b… I recommend you read Jeff Goins’ blog. He is a motivator for aspiring writers and authors.

What’s your experience with blogging and writing?

Please share with your best friend. You can also leave us a comment below if you feel like sharing with our Club Sandwich readers. 

DIgital Nomads

Contrary to what many might think, the term Digital Nomad isn’t an invention of the 21st century. The word, in fact, was first introduced in the homonym book “Digital Nomad” published by Wiley in 1997.

However, up until recently, people tended to connect this denomination with names of fancy Facebook groups where a small number of privileged and tech professionals were allowed. This is because until ten years ago, the typical graduate who entered the workplace would be shown their desk and be tied to it thereafter. If on the one hand, a few digital-first companies were already offering the possibility to work flexible hours and/or from home, on the other hand most employees could not even dream of working from a paradisiac location ten thousands miles away from the company’s office.

Nowadays, digital nomads are becoming a trend. In Global Mobility we speak of “Virtual Assignees” and “Digital Nomads” now as new assignment types. Millennials, are going to make up 75% of the global workforce by 2025, according to Inc.

In fact, in 2015, flexible remote work was already the top priority for Millennials and 85 percent expressed their preference for telecommuting 100 percent of the time (Flexjobs survey).

With this data at hand, it’s easy to see that we’re dealing here with a real new breed and not anymore a restricted circle of tech-savvy gurus. And at this point, it’s also easy to predict that the rise of this category of workers will obviously also have a strong impact on Global Mobility policies. 

The Six Points You Need to Make Sure to Check

Fatima is a young and determined woman who works as a freelancer. She has recently moved to Switzerland from where she continues to work, and she calls herself a Digital Nomad. If, like her, you too are a Digital Nomad and you’re about to or have just moved to Switzerland, this article might enlighten you on some fundamental technical issues that you need to be aware of in the Helvetic Confederation.

Despite this article being Swiss-specific, these points are worth considering wherever in the world you’re dreaming to live, either temporarily or permanently.  

This is an offer an overview of risks we see frequently. For deeper advice on your personal situation I recommend that you seek advice from specialists in the individual areas. I’m happy to introduce you to these specialists in Switzerland.

1 – Labor Law 

The labor law that applies to your case changes significantly whether you are classified as self-employed or employed. In Switzerland, being self-employed means that you work on your behalf, you are independent, and you assume the financial risk. You may decide on the type of company you build.

You will need your own infrastructure, you draw up invoices in your own name, you assume the risk of collection and you work out your taxes. Additionally, you decide on your organization and your method of working. You may outsource work to third parties and you work for more than one client. Based on this employed/self-employed differentiation, the aspects concerning your work permit vary as well.

It is as well possible that, due to different legislations across countries, the Swiss labor inspection authorities could qualify you as an employee of your current “employer” or “client”. This can happen even when in your country of origin your status is of self-employed or freelancer. If this should happen to you, you will need to provide various further documents to the competent authorities. 

Based on your host country you really need to familiarize yourself with the local employment law as well especially if you are planning to hire other people into your business.

2 – Immigration Law

If you share with Fatima the typical Digital Nomad spirit, you will probably travel often. Even during Corona-times, you will most likely travel more frequently than a traditionally employed person. For this reason, it’s important that you have the correct permits to enter the countries and actually work there. 

If you’re an EU / EFTA national not yet residing in Switzerland and working there over eight days per calendar year, you will need both a residence and work permit. If you only work here up to 90 days per calendar year your employer will have to register you via the online registration procedure. Usually, the permission will be given. However, you can then really only work here for 90 days in a calendar year. 

As a “third-country national”, you have to be aware that work visas are limited to quotas and they are therefore not so easy to obtain.  You are not allowed to work in Switzerland while on a tourist visa. You don’t want to get into trouble with the Swiss authorities.

The permits that allow you to work in Switzerland are L, B, C, and G. They have different purposes and durations. If you want to read more details about the characteristics of each permit, check our resources at the bottom. As an expat spouse you generally have the approval when you receive a B-permit. With the L-permit there is often a restriction.

