My good friend works for a large organization, and often ends her day feeling overwhelmed and brow beaten. She works long hours trying to get ahead of the never ending to-do list. There never seems to be time to give herself credit for the all-done list. She has a large amount of responsibility in a complex and challenging environment. She loves her work, but it's a case of too much of a good thing.
A few weeks ago we met after work, and she looked especially weary and frustrated. Unable to get her work done due to interruptions, questions, demands and ever changing priorities, she had been coming in at all hours of the night and working week-ends to manage her workload. And, enough was enough. She was rapidly burning out.
As a coach, I couldn't help myself. I had to ask her a very simple coaching question: "What would make your day run smoothly?" She pondered the question, which let me know it was a good question.
Her response was simple. "To be able to focus on one thing at a time, one person at a time, until the project or conversation is complete. I want to be able to manage my attention. I want to be able to do quality work."
There, she had said it. She was struggling with the myth of multi-tasking. That led me to ask her another simple coaching question. "How could you make this happen?" Apparently, that was an even better question. I waited for her to answer as she scrunched up her forehead and thought about it. After a while, she responded with some rough ideas. As I listened, she refined her thinking, and came up with a simple plan that would help her maintain focus on what was before her, while better managing the expectations of her colleagues and customers.
She decided to change her voicemail greeting to the following: "Thanks for calling. I'm currently focused on something that requires my full attention. Please leave a message and contact information so when we connect I can provide you the same attention without interruption. Thanks a lot, and I'll talk with you soon. "
This tiny adjustment could help her redefine others' expectations while advising them that she was placing full attention on the task at hand or the conversation she was engaged in. She also decided to add a tagline to the bottom of her professional e-mails detailing her availability, again helping to manage others' expectations.
A couple of weeks later, I asked one more simple coaching question. "Has anything changed?" I already knew the answer just by how energized and on top of things she looked. "I have changed how I approach my job. I have put myself out there with a commitment to give my full attention to the person or project currently in front of me until it's completed. If I'm tempted to take a call or answer a text, I remind myself of my commitment. I have all the time I need, and more energy at the end of the day to do personal things."
Work and life have a way of becoming very complicated. A simple question may be just what we need to unravel the complexity and straighten things out.