Alan Smith: Your Business and Personal Survival Toolkit

Octo Members
2 June 2020

A short read.  

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us. – A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Regularly cited as the bestselling novel of all time, Dickens’ vivid description of life before and during the French Revolution provides a glimpse into a civilisation going through turmoil.

The similarities with our current experiences several weeks into the Coronavirus crisis are all too vivid.

At times hopeful and optimistic, as the whole country steps outside into the street, garden or balcony to applaud the outstanding dedication of our NHS staff, followed only hours later by the latest grim news of the daily death toll, the numbers getting bigger each day.

The same pattern, up and down, zig and zag is playing out in the financial markets too. Hard to believe but the largest point drop in the history of the Dow Jones Industrial Average (first published in 1881) occurred on March 16th, 2020.

And then, the largest single day point gain in history occurred the following week on March 24th, 2020!

The stock market does not know where to go or what to do and is like a drunk staggering aimlessly trying to find stability and direction!

A core part of our investment philosophy is simply that ‘markets work’. Given enough time and enough information the combined intellect of every participant in the global market economy agrees on what is the fair price to pay for a security. For that reason, we recommend ignoring the current gyrations of the markets – they will sort themselves out, given time. They always do.

“Sit still like a mountain in a hurricane” – Pema Chodron

So, in the meantime our focus should be on getting through this, paying attention to our mental and physical health and that of those around us. The word quarantine is from Venetian meaning ‘40 days’ and that’s the minimum time we can expect to be ‘confined to quarters’ and so we all need to adjust to our ‘new normal’.

I’ve found a few resources to be helpful.

Physical Health

I’ve never been much of a runner, but with gyms closed and a need to maintain health, I’ve found a new appreciation of one of the world’s most popular pastimes for my daily exercise allowance.

I’ve found tracking progress to be motivational, with every run an opportunity to best the time and pace of the last one. I’ve tried a lot of apps and landed on MapMyRun as a simple and effective tool to capture the data.

Proximity to the kitchen and its well-stocked fridge is proving to be a challenge too and so I’ve linked the running app to MyFitnessPal which tracks daily food consumption and lets me know when I’ve overdone it!

In anticipation of any further restrictions on movement that have been applied in other countries, I’ve bought a Smart Jump Rope which is a skipping rope with built in tech to link to an app on your phone to track progress. I’m taking inspiration from a young Mike Tyson’s skills on the rope but I’ve got a long way to go!

It’s important to maintain a healthy diet and not succumb to the temptations of the cookie jar too often. In an effort to share the load of cooking for family meals, I’ve subscribed to Mindful Chef and now, once a week, a box full of fresh, nutritious ingredients is delivered to our front door and I get the chance to practice my culinary skills.

This has the added advantage of creating a fun experience with our kids as they love to help in the kitchen, and we can get them off their screens for a while!

I’ve also dusted down my NutriBullet, by far the best blender I’ve ever tried. So, making healthy smoothies is a regular part of our routine now and I’ve found it to be a better way to get kids to eat veggies! Some great recipes on the Nutribullet website.

Mental Health

Having to stay at home and avoid almost all social contact with family and friends, other than those you live with can take a toll on mental health. Humans are social creatures and whereas technology allows us to make video calls, there’s no substitute for spending time together ‘in real life’.

I’ve found that 10 minutes of daily meditation and journaling has helped me stay grounded and focused on what I can control, letting go of what I can’t. As a relative newcomer to the ancient practice of meditation, I’ve found that I need a little help through guided practice and so I subscribe to Calm and listen to the soothing words of the experts.

Having read the amazing book, Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker last year, I recognise the importance of a good night’s sleep for mental as well as physical wellbeing and listening to a gentle meditation just before bed has been wonderful in ensuring good quality rest.

Although websites and apps can be great, there are times when ‘physical world’ tools are preferable. I like to use The Five Minute Journal each morning to jot down a few thoughts and to pause and reflect on what I’m grateful for. Although there’s a lot to be worried about, most of us have got a huge amount to be grateful for. There is a growing body of research that confirms that being grateful can make you happier, healthier, more optimistic and productive.


One thing I hear repeated in the current lockdown situation is the importance of getting into a routine. With all the uncertainty around, we crave a sense of normality and repetition. I’ve been a fan of Michael Hyatt for some years and found his Ideal Week template to be helpful. If you want to take it to the next level and plan your year ahead (as much as is practical) and have a system to hold yourself accountable for the progress you’re making, I recommend Michael’s Full Focus Planner. This is a high quality journal backed by a system to ensure you achieve everything you set out to do on a daily basis. He’s currently offering free access to Compass which provides additional tools and resources to keep you on track.

While you’re thinking about planning, a fun and interesting exercise to do is write down what your Perfect Average Day looks like. The current crisis has allowed us to all time to pause, reflect and consider how we want to live our lives when we start to return to normality.

Use this template to think and write down, in as much detail as possible, what a day that you would never tire of repeating would be like. What would you do, where would you go and who would you spend time with?

Personal Development

What’s the one thing you always wanted to do but never had the time? For me it’s writing a book and I plan to use some of the time I’ve been given to get that process underway. There are some excellent resources online to help with the process such as Scribe which is currently available for free.

As an alternative to writing, you now have time to catch up on reading and of course there are an unlimited supply of books available on Kindle. For business and nonfiction books, I’ve been using Blinkist for a while as it provides focused summaries of some of the best books out there. They are also offering some premium services for free during the current crisis.

Finally, a wonderful online resource for learning new skills is Masterclass. Do you want to learn about photography, interior design or even magic tricks from some of the very best teachers in the world? The internet has given us all the opportunity to make the most of our current situation and we should all take advantage where we can.

You’re doing all you can to stay safe and hopefully some of these ideas will help you to stay sane!


Alan is the CEO of Capital Asset Management


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