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Dan Atkinson: Facing up to 2021

14 December 2020

What can we learn from 2020 that can make us better at what we do in 2021?  Dan Atkinson, head of Technical, Paradigm Norton Financial Planning reflects on an unprecedented year and what it has taught him.

This article was first published in the December 2020 issue of Professional Paraplanner.

If we look back to this time last year, what were your hopes and dreams for 2020? Perhaps you had some expectations about the year ahead. I think that this year we can agree that it’s not quite gone the way we expected!

When I was writing in this edition last year I highlighted the book Advice That Sticks by Dr Moira Somers. She drew out three things that are needed to give good advice.

  • That we understand and harness our clients’ motivation and concerns;
  • That we help provide them with clear direction on how to reach their goals;
  • That we have a plan for dealing with the inevitable obstacles that will crop up along the way.

As we come to the end of 2020 I thought I’d share what has helped me navigate the challenges which we’ve faced this year and may continue to face for some time. I think these three points can be adapted to provide a helpful framework.

Understanding what’s really important

It’s easy to go about life settled into a routine. We get up, go to work, come home, go to bed. The events of this year have disrupted these things. Whilst this has been a disruptor, it has made us rethink and review what is important to us.

Do we really miss that flat white in the morning? Have we rediscovered the joy of rolling straight into leisure when you finish work – rather than sitting on a train or in traffic? Or do we miss the chance to read a book, catch up on the news or listen to a podcast?!

Our daughter started school this year. Instead of getting up early and commuting to London, I can walk her to school from time to time. Rather than getting home late, tired, and after her bedtime, I can ask how her day went when she gets back. I miss listening to podcasts on my commute, but it’s more important to me to spend time with family – I can catch up on things on my morning walk instead.

What have you found to be really important?

Having goals to focus on and a plan to achieve them

When there is a lot of uncertainty it is tempting to focus on the immediate problems. They can seem very large especially when it feels like they come one thing after another. The journey can get tough.

If we can set our focus a bit higher, or further ahead that often helps. Something to look forward to. Whilst it could be meeting up with people, I’d suggest thinking about something which is in your circle of control. What can you work towards and how can you make it happen?

In our London office a few colleagues are undertaking a fitness challenge in the lead up to Christmas. Some of you might be working towards a qualification and studying to pass exams. In our home we’ve been focusing on getting things like double glazing sorted. At work I’ve got a number of projects to help me keep my focus off the day-to-day.

Having a goal and a plan helps. What are your goals and how are you working towards them?

Dealing with obstacles

Even with knowledge of what’s important and clear goals, we will hit obstacles. Some might require a workaround, but others may need a more substantial solution. You can plan for and mitigate some of these (at Paradigm Norton we call this a ‘pre-mortem’*), but few people would have predicted the events of this year.

For the things you can’t plan for, it’s the way you approach them that matters. Do you roll over and give up, or do you see it as a challenge? We might not be able to work around the obstacles, but not trying guarantees failure.

A helpful start for me has been to review whether I am seeing the situation correctly and from the right perspective? Get a second opinion. Take advice. Don’t rush to the solution – diagnose first.

What do you do when you hit an obstacle? What questions do you ask yourself?

How should we remember 2020 and set the tone for 2021?

Many people wish that 2020 would be erased from their memories. We don’t know what 2021 will bring, but we can take stock and refresh our perspective.

  • Many of us started to understand what was important
  • Some of us established new goals and ways of achieving them
  • We all experienced challenges and overcame many of them.

As we head into 2021 let’s remember what we’ve learned about ourselves this year. Prioritise the things that are important, maintain clarity on your goals and put plans in place to achieve them. When the challenges come remember we overcame and will overcome again if we approach them well informed and in the best way we can.

* In business terms, this is assuming a project or task has not succeeded and working backwards to understand why and mitigate against it.

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