Making 2021 work for you

Feb 09, 2021
Three Chartered Accountants talk to Accountancy Ireland about what worked and what didn’t in 2020, and the changes they have made to ensure success in both their work and personal lives in 2021.

As we moved into 2021, so did the pandemic, lockdowns and working from home. Three members of Chartered Accountants Ireland – Larissa Feeney, CEO of Accountants Online; Maeve Hunt, Associate Director at Grant Thornton; and Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB – describe what made their 2020 difficult, how they overcame those challenges, and what they hope to change this year.

Goal-setting and disconnecting

Larissa Feeney, founder and CEO of Accountant Online, has found that making realistic goals and not loading up her task list has kept her going during the pandemic.

As a company, we were lucky when the pandemic hit as we were accustomed to remote working and automation, but adapting to working from home during a lockdown is challenging for everyone. I put a routine in place from early on: get up at 6.30am to do some reading, yoga and meditation before going for a walk. I am ready for work at 9am. If I keep to that routine consistently, it keeps me focused for the day and on an even keel. 

Every Sunday evening, when I am relaxed, I set out all my weekly goals – both work and personal – and there is a great satisfaction to ticking those off during the week. At the start, I tried to motivate myself by putting lots of things on the list but that only served to make me feel stressed, overwhelmed and anxious, so I ensure the list is realistic and follows SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely) principles. All my weekly goals contribute towards my monthly goals, my annual goals and my five-year goals. I know that I have higher energy in the early part of the week, so I take on the harder tasks during those days. 

I have three children at home, so homeschooling means that you can’t give both home or work life 100%, but we are all doing our best. We have to go easy on ourselves and know that we cannot operate at the same level as before the pandemic, but we will get back to those levels one day. 

To disconnect, I read in the evenings – but books that are good for the soul, rather than the business and leadership books I read in the mornings. Walking and getting out in the fresh air always helps. At home, a different person makes the lunch and the dinner every day and we take turns to pick a family movie to watch together. 

Apart from ‘getting back to normal’, what I would like to change this year is the further evolution and development of the team and further investment in automation and innovation. Personally, I will continue to work on the home/business divide, which can always do with improvement.

Stick with a routine in 2021 

Maeve Hunt, Director of Audit and Assurance at  Grant Thornton, first thought the same day-to-day routine would get her down, but it has proved to be a winning habit. 

When the pandemic hit last March, we scrambled to leave our offices and head home with monitors under the arm (quite literally) to enter this new way of working.
For many, it was a balancing act of working at home in shifts and looking after children. For others, it was an isolating moment in time with no one sharing their working environment. What we needed was a new ‘routine’ of working.

Is there a word that is more uninspiring and dull than ‘routine’? 

It is a word we want to escape from. We want to travel the world and hide from routine, and seek exciting new opportunities. Can we be creative if we are in a routine? 
If we have learned anything from the last year, it’s that routine may be dull, but it is familiar and dependable. A good routine has been key in order to live a somewhat enjoyable and productive working and personal life through the pandemic. 

What worked for me was starting my working day earlier, taking an extended break in the middle of the day to ensure I homeschool my five-year-old and play with my two-year-old. 

Inevitably, this meant working at night but I found that the shorter, focused periods of work I was completing actually made me more productive. That became a good motivator for me.

What I found most challenging in that first lockdown period was how easy it was to go from day to day without talking to another member of my team. I quickly realised that the part I loved most about my job, and missed most during the health crisis, was collaboration. 

Scheduling a daily chat with a member of the team has really helped with this. These social calls have helped me disconnect and give me energy for the rest of the working day. 

So where do we go from here? There are many things I would change about the last year, but I think I’ve learned a lot about the importance of sticking to a routine that offers a bit of variety. It may not be the traditional working day in the office, but it is all about balance. 

It is ensuring you disconnect in the day and take extended breaks. The beauty of working at home is the ability to get back time, cutting out commutes, inevitable down time and unproductive moments in the office. Use this time! Use it to clear your head, go for a walk, read a book, play with the kids. You will be all the more productive for it.
A few tweaks to that dreaded routine, which we believe kills all imagination, might end up providing us with enthusiasm and energy for our daily life.

The importance of connections and disconnection 

Kevin Nyhan, Credit Manager at AIB, has gone into 2021 wanting to reconnect with his colleagues and knowing the importance of leaving work behind at the end of the day.

I was fortunate in that I had been able to work from home a few days each month before the COVID-19 crisis, so it wasn’t a completely new experience to me. However, there’s a big difference between doing it occasionally and working remotely on a permanent basis. 

From the start, I’ve made sure to form and try to keep a daily routine, similar to what I did when I was in the office. I get up at the same time each day, try to start and finish at the same time, as well as taking breaks and lunch around the same as I would have done in the office. I have found that really helps to maintain some sort of difference between work and home. 

Working on my own all day, I do miss the social interaction of work. At the start of the pandemic, like most, I tried group zoom calls and quizzes but, as we all know, it’s hard to have group discussions via video call. Instead, I now make the point of scheduling a short video call each week with a colleague or friend to have a coffee and a chat and that does help keep in touch with people.

I’m fortunate to have a spare room to work from so I can close the door in the evening and try to leave work behind. However, it can be difficult to switch off when you’re just walking from one room to another at the end of the day. The commute between the office and home was useful to disconnect from work-mode and I do miss that break between home and work. I now take a short walk in the evening after I finish work. That 20 minutes really helps me to disconnect. Plus, my dog is delighted with all the walks he is getting these days.