Do you feel confused? Trust me, it’s normal. That’s why it’s always best to get advice from an Immigration Specialist. I suggest you contact Sonia Meier  of BecomeLocal

Special Digital Nomad Visas

You might be up-to-date already, but in case you didn’t know it, some forward-thinking countries have already introduced specific visas for Digital Nomads!

These visas are not for any Digital Nomads and every country has listed its own requirements and benefits, but it is worth it to check them out. Up to today, the countries that offer this opportunity are Barbados, Georgia, Estonia, Bermuda and Thailand, while Croatia is next in line. Check out our resources below if you want to find out more about the topic! 

With the Digital Nomad trend on the rise, Fatima wishes that Switzerland too will have this specific type of visa in the future, simplifying the bureaucratic burden she needs to go through.

3 – Personal Tax

Based on the Swiss federal tax law, you become a tax resident after living and working in Switzerland for a continuous period of 30 days, or after 90 days without earning any income. 

In Switzerland, you are responsible for paying your taxes. You are taxed only on the income generated in Switzerland and not on your worldwide income. This is regardless of whether you’re self-employed or not and it does not depend on whether you receive a one-time payment or a regular salary. 

It’s important that you learn to differentiate between your turnover and a potential salary that you are paying out to yourself. My most important advice is that you either find a good accountant like Joerg Blaettler of Winston Wolf or you learn accounting with a basic software such as Bexio.

4 – Corporate Tax

If you work for an international company without an office in Switzerland, be aware that your presence could create a “Permanent Establishment” for the company. This means that the company might have to pay corporate tax. If you decide that you want to keep  working from Switzerland, you should discuss this with them beforehand. 

If you own your own company and this is registered outside Switzerland, corporate tax issues could become even trickier, and you might incur in double taxation. Depending on the countries involved, treaties have their own specific clauses and you will have to look at your particular situation. 

5 – Social Security

For Digital Nomads like you and Fatima, it can become challenging to ensure at least basic insurance for retirement, disability or unemployment because social security is generally connected to the country of employment. 

The first thing you need to know is that Swiss social security is based on three pillars that I am going to briefly explain here. The first pillar is the basic insurance (old-age, survivors’, disability, and unemployment insurance): this is mandatory if you are a resident and earning an income in Switzerland.

If you are self-employed, you need to pay the full contribution through a self-declaration made to the authorities. If you don’t do this, the authorities will estimate and claim the contribution, and you incur a fine. 

Let’s focus on the pension scheme. When you reach the official retirement age, and if you’ve contributed for at least one year, you gain the right to claim the retirement annuity. Please keep in mind that the annuity is limited and calculated based on the years of contributions.

The second pillar is the employee’s pension scheme. This is mandatory and it covers the same risks as the first pillar, but it’s provided by the employer instead of the State. 

The third pillar is additional, private savings that you’re free to undertake or not, depending on your preferences.

And if you have a foreign employer? 

If you have a foreign employer who has the rights to apply for a certificate of coverage, they might be exempted from Swiss social security. If not, the foreign employer might have the obligation to register in Switzerland and seek for a first and second pillar solution for you while you’re based in Switzerland. 

6 – Health and Accident Insurance

As a Swiss resident, Fatima needs to have mandatory health insurance in Switzerland. She’s entering her third month in the country and her time to stipulate one is almost over. You have, in fact, up to 90 days to sign your health insurance contract from the moment you set foot in the country.

All health insurers in Switzerland provide the same benefits under basic insurance. However, if you want to be covered for other needs such as better hospital accommodation, legal assistance and so on, you need to add a voluntary supplemental insurance. 

In Switzerland, each person must pay health insurance premiums. The premiums are independent of the individual’s income but vary depending on age, residence and health insurer, so you are free to choose the health insurance company with which you wish to take out basic insurance.

