A Coaching Power Tool Created by Meli Solomon
(Business Coach, GERMANY)
What does your work week look and feel like? Are you getting things done that you need to? Do you run into the week, seeing lot of things you need or want to do, and just spin into action without much focus? Do you find yourself doing fairly mindless administrative tasks or jumping from one little task to another? How is that working for you? Do you collapse at the end of the week and wonder what happened to the time or do you know what you’ve tackled and that it was the right stuff? Well, one experience is busy-ness and the other is business!
A common complaint among working adults is having too much to do and generally feeling overwhelmed. An image that’s often used for this is running on a hamster wheel. You are running as fast as you can, but not moving forward. In fact, your very motion is creating the continuous cycle. It’s frustrating and debilitating. You’re exhausted and still have more things to do. The endlessness and pointlessness of it makes all the spinning worse.
The cultural value challenge for many of us is that being busy = being important. The very state of being busy becomes the end-point rather than activities moving you towards a goal. Having an over-booked schedule, an over-flowing in-box and constantly being exhausted become badges of honor and signs of how indispensible you are. But is this really true? There’s no doubt that we can each fill up our calendars and create tasks. As long as you keep saying yes to requests for assistance, you will end up with an over-flowing in-box.
- Is this what you want?
- Is this your vision and purpose for your life or business?
There are several problems with this approach.
- Inefficiency – you are busy, but you aren’t getting any real work done. You are wasting time and not spending it on mission-critical things.
- Exhaustion – busy-work saps mental, physical and emotional energy because the relationship between the energy you put in and the benefit or satisfaction you get out are not in alignment. It’s like eating popcorn for dinner. It fills you up but leaves you dissatisfied, and probably also upsets your stomach.
- Ineffectiveness – by not setting the correct priorities, you spend time ‘working’ and still have lots of work to do. This could have some fairly straight-forward elements, such as scheduling the task at the wrong time, or doing it yourself when you could delegate it.
- Productivity suffers – Time spent on busy-work is time not spent on other activities that are more central to the mission of the company – such as speaking with customers or sorting out fundamental challenges.
In contrast to the never-ending hamster wheel of busy-ness, business is about focused and purposeful action. Instead of random meaningless activity (busy-ness), which is disconnected from anything, the actions are part of an overarching vision, and steps towards a defined and inspiring vision. I don’t think it can be just any action, but the choice of action – say going to a particular networking event and follow-on steps such as a meeting to discuss potential service offer or cooperation – builds a cohesive and strategic chain of actions. Furthermore, the chain produces effective motion and energy, not to mention inspiration. Even if the service is not hired and you decide not to pursue the cooperation, nothing is lost. You have likely expanded your network and definitely learned something valuable.
How does the unhelpful behavior benefit us? What keeps us in busy-ness rather than in business?
I propose several culprits –
- Habit – let’s face it, habits are comfortable, familiar and often operating at a sub-conscious level.
- Avoidance – We avoid admitting that we’re procrastinating and avoid some unpleasant task.
- More avoidance – We avoid also clarifying or even beginning to consider our overarching vision. After all, it’s hard work.
- Comfort – It makes us feel good, even if it’s only on a surface level. We get to retain the delusion that that we’re ‘working’ even though it’s busy-work.
- Inability to focus – sometimes the schedule means we have bits of time between demanding activities. It’s a challenge to shift from one project to another quickly, and use the time productively.
- Stress – it’s natural to do easy and soothing activities when we are under stress. It’s takes less energy and it’s soothing.
That said, it’s easier said than done. A compelling vision needs to be created, which will motivate and create energy. It needs to be reviewed periodically to ensure that it’s up-to-date and still relevant. But this is all real work and well worth the effort. Once in place, every small step is a building block to the big picture and contributes to moving everything forward. The cycle is then a positive self-perpetuating driver instead of a hamster wheel.
It’s 9:30 Wednesday morning and I’m at my desk. I read emails and get drawn into an article, then I make another cup of tea and fold the laundry that’s been hanging to dry since Sunday. I sit down at my desk again. I enter some purchases into my spreadsheet, which reminds me to send a follow-up email. Then I respond to another while I’m there. Now it’s 11:00 and I finally begin to prepare for my Thursday meetings. I spend an hour creating and prettifying an activity. Lunch break at 13:00 and the afternoon goes on.
Much of the above activity was busy-ness. I did several small tasks, but 1.5 hours of poor productivity at the optimal time of day for focused work is not time well spent. Moreover, the directionless quality, the lack of focus and intention is energy draining. Purposefulness is replaced by fairly mindless activity that gives me the veneer of ‘working’ without the benefit of getting important work done. As a small business owner, this is a costly luxury I can’t afford.
It’s 9:30 Wednesday morning and I’m at my desk. Given the changeable nature of my schedule, I scan my emails to catch any changes of plans that might affect my day’s work. I then review my Action Sheet and identify the 3-4 critical tasks for the day and prioritize them. It’s 10:30 and real work gets under way.
In contrast to the busy-ness example, this business version sets a productive and focused tone for the day and generates positive self-affirming energy. Momentum develops at the critical mid-week point, ensuring or at least vastly increasing the probability of a fruitful rest of the week.
My target market is business owners. Whether entrepreneurs or small business owners, they have demanding schedules and not enough time or resources. Separating the worthwhile activities from the pointless ones is a critical step in the process towards better time management, productivity and a greater sense of fulfillment, not to mention success.
Defining the vision, the motivating WHY, is critical. Giving some shape to the action is necessary, just like the difference between a jungle and a garden begins with having an overall vision. Once that is clear, making repeated in/out decisions – what plants to plant, what to remove or prune – is necessary and not so difficult. These planting and pruning steps are actions of vision and commitment, each quite small, but if they are part of a larger whole, the chaos gradually turns into a beautiful garden.
With the support and encouragement of a coach, a client can gain clarity on this vision and productivity issue, along with their own behavior. Following from that, the coach might guide the client into exploring the underlying limiting beliefs (such as not believing they deserve the success that focused and active work can bring). Other elements at play might be self-sabotage from an old tape playing in their head about how they’ll never amount to anything. With increased clarity about the history and values that had been at play but unexamined, the coaching conversation can shift to current and future behavior and perspectives.
What will elevate the conversation and outcome from a transactional one to a transformational one is the process of sifting and bringing to light the elements, then building a robust and personal structure and support system, so that the new insights are not left on the worktable, but integrated into the client’s daily or weekly routine. No doubt this will take some discipline and experimentation. It’s important that the coach not misguide the client into thinking this will be a quick-fix process. The break-through can be profound and real, but for that to be true the foundational work in the coaching process must be just as real.
The fact that this can be a humbling process also underscores the importance of the trust build up between the coach and the client. While this is likewise not an instant process, it is invaluable. For the client, a huge benefit at the end of the process is a significant and long-lasting transformation of their perspective about how they approach work, so that they are in business and not in busy-ness!
- How does busy-ness benefit me?
- What does being in business look like for me? What is the overall compelling vision?
- How will each step lead me towards that vision?
- How can I organize my activities so that the (compelling) vision remains in the forefront of my mind?
- How can I move from busy-ness to business?
- How can I celebrate my wins so that I gain a sense of accomplishment?