COVID-19: An unprecedented opportunity to make ‘halftime adjustments’

Don’t get me wrong, this situation is bad. Really bad. And the imagination reels at how much worse it could get before we collectively arrive at some version of normal. Still — and even as my own business revenues crater — I can’t help thinking about the other side of the coin. 

Remember back in the day — about a month ago — when everyone secretly fantasized about a scenario in which the world would magically stop long enough for us to catch up on all of the unfinished business in our lives? Well, if you think about it, that’s pretty much where we find ourselves at the moment. Awash in time. A kind of break in the action that we can either squander or put to great use.

I really believe that before all is said and done, every single life will have forever been cleaved into two distinct chapters: before and after COVID-19. And that makes this halftime. An unprecedented opportunity to analyze and prepare for whatever comes next. An incredible, even unnatural, chance to mix up your game plan. To re-tool your business, your career path, your relationships, your finances, your life. I’m not just talking about finally cleaning the garage, although that’s a perfectly valid goal as well.

When I was a kid growing up in the alfalfa fields outside of Denver, my favorite football team was the Broncos. Still is. But the coach of the team back then was an awkward Richard Nixon-looking guy named John Ralston. He was the coach famously captured by NFL Films as he called timeout and waved his quarterback to the sideline only to say, “Let’s just stand here a while and make them think we know what the hell we’re doing.” Perhaps the funniest and saddest use of a time-out in sports history.

Now contrast that with future Hall-of-Fame coach, Bill Belichick, of the New England Patriots. If you know anything about football, you know that he’s no fun-loving towel-snapper in the locker room. He understands that time — depending on how it’s used — can be the most valuable commodity on Earth. And he is best known for a long list of ridiculous come-from-behind victories made possible by using every available second in the locker room to adjust his team’s strategy before the battle resumes.

My business partner and I are no Bill Belichicks. Not sure we’d want to be. But so far we’ve used this home-shelter time to, yes, watch Tiger King, but also do a lot of things we would likely never have gotten around to if not for this otherwise terrible situation, including:

• Equipping all 25 employees to comfortably and efficiently work from home;

• Ensuring, and maybe even increasing, the quality of the work we’re generating, even as the quantity has dipped;

• Securing a Payment Protection Plan loan from the SBA (the ridiculous hurdles of which I will spare you) allowing us to stay fully staffed for the foreseeable future;

• Moving our entire business banking relationship away from a national bank and establishing new accounts with a small but incredibly competent regional one that has been a client of ours for nearly three years. Yes, long overdue;

• Communicating with our employees consistently and transparently throughout the crisis, keeping each of them engaged, accountable, and holding a stake in our collective survival;

• Remaining equally transparent with clients, having spent our first 10 days of home shelter helping our two largest accounts — regional casinos — dismantle their ad budgets, gutting our own revenues indefinitely;

• Identifying the need for a more dedicated and sustained new business push, then promoting a perfectly suited employee to lead that effort as our new VP of Business Development;

• And, working with our new VP, our employees and a longtime vendor/partner to conceive and create a potential new revenue stream; one designed to help us ride out this economic downturn and possibly provide a significant source of growth in the new normal. (We’ll be announcing more on this over the coming month.)

Hopefully, you have a similar list of your own. And hopefully, it extends well beyond business and into areas like personal and professional improvement, more meaningful family moments, and yeah, overdue home and yard chores. My own garage is still a nightmare, but the house is put away, a chain saw was turned loose on the yard, and I beat my personal best timeframe for getting the travel trailer de-winterized. My wife and I are also in the home stretch on taking advantage of today’s record-low interest rates by refinancing our primary mortgage.

Let’s see, oh wait, I also learned to play my favorite guitar song, “Sultans of Swing” by Dire Straits, note-for-note, using Youtube and a pawn shop Ibanez. And this after giving away my guitars almost 35 years ago. Alarmingly — at least to me — I’d forgotten all but a few fragments of the songs our crappy college bar band used to play back then. But I know one song now. My favorite song. And one that I would have never had the time or temerity to try learning if it weren’t for this unprecedented crisis.

I think the average person (of which I am an example) would be shocked at what they could achieve during this extraordinary halftime period. Grow your career through any number of online continuing education opportunities. Pick up a new hobby, one you’ve always wanted to try. Learn a new language for free at duolingo.com. Read any number of great books that you should have read by now.

Then, unlike Bill Belichick, don’t forget to chill a little. I recommend the latest season of Ozark. ♦

John Baechler is co-owner and executive creative director of Hanna Dot Agency, a full-service ad agency located on the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene.

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