If you move to Switzerland but still work in an EU/EFTA country, you must be insured in the country where your employer is based. This also applies if you are self-employed. In this case, it is not possible for you to purchase health insurance in Switzerland. If you feel lost and need guidance in making the right choice for yourself, we personally advise that you contact Ralph Endres of ExpatPartners or Domenico Bilotta at Helsana

As you figured out already, there’s a lot on the list of items that you need to take into account when deciding to work as a Digital Nomad for Switzerland. Having a clear vision of how everything works isn’t easy, especially if you need to understand bureaucracy in a language that you don’t speak well. This is why we always recommend that you reach out to a trusted expert in the field. If Fatima worked it out, you can certainly do it too! And remember it will be worth it, Switzerland ranks number 1 in the world for quality of life! 

Kind regards 

Angie Weinberger

Definitions

Digital Nomad

Online dictionaries such as Investopedia.com or Urbandictionary.com define Digital Nomads as individuals who are independent from their location by performing their work using “new” technologies, i.e. deriving their income by working remotely. A Digital Nomad is not required to commute to the employers’ office / headquarters to be physically present, as telecommuting is their preferred way of working. The typical digital nomad can be found in a myriad of locations, including using public co-working spaces, a home office or travelling around the globe.

Permanent Establishment (PE)

According to the OECD, it is a fixed place of business through which the business of an enterprise is wholly or partly carried on. The term includes a place of management: a branch, an office, a factory, a workshop, a mine, an oil or gas well, a quarry or any other place of extraction of natural resources. A building site or construction site could also be a Permanent Establishment. However, tax authorities are adapting beyond this traditional definition. Overseas contractors, International Business Travelers (IBT), warehouse space, digital activities and so on could also create a PE.

Resources 

Giving back
Working from this hotel in Dubai? A dream coming true for us digital nomads.

If you need to make a self-employment declaration and you don’t know where to start from,  you can check these resources out: 

Social Security in Switzerland

https://www.ahv-iv.ch/p/2.02.d

https://www.svazurich.ch/pdf/Checkliste_se.pdf

https://www.svazurich.ch/internet/de/home/private/arbeitssituation/selbstaendig.html

How to Develop Your Business

Here is a lot of general business advice from us. We can discuss this further. Please email Angie for a first consultation.

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/growme/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/solopreneur/

https://globalpeopletransitions.com/GlobalMobility/global-entrepreneurs

World-Class Copywriting Courses

Ash Ambirge – The Middle Finger Project

Best Course on Building Digital Courses

Amy Porterfield

Best Podcast on Building a Global Expat Lifestyle

Sundae Schneider Bean

Dominic’s Advice for Swiss Compliance for Digital Nomads

https://feibv.nl/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/Dominic-Suter-MasterCourse-Human-Resources-and-Global-Mobility-Master-Paper-FINAL.pdf 

Details about the characteristics of the various Swiss work permits: https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/work-permits/29191706 

More about Digital Nomads and immigration into Switzerland: https://newlandchase.com/digital-nomads-is-immigration-law-keeping-up-to-the-hype/ 

The guidelines published by the Small and Medium Enterprises (SME)

 

Other Countries

More information on the application procedure, supporting documents and the requirements to obtain a Digital Nomad visa in the countries that offer this: 

Barbados: 

https://www.fragomen.com/insights/alerts/12-month-remote-work-visa-introduced

Georgia: 

The application process is not yet up and running yet but the government is updating their website

Estonia:

https://e-resident.gov.ee/nomadvisa/ 

Thailand:

The SMART visa program is not only but also for Digital Nomads.

Bermuda:

Apply for their Work from Bermuda visa visit https://forms.gov.bm/work-from-bermuda/Apply

 


How many times do you open your inbox and find over a hundred unread emails? And how often do you “clean your inbox” just to find it overflowing with emails again the day after? One of the reasons why I get stressed around emails is that I spend a whole day in a workshop and I cannot check my emails because it would distract my mind too much. Then I check my emails after the workshop, when I am already exhausted and know that I have a lot of tasks and queries to handle. When I worked in the corporate world I would often have a day full of meetings and calls and come back to my desk at 5 or 6 PM and “started to work productively”. Or, you probably know this: it’s Friday, 4.30 PM,  you are just about to start your weekend and then you see this one email and it keeps you at your desk for another hour. Your partner in the meantime is waiting for you to help with the groceries or wants you to be home early so that you can greet your friends that are coming by for dinner. There are different reasons why our body shows stress reactions and I thought it would help to break this phenomenon down to help you deal with it.

