“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

Abraham Lincoln

The recent COVID-19 Resilience Budget 2020 reminded me of 2008 (editor’s note: the Global Financial Crisis).

I was still a business owner then and was stressing out and losing hair everyday as the number of work orders dropped to the floor. One can almost hear the hiss of the air conditioner clearly since phones were no longer ringing off the hook.

Every waking day is just a reminder that I am one day closer to making payrolls that I can’t afford.

The resilience budget then was a godsend. The Job Credit Scheme provided much needed respite as our cash runs low.

Significantly, the accompanying Skills Programme for Upgrading and Resilience (SPUR) encouraged businesses like mine to send idle employees for training and upgrading. All of us made full use of our downtime to attend training on customer service, negotiations, management and it helped us to operate better when the bull market returned.

12 years later in 2020

Twelve years has passed since the global financial crisis and we are in a different world. Back then, there was no concept of the gig workforce and smartphones were still a rich man’s toy.

But the principles of survivability remain. To get through this, and thrive when things are better require taking new measures and adopting unfamiliar strategies.

As a current employee who is also affected by the downturn and made to work remotely, it got me thinking about what could be done during this downtime to keep the swords sharpened while we wait for the dust to settle.

Whether you are still on-site or remote or maybe you are placed on forced leave, you can find something useful here:


Learning is important enough for the Singapore government to set up a brand new statutory board (SkillsFuture) to overlook lifelong learning. 

And without the need to get dressed, commute, make-up and long post-lunch chats, you can easily gain 2 hours every work day and put some of that into learning.

man browsing tablet sitting in front of TV

Many online schools already have free content and a few more recently made theirs free given the current situation. You can find them on the likes of Coursera, Financial Peace University, Khan Academy and many more. 

Personally I spend an hour each work day on a different topic after my lunch. That ranges from video post-production from YouTube on monday to starting a podcast via CreativeLive on wednesday and picking up the latest on digital marketing from HubSpot Academy on friday.

Expand your connections

A study by Johnson Cornell University shows that the success of 165 lawyers that they studied at a large North American law firm depended on their ability to network effectively both internally (to get themselves assigned to choice clients) and externally (to bring business into the firm). 

Those who regarded these activities as distasteful and avoided them had fewer billable hours than their peers.

Even though events are cancelled and going outdoors is highly discouraged, one can still continue to build a network online. Whether you are going via an interest group or to build connections with people professionally, there are platforms out there that serve your needs and unique objective.

Personally I make use of LinkedIn to do that as it allows me to narrow down to my specific target audience. I could also do a bit of background work based on the individual profile so that my connection invite memo could be personalised.

Improve your current process

In an event I attended months ago, the head of innovation at DBS did his keynote and shared an example of his team helping a back office department in condensing their usual 18 steps process to 10. That allowed the team to remain productive and yet gain more margins for other stuff.

Your company may not have an innovation team but that doesn’t stop you from looking into continuous improvements.

My company recently made our collaboration platform free for companies and it was important we get the word out there. Although LinkedIn is useful, connecting with each unique profile is an arduous and monotonous task. My downtime allowed me to check out tools that could help and experiment with them. Instead of spending up to 10 minutes crafting a personalised message to each and every new connection, I learned to use LeadConnect to automatically connect with up to 100 new profiles and send up to 300 messages per day. This frees me up time to focus on other value added stuff such as writing new content or putting together a video.


Remember the company retreat that senior leaders congregate offsite for a few days to plan for the future of the business? Think of you as a business and do that equivalent for yourself.

Former American professional baseball catcher Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” Just like not having a personal financial budget, you will never know if you are spending within your means.

But before that, remember that the person you were right after graduation is quite different from the one ten years later.

Take the opportunity to reconnect with your current self. You can do that with the support of assessment tools such as DISC, MBTI and Clifton Strengths.

Validate those results with family and closed friends and then start thinking about your five year and ten year plan. Unless you enjoy playing life on hard mode, pursuing something that makes use of your pre-existing strengths and attributes will help you win half the battle by simply turning up. 


If there is one thing that literally changed my life over the past 12 months, I would believe it would be my meditation practise.

person doing yoga on floor

Harvard scientists have come up with evidence that the mere act of clearing your mind for 15 minutes each day actually alters how your genes operate.

A new study indicates that people who meditated over an eight-week period had a striking change in the expression of 172 genes that regulate inflammation, circadian rhythms and glucose metabolism. And that, in turn, was linked to a meaningful decrease in their blood pressure.

For me, the increase in mindfulness made it easier for me to give up on vices that would have seemed impossible. Gone are caffeine, alcohol and nicotine. And they are easily replaced with a daily exercise regime and meditation session. And for someone who is extremely personal finance averse, I recently got into the habit of creating a budget and recording my daily expenses in less than 24 hours.

There are many apps that make it easy for anyone to try out meditations. Headspace, Calm, Ten Percent and Oak are some I use and rotate around when I wish to get some guided meditation.

Contributed by Adrian, Practice Leader – Future of Work Tech at PeopleStrong

About the author

Adrian Tan, Practice Leader – Future of Work Tech at PeopleStrong

Adrian is the Practice Leader – Future of Work Tech at PeopleStrong, an India-based Enterprise HR SaaS platform. With over 15 years of HR entrepreneurial experience, he had won two HR Vendors of the Year award and is the recipient to SHRI HR Entrepreneur of the Year in 2013. He is the creator of Singapore HR Tech Market Map and is a jobs commentator on ChannelNewsAsia.