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Wednesday, 11 April 2012 05:36

Time, workload and stress

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Time, workload and stress Time, workload and stress Frances White Executive Coach

The theme of insufficient time to achieve an ever-growing insurmountable mountain of tasks, projects and initiatives is such a common part of many coaching sessions. Who knew that working longer and longer hours to “get on top of things” would not be a sustainable solution? The following story is just one illustration of how this can affect people.

Paul’s story

Paul is a Director in a large firm and his line manager hopes that they will be able to offer him a promotion into a larger role, which is also being advertised externally. Meanwhile, Paul is doing not only his current role but is also acting in the more senior role so has a heavy workload. His key stakeholders think highly of his technical expertise, he has been with the business a few years and has had good performance reviews. He is also well liked.

Loss of confidence

Paul is having a crisis of confidence. He has been worrying about his extreme workload and not sleeping as well. He has been trying to do everything and has neglected his team which has not been performing as well as he needs them to. Consequently, he finds more problems to solve and is trying to fix all these things but not focusing on developing or coaching his team so that they can support him better.

Communicating confusion

Paul’s diminished confidence in being conveyed to others in how he communicates - he is not clear in his mind so he sounds unclear and unconfident. He worries about making a mistake or missing something important which will damage his chances of promotion and this is projected in how he articulates his thinking. His manager is frustrated that Paul drains his time, rambling about things and generally not showing clarity, vision, strategic thinking and a clear plan. He is also concerned that Paul’s key stakeholders have lost confidence in him as they have seen him waffle in a couple of key meetings and not be decisive nor have the necessary impact.

Too many priorities

Paul is anxious and tired. When asked about his priorities, he replies that everything is a priority. When I ask him to choose he replies that he has to do it all. So I told him a story about Sophie’s Choice - the Nazi Guard says that she may take only one of her children, the other will die - which will she choose? I cannot choose, she cries, to which he replies - then they will both die. So she chooses and of course lives the rest of her life wishing she had not had to choose - but one child survives.
New choices -
Paul makes a breakthrough at this point and realises with surprising emotion that he can choose, if he must. The act of choosing what to do first becomes quite liberating for him, it gives him a sense of clarity, focus and confidence as he is exercising control. Although the story is very simple, somehow it releases something for Paul and he goes on to list his priorities and decides to leave some things for the time being, in order to be very clear in an important meeting with his key stakeholder. Previously, he had 18 priority things on his agenda for the 45 minute meeting - which he recognised was impossible and the impact of an impossible agenda was a lack of clarity, anxiety and loss of sleep.

Deeper patterns

Paul also realises that he has an underlying pattern of not choosing and closing things out; rather his instinct is to generate new options and ideas. This pattern is also reflected in his communication style - it can appear rambling as he is simply not focusing on one thing at a time and closing others out. We work for several sessions on an approach that will help him to be more focused when talking to others as he opts for visualising headlines and sub-headings, like in a newspaper. He is very visual so this makes good sense for him and he practices both in our sessions and alone. His manager and key stakeholders do notice the difference and report that he is much clearer and more impactful.

Making it simple

Paul reports that he is sleeping better and he devises techniques for himself to pick one things at a time and work on it in various parts of his role and life. He decides to use the train journey home to reflect on what he has achieved rather than on the mountain that remains unfinished. He chooses to invest some time with his team and picks 3 priority areas for them to focus on. He starts to sleep better and makes one hour a week to get some good exercise in the gym, which also helps to clear his mind.

Back in control

Paul’s understanding of his own pattern was really helpful for him as he stopped focusing on being a victim of a huge workload and not enough time to do everything and started to take responsibility for how he chose to invest his time. He also stopped trying to communicate everything to people all at once and be “on message” and focused on the key outcomes for the conversation or meeting. He engaged with his team more and between them they found lots of things to stop doing until they had put some priority matters straight.

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