 

If you experience high levels of stress when you find too many unread emails in your inbox, you should know that you’re not alone. In fact, the phenomenon is so widespread that it became known as inbox anxiety

Inbox Anxiety Came with Emails

 

When emails were invented in the 1970s, nobody had a clue of how radically they were going to change the way we work. In time, they have become such an ubiquitous tool that, depending on your seniority, there’s a chance that you haven’t even experienced work without emails. I personally remember the days when we did not have emails at work yet and I went through several tech upgrades since then (desktop, laptop, blackberry, smartphone). Despite more than 25 years of experience with the technology I still don’t know exactly what to do when I get certain emails. One ground rule I established early in my career was: when I am angry I don’t send a response. I wait until I feel calm again. In fact, when I then go through the same email with a fresher approach, I sometimes even notice a certain positivity that I had overlooked earlier. 

 

You might be surprised that our generation still relies so much on email but inbox anxiety doesn’t only refer to email now.

 

I have several other professional inboxes to manage as well (Facebook, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, XING, four email accounts, professional messages on FB pages, Instagram and Twitter direct messages). Sometimes, I feel like I should change my job description to “emailer”. 

 

With the Corona-crisis and the need to work from home, most of us probably worked even more with emails and messages than usual and despite the general reply-to-all rule in some organisations this is still not done so you are falling off a thread and then you have to follow up or update your colleagues in a different way.

 

In our team at GPT, we introduced Slack during the crisis. We had already failed at it in 2016 largely due to my inability to focus on too many channels so now I’m making a more concerted effort to use Slack instead of WhatsApp. I don’t really use it to replace emails but I notice it helps me write less follow up emails and also I can ask the Slack bot to remind me instead of asking our intern. 

 

I’m trying to find out where MY own inbox anxiety stems from and I hope to share this with you so you find ways to overcome this as well.

 

Switching Off and FOMO

One issue that creates inbox anxiety for me is the need to switch off completely for short and extended periods of time. Last year, I took the liberty not to be available for four weeks over the summer. Some of my email accounts were not checked while I was offline. That created stress when coming back. Same happened when I was out sick for three weeks with COVID19 this year.

There is enough research to show that you should completely switch off from work for at least two consecutive weeks each year. However, in most of your jobs it is still expected that you are available during vacation and weekends, especially during launches, emergencies, crisis and personnel related decisions.

As a matter of fact, according to a YouGov survey 60% of people check their work inboxes also during holidays. We don’t do it necessarily because we want to, but because we feel some sort of obligation to do it. The same research found that 80% of the respondents would actually prefer to “switch off completely”.

Being Responsive versus Productive

Another issue is that I would like to be responsive. It’s one of my trademarks. And there are certain limitations between being responsive and being productive. However, in order to be able to do “deep work” and to focus on quality time online with my clients I sometimes have to wait with a response until my work day is over or until I get a break. This might be only an issue when you are a small company and nobody else can cover for you. Most companies now don’t expect a response on weekends and responding within 24 hours still seems to be acceptable.

Underlying Relationship and Trust Issues

The third theme I notice has to do with email anxiety when you receive emails from certain persons. I assume that there is an underlying relationship or trust issue with this person. Maybe this person has treated you unfairly in the past or they have turned around something you wrote in an unacceptable way. Maybe they belittle you in their emails with their manager in cc or they shame you publicly. A good manager would give their feedback in more appropriate ways than emails but we know that there are a number of mediocre managers out there as well.

What is inbox anxiety and where does it come from? 

