One of the areas that leaders coming to coaching most often want to focus on is support and strategies to help them feel less overwhelmed and better able to prioritise work that is important to them and their role. 


At the end of a coaching programme, they want to leave with a sense of control over their endless to-do list and responsibilities. Neither the workload nor the responsibilities will necessarily disappear but having some practical strategies to help should start to lighten their load.


Having just stepped up into a new leadership role within a law firm and inheriting a team that was facing some significant challenges, an extremely capable woman arrived for her first coaching session telling me “I need you to get me into action!”. 


Within the first 10 minutes of our conversation, I realised that getting her into action was the last thing she needed. She was so full of actions they were coming out of her ears! What was needed initially was a way to slow down, to create a clearing in which she could empty her head and then start to make sense of what was really happening.


One of the activities I took her through was a walk through the Urgent Important Grid, introduced by Stephen Covey in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. It’s my “go-to” coaching tool which I use with clients to help them slow down, get perspective and help them work out where and how they are spending their precious time.


What became evident was that she was spending most of her time in the quadrant labelled – Urgent and Not Important. Tasks that fall in this box are “everybody else’s urgent.” Examples include interruptions, running around putting out other people’s fires and immediately responding to “Can you just…?” with an automatic “yes.” Someone spending time here generally has a hard time delegating and/or saying no. All of the above resonated with my client.


Using Covey’s model, the focus for our coaching was to move her out of this quadrant and prioritise tasks in the much more helpful quadrant of Not Urgent Important. When tasks aren’t driven by a deadline, they are much easier to put off until tomorrow, or the day after and so on. However, it’s the quadrant most busy professionals need to be in if they are going to achieve their goals and progress. 


So, after identifying what the real challenge was what did we do? 


Well, here are 5 simple coaching approaches I introduced her to and that she reported had the most impact on her day-to-day productivity to put her back in control.


Ask a question  – If you know you are an automatic “yes” then asking a question helps create a pause and slows down your response. Give yourself permission to ask for some time “I need to think about that and get back to you” “Who else have you asked?” “What part of that do you need me for?” are some great starters for ten.


Yes If  Negotiate your ‘yes’ with an ‘if’.  Yes, I can take that on if you can help me prioritise what else I have on. Yes, I can do that if I can have some more resources for it to be successful. Yes, I can lead on that project if I can present the project at the senior leadership team meeting (and take the credit!)


Diarise your important stuff Block out time in the diary to do your important stuff and stick to it. Tasks that really are your responsibility to undertake. Other important stuff includes time to go for a walk, take a lunch break, plan a new project, invest in your own learning and development time


Get curious Where are the interruptions coming from? Who are the main culprits and what are they wanting from you in particular? Have you assumed they want your advice? What if they just need you to listen? Is there a training need here? Are you too visible? Are they telling you something simply because you are the boss? What has them thinking you know how to remove the jammed paper in the photocopier and what kind of urgent is their urgent? It’s not urgent to you and is it really that urgent to them? What would they do if you weren’t there? Sort it themselves – exactly!


Simply say ‘no’  What needs to happen to give yourself permission to say  “no”? It will be different for everyone.  Often it is a fear of what people might think and that is something we definitely have no control over. Writing ourselves a permission slip on a post it note “its OK to say no”  and displaying it somewhere visible can act as a handy reminder we have a choice.


If anything you have read here resonates and you would like some strategies to help you spend more quality time doing things that are important please get in touch. 

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