In This Episode…

I work with a lot of professional people to help them develop their productivity skills so they can fulfil their commitments, deal with the pressures of work and achieve their outcomes.  

It is a rewarding and sometimes challenging role for me.  

I enjoy helping people and having to think on my feet to apply my knowledge, experience and creativity to help them formulate a plan they’ll have confidence in.

In today’s episode I share the process and outcome of my coaching call with a new client who works at a senior level in a very hierarchical international organisation.

Episode Transcript

Hi, and welcome to today’s episode of the Profit Productivity Podcast. It’s your host, Michael Tipper. Who else would it be?

Today I have done another productivity coaching session with someone who attended one of my recent Power of Focus seminars. Having been through the deep dive sessions I do as a followup, they decided to engage me to help them with their productivity.

Their slot was arranged for today and in anticipation of that, she sent me through some background information and answers to some questions I’d asked her about she was struggling with and what she’d hope to achieve.

She also took the time to send me some information about the context of the work that she was doing.

This is really, really useful for me because it allowed me to start getting my head around how I could position what she already knew from the stuff I taught her into her work environment, and maybe open up some options for me to pursue when we started talking.

We got on the call and went through just getting some feedback on how the live seminar went – what she enjoyed, and what she’d been struggling to apply.

And then we started looking at the challenges that she had.

Effectively Handling E Mail Is A Skill We Can All Develop

One of the things I usually find myself recommending is the use of email and how checking only twice a day is a really good use of your time.

Now this client works in a very, very hierarchical and complex international organisation. So she networks with a lot of people, which means she is the hub for all sorts of activities involving all sorts of people.

This means she gets lots and lots of emails.

So the concept of being able to answer emails just twice a day, turned out to be a bit of a step too far for her. And so I asked her what her main challenge was.

And after digging a little bit deeper and understanding, it seems there are two things that she has to do.

The first one is there is a very important meeting conference with a lot of very senior people in her organisation happening in about two to three weeks time.

She has to do a lot of work in preparing for that – getting input, getting agreements, preparing content, writing the information for the chairman and so it’s a big workload for her.

But alongside that, she’s also a coordinator for a very, very significant project, which again, requires her to coordinate a lot of activities.

And so there are a number of deliverables that she has to provide and deliver on.

This means she’s got these two competing and conflicting challenges.

Understanding Your Main Thing Is Critical

Now a big feature of the work I do is this concept of the main thing, because:

The main thing is to keep the main thing, the main thing, [that’s the main thing].

Stephen Covey

…which is a slight extension of the phrasing that Stephen Covey came up with in his fabulous book, the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.

I’ve just taken it one “main thing” further just to differentiate myself, I suppose.

But the principle is the same – what is your main thing?

Now I see this a lot in people where they have conflicting main things, or there are so many things that are important. They think everything is the main thing.

Now with this person, she clearly had labeled or identified, there were two significant things that she needed to do, and they were both her main thing.

I could have got down into the process of saying, well, you’ve got to pick one, but that isn’t practical in this particular instance.

So what we did is we modified the principle – modified the approach. The guidelines I share with clients and audiences, are merely that – they are guidelines.

There are principles, which if you operate them in their purest form will give you far more productivity, far more traction.

But sometimes it’s not practical to apply them in their purest state. So we have to do a variant of them.

In this case, I gave her this perspective.

You Can’t Switch Between Two Main Things Without Some Loss Of Efficiency

If she tried to work on both these projects every day, she would find herself switching between them significantly.

There is something called context switching, which is the delay when you switch from one task to another. There is a time delay from you turning off from the previous task and then getting back up to speed with the new task.

Each and every time you switch that time delay is going to be there. The more frequently you switch, the more delays you are going to have, the more ineffective you are going to be.

So recognising that she couldn’t just focus on one, we have to find some way of her being able to focus on both. This is an oxymoron – how do you focus on both of them?

But You Can Adapt The Principle And Work On More Than One Thing If You’re Clever About It

I used this analogy:

Imagine your left leg is the big meeting you’ve got in three weeks time. And imagine that your right leg is going to be the big project that you’re working on.

I want you to take one big step with your left leg and then one big step with your right leg. And then another big step with your left leg and another big step with your right leg.

I wanted her to focus to the exclusion of everything else on each of those projects. Of course, if you’ve got to do both, how do you focus?

So I suggested she should maybe work on the big meeting on Mondays and Wednesdays, and then her big project on Tuesdays and Thursdays leaving Friday to mop up any loose ends or stuff that comes in unexpectedly.

She liked that idea and could see how that could work.

But then she started talking about all the other things that come her way. She works with a lot of senior people who want a lot of her time and a lot of her contribution.

She has a lot of people at all levels wanting her time and energy.

Her question to me was “What do I do about that?”

And of course, this is someone who is operating in a reactive environment. They’re in an environment where lots of people are calling upon lots of people’s time.

They’re firing off requests left, right and centre – normally by email.

An idea comes to mind and they fire off an email or make a phone call and leave a message.

So there’s this background noise of reactive stuff flying around that’s typical of any large organisation.

How To Handle The Reactive Demands Of Others When You Need To Focus On Your Main Thing

My suggestion to her was this:

Because of the importance and visibility of the two projects she’s got to work the people in her environment are going to understand their significance.

They’re going to recognise there’s going to have to be some priority given to those.

But rather than just refusing to cooperate and stonewalling, anyone who asks for her time, I suggested, she go to those people who want her time and explain to them why she was going to be unavailable.

Or if they absolutely needed her to be available for them, that she define the time and the level of urgency necessary to draw her way from any other task.

I suggested she create two lists. The first list I suggested she create was to list the senior people she has to feed into and work with starting with the most senior at the top.

The second list I asked to make was identify the people who draw on her attention the most often, put them at the top and then create a descending list of people. So the further down the list, the less often they’re likely to ask her.

And then I suggested she to draw a line across each at some point and identify those above which she absolutely must go and do some stakeholder management.

Talk to them, explain what’s going on.

So now she’s got a number of behaviours that she can do. She’s going to block her time and focus exclusively on one task, one project on Monday and Wednesdays.

Then she’ll focus on the other project on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

And Friday is the catch all that will just sweep everything else up.

She’s going to talk to her stakeholders who require her time in seniority terms and in frequency terms.

Overall she felt it was a really good call.

I’m never sure where these calls are going to go because:

  • you’re never quite sure what the context is of the person you’re working with,
  • how much they’ve embraced the information I’ve already shared with them,
  • what their appetite for change and challenge is going to be because we have to go through those in order to develop their productivity.

But I could feel her confidence in the techniques and the ideas growing as we spoke.

She got a lot of value out of it and I think the biggest thing she got out of it was this concept of being able to block and ring fence time for a specific project and take that as far forward as possible.

I found it a very rewarding call. It was a very stimulating call for me. And some of those suggestions came out of nowhere. I’ve no idea where they come from.

I think it’s because of my own experience of working in organisations at all different levels across the last 30 years or so. It’s my own experience of solving other people’s problems. It’s seeing other problems being solved by other people.

And then just the creativity that comes from being widely read and having studied these things for so long that this stuff comes out.

Together in partnership, we work towards a solution.

We’ve got a call lined up for three weeks time after the big meeting to find out how she went on.

So that was today’s episode.

Until tomorrow.

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