According to Ron Friedman, author and psychologist, the reason why we feel overwhelmed when we find a lot of emails in our inbox is that each message is a new demand of our time and it triggers one more decision to make. This leaves most of us with less energy for the work that matters. Another reason that could make you anxious might be the lack of clear expectations and etiquette especially in the intercultural context you live in as an expat. 

 

Also not having anybody to delegate emails to and feeling responsible for client service even when it’s not in your direct area of control could considerably make your stress level rise. In fact, studies have shown that checking email frequently leads to higher levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress. 

 

We feel stressed also because we don’t feel productive. As we are constantly interrupted by a “PLING” our cognitive performance is reduced resulting in an attention deficit. According to research done on the negative effects of email on productivity, it takes us an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the tasks after we’ve been interrupted. Now, think of how many times they interrupt you at work and make an average calculation. It’s scary.

There is one more issue related to inbox anxiety and this is known as “email apnea.” In fact, 80% of people tend to hold their breath unnaturally when going through their emails causing a change in  their normal breathing patterns. Holding your breath can contribute to stress-related diseases because it throws off the body’s balance of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitric oxide.

Seven Tips to Help you Take Back Control

Here are seven tips that will help you take back control of your inbox, time and productivity.

1 – Clarify the Purpose of Your Conversations

Make sure you know the communication policy and etiquette of the company where you work. This will also make clearer why and how you’re using emails and not other tools. 

2 – Build Better Relationships to the Senders and Receivers

If you don’t know the other person well, try to reciprocate their tone. You don’t want to come across as too friendly or too formal if the relationship is just at the beginning. When I communicate in German I struggle because the connotations between how you address a person are quite different depending on the cultural context. In English you can easily be far too informal and hurt somebody’s feelings. As a general rule, avoid emotions and emotional topics.

When you aren’t familiar with the sender, another good alternative is picking up the phone. If you are a millenial calling someone you don’t know might not be your preference, but I still think it’s the best way to establish first contact with someone. 

3 – Stop Escalations and Solve the Real Issue

I love to watch escalation bingo on email only when I’m not in the firing line and cc-ed but not cause of anger. I personally read too many emails that are escalated to the appropriate management level too late. We are then often reading a lot of blame-storms and cover-your-back when the real underlying relationship issue is not addressed. I’m pretty good at NOT responding and I’m often slow when it’s heated or emotional. The reason is that I often need a break from the emotions that are triggered. 

I can leave emails drafted for days only to discard them. It’s a skill I learned. Sometimes I might come across rude or negligent…It even happens that I forget an email. However, it’s often not that important or the person can find another route to talk to me. If the person knows me, they will reach out by phone, text message or just resend. 

4 – Stop flagging, sorting, deleting and trust your inner priority manager

I hear people are still flagging, filing in folders, reading and answering emails all the time although I notice that response time has become from 1 minute to 1 week to ghosting. Frankly speaking, I sometimes don’t respond to an email because I don’t feel that I have anything to say. In some cultural contexts this is a perfectly acceptable behavior, however, in some others this could come across as rude. 

5 – Limit the times you check inboxes and respond

Role model the change you would like to see in this world. If you don’t want to be bothered by emails after 7 pm, either you are powerful enough not to respond anymore or you also stop sending emails after “normal office hours”.

6 – Apply a Filter, Deactivate Notifications and Practice Writing Better Headers for Receivers

Have a policy for all your media who you accept and what kind of messages you will respond to. Instead of responding to every tweet I have now connected Twitter to Slack. I can check first if I want to respond or if it is a random tag.

I get a lot of system notifications, newsletters and promotions that I just scan but usually I only need to read the header or key words to know if it’s worth going deeper.

7 –  Track how much time you spend emailing, messaging and with whom

Try using RescueTime to track how much time you spend emailing. By doing this, you can realistically plan how you can gradually reduce the time you spend emailing. You might try to reduce by 5 to 10 percent weekly the time you spend on your inbox. One way to do this is to practice writing shorter emails. 

If you notice that you are so busy because you spend an hour sending cat videos to friends and family you might want to change that. And you might not know right away what you want to change and how. I recommend you call me for a 15-minute chat. Maybe I can give you guidance on how to reduce your inbox anxiety. A helpful program would be our RockMe! program.

Kind regards

Angie

Resources

My favourite Productivity Hacks – Seven Tips to claim back your Diary

https://www.psychologytoday.com/intl/blog/in-practice/201805/3-types-email-anxiety-and-solutions

https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/heres-why-email-makes-us-so-stressed-out-2015-2

https://happiful.com/how-to-deal-with-inbox-anxiety/

https://www.theladders.com/career-advice/the-6-rules-of-email-how-to-eliminate-email-anxiety-and-take-control-of-your-inbox

https://www.businessinsider.fr/us/email-apnea-how-email-change-breathing-2012-12

https://www.rescuetime.com/

https://blog.trello.com/work-life-boundaries-as-a-remote-worker 

References

Mark, G., Gudit, D. and Klocke, U. (2008). The cost of interrupted work: more speed and less stress. Conference Paper, DOI: 10.1145/1357054.1357072, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/221518077_The_cost_of_interrupted_work_More_speed_and_stress

Mark, G., Voida, S. & Cardello, A. (2012). A pace not dictated by electrons: An empirical study of work without email. Conference Paper, https://sites.oxy.edu/clint/physio/article/APaceNotDictatedbyElectronsAnEmpiricalStudyofWorkWithoutEmail.pdf

Waldersee, V. (2018). The majority of employees check work emails while on holiday. YouGov, https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/articles-reports/2018/08/15/majority-employees-check-work-emails-while-holiday

My skiing vacation in St. Anton, Austria came to an abrupt end when we were asked around 2.30 pm while casually chatting on a chairlift to leave the town as soon as possible. By the time we returned to our apartment and while throwing everything into our luggage I told myself to keep calm. I wasn’t calm really but I functioned. My friend and I were too late. The train station was closed already, nobody was allowed to enter. Policemen with masks tried to be nice to us but we were concerned. People standing there in bulks waiting for buses, taxi drivers signaling “no” and the sudden realization that I couldn’t just call a friend or relative and ask for a pick-up. 

Because there is a chance that I contracted coronavirus. The next step was to try to get a ride to the next train station, but our landlord wasn’t allowed to leave the city. Walking was not an option either. Asking other people to take us on, probably a little late in the game. Through a friend, we got a ride to Zurich on a bus and I was very happy when my friend and I arrived at my home. It’s more than 24 hours ago and the shock seems over. I’m suddenly in a 2-week quarantine. 

This pandemic has disrupted life worldwide, resulting in (to-date) over 150,000 cases and over 5,000 deaths. You can see the live updates here

People are rightfully worried due to the unfolding scenarios: food and essential item shortages due to hoarding, misinformation and hysteria. Due to my role(s) I have been following the topic on all media for a while now. During the last week, I had a lot of good conversations with my friends. What I can share now are a few tips although I’m really in the middle of this experience myself right now.

Prepare for Self-Isolation

First and foremost, self-isolation requires letting the people around you know of it – the isolation is as much for their benefit as it is for yours. If you suspect that you do have symptoms of the coronavirus, you must also do the following:

  • Stay at home and separate yourself from all other people. If you can’t use a separate bathroom, disinfect all areas all the time.
  • Wash dishes in the washing machine.
  • Cut down your visits outside to the absolute essential medical visits. Call the doctor before you go there.
  • Store your waste securely, as it will contain used tissues and other potentially-infected litter that must remain with you until you are cleared of infection.
  • If your symptoms worsen, seek professional medical help immediately.
  • Don’t use communal washrooms. Hand wash your clothes and towels in your apartment.

For details on how to effectively quarantine yourself from others and best practices involved, please read this article detailing what to do in such a scenario. A list of what you should and should not do is also available here.

It is mandatory for those with travel history to stay in isolation, so please make sure you follow medical protocol.

Buy Groceries and Stock up on Food

If you’re like me you might not eat at home a lot. I’m the opposite of a hamster buyer so I really needed my friend to go out grocery shopping yesterday. I will look into online orders when I run out of essentials. 

Remember that we are Not at War

This is a crisis and a pandemic and maybe worse than anything we have experienced in our generation but do you remember Chernobyl in 1984? I felt similar then. We were not allowed to go out even though we couldn’t really see the “danger”. Still, we’re not at war. Shops are still operating and we have access to clean drinking water from the tab here.

The images you are seeing online of empty shelves in grocery stores, barren city centers and overflowing hospitals (especially in Italy) can make you panic. You must ensure that you don’t so that you can follow the common sense but critical advice from the government and medical professionals. For me, the best way to avoid panic is by working and prioritizing.

Follow the Guidelines of Your Local Authority

In Switzerland, this is the BAG. https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/en/home.html

I find their updates very helpful. If you live in another country follow the guidelines set by your local authorities, both administrative and healthcare. 

That means, avoid unnecessary contact with others or your face, wash your hands frequently and definitely self-quarantine if you have returned from another country or a known “hotspot”.

I was asked to inform the authority about my quarantine and I contacted the cantonal office for Zurich. They shared these links with me.

https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/de/home/krankheiten/ausbrueche-epidemien-pandemien/aktuelle-ausbrueche-epidemien/novel-cov.html

https://www.bag.admin.ch/bag/de/home/krankheiten/ausbrueche-epidemien-pandemien/aktuelle-ausbrueche-epidemien/novel-cov/selbst-isolierung-und-selbst-quarantaene.html

Get Medical Advice from Your Doctor or Trusted Sources

I read a lot online and most medical information is not backed by evidence and if you’re not sure you can trust the source you can always get a second opinion from your doctor by email or phone consultation. For example, I read twice now that you should only take Paracetamol against the symptoms.

https://twitter.com/CHUVLausanne/status/1239144803847360512?s=20

Coronavirus Infoline for CH +41 58 463 00 00, 24/7.

Plan how you will Deal with a Lockdown

Most European countries have shut down schools, educational institutes, theatres, libraries, and public gatherings. So far, public transportation in Switzerland still seems to run on the clock as usual. However, there will be delays and changes due to border controls. Also, currently, it looks like I won’t be able to go home to my family for a while. I assume we will need medical clearance before crossing a border again.

Stop Your Business Travel to Other Countries

If you haven’t yet got stuck anywhere, there is a high chance that you will get stuck next week. Unless you are an MD who saves lives I’m not sure if your business trip is really needed right now. I suggest you cancel your trips until Easter. Then you can reassess the situation.

Replace “Essentials” with Home-Made Products

Due to the unfortunate shortages created by people stockpiling items, you may be seeing empty shelves in supermarkets and grocery stores. Most shops now have implemented limits to how many of each item people can buy, ensuring that everyone will be able to get essential items such as hand sanitizers, toilet paper, and basic food. However, where this is not the case, think about ways to replace “essentials” with home-made products and buy the ingredients now. For example: Could you use the old newspaper to make your own toilet paper? Or how about creating your own alcohol-based hand sanitizer

Innovate

Most of Europe is in some degree of shut down at the moment, which means that both people’s daily personal lives and their work routines are affected. Businesses both large and small have been impacted by the disruptions, facing varying levels of financial hardships. Startups, in particular, will be hit hardest, particularly those which require mobility from employees.

That said, however, innovation is essential for any startup’s success and this incident should be treated as yet another opportunity to innovate. Thanks to high-speed internet and laptops, most professionals are able to work remotely from home for this period. However, this increased load on cloud services such as Slack, Zoom, and Hangouts has resulted in those services experiencing slowdowns and issues in the face of such unprecedented load. 

Upgrades to those services don’t have hard timelines because of the restrictions in place, so organizations have been clever about it. I know of a few companies who have implemented a sort of time-share for work hours. 

They have divided people’s working hours into slots to balance the load on remote/cloud services and ensure better productivity than everyone clamoring to log in remotely. A few other businesses are alternating workdays for teams – while slower, this works better for more project-oriented work.

Take stock of the remote working conditions of your teams and order laptops and mobile phones if you have not done so yet.

It’s also vital that you review deadlines and stop pestering your teams with less critical topics right now. Prioritize!

Establish emergency contact groups with your team either via Whatsapp or Slack.

Take Small Steps

Constant media coverage reinforcing the difficulties faced ahead and the issues happening currently, worry about loved ones and humanity, in general, all take their toll. Therefore, I would advise you all to steel your hearts and persevere – now is the time for us to show our resilience. If you are struggling, the following steps may help:

  1. Take things one day at a time. What are you working on today? What are you eating today? How are you relaxing today? 
  2. Set yourself small, achievable goals for the day. They can be work-related or personal. 
  3. Put aside some time for your favorite hobby. This is a stressful and anxiety-filled time for a lot of people, even if they are not consciously aware of their worry levels. Engaging in a relaxing hobby will help you regain a sense of calm.
  4. Check-in with loved ones at least once a day.

Resilience would be required a lot more for expatriates, who may find themselves in a tougher mental challenge than most. They could find themselves not being able to be reunited with their families or to care for elderly family members. Being away from family is tough on the best of days, but in this time of global worry, it is all the harder. I wish there was some instant solution I could provide or some concrete tip that could help out, but unfortunately, the reality is that as an expat you will have to bear this situation. 

If you are stuck in a situation where you are unable to be with your family, try to stay in frequent contact with them over messaging, voice and video calls. Both they and you will be feeling vulnerable right now, perhaps lost and reasonably worried, and talking to them could act as emotional support for everyone. You can also try to read up on the home country’s approved medical advice for the region and help your family understand and act upon it, to minimize their chances of contracting COVID-19.

If you want to repatriate, speak to your Global Mobility Manager now. Check if your company works with International SOS too.

Sleep is Important

Try to Get Sleep

It is easy to say “resilience” and be done with it, but the fact of the matter is that these are difficult times. People are and will experience helplessness, loss, grief and more – it is perfectly alright to feel all those things. Worry is a natural response to what is happening around us all, and in a situation like this where global events are out of our control, it is fine to be worried. A good way to regain some measure of calm would be to control the little things still in our power – organizing your house, getting your washing done or perhaps cooking and enjoying a meal.

If you find your sleep disrupted by anxiety or worry, you can try some of our tips on improving sleep. Sleep deprivation can affect your emotions even more so trying to maintain a good sleep cycle can help you manage yourself better.

Be Mindful About Your Statements About Other People

We have all been joking around about Italian pasta and the Chinese rice. However, we have to be careful that we are not all turning into a bunch of stigmatizing, prejudiced racists. Having coronavirus is not an act of God. It’s not a consequence of shameful behavior. At this point, it’s just bad luck. Let’s be mindful of how we treat people in this situation.

Think About Your Resources

My mom just asked me if I didn’t have any extra sanitizer in a bag at my grandmother’s house. Funnily, this was leftover from the RockMeRetreat 2018 and “parked” there with other materials. She will now give it to my aunt who’s at risk and I’m so grateful that I could help with something so small from a distance.

Keep Calm and Make a Plan 

I sat down yesterday with a friend and we wrote a list of how we will deal with this. Writing about the experience of being quarantined was a part of the list. We also agreed to check in on each other daily. I can hardly handle a Sunday at home without going out so the part where I’m isolated from my partner and other people needs a lot of self-care. 

If you are feeling confused or anxious, I recommend you speak to a doctor. People react differently to crisis situations and often it helps to talk about your experience. I also want to mention that sharing a bit more love and being a bit more empathetic than usual goes a long way here.

Kind Regards,

Angie

More Resources:

https://foph-coronavirus.ch/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/AS2020.030.00773D.pdf

URGENT request to stay at home now! This is a Doctor from UZH, one of our best hospitals.

https://doktor-video.wetransfer.com/downloads/66c890900962a8c5a4c7e3735edb523120200315210045/d058bf