5 Tips to Help You Switch Off From Work

5 Tips to Help You Switch Off From Work

By Karen Amos

I see a lot of posts on social media about people who find they can't switch off during the holidays.  Is this you?  Whether you're going away somewhere or having a break at home, the feeling that your long awaited holiday is finally here, but your mind's whirring like a machine and all you can think about is how many jobs there are to do when you get back - if not before!

As a note of reassurance here, you're not alone.  The pace of the working week can seem relentless.  For some the 'end of the (working) day' never really comes, particularly with the advent of home-working.  This means we're living in an 'Always On' state of high arousal levels and stress.

In simple terms, this means rather than your adrenaline response shutting off, allowing your stress to ebb and flow naturally, your brain has its foot on the gas pedal and keeps it there.  This response is supposed to be fleeting - just long enough for you to get yourself out of imminent danger.  In the case of workplace stress, it can remain in place.  For months sometimes.  This leaves your body and brain unable to simply flick the switch to turn off the response, even though it's not needed any more.

So what to do?  Here are a few tips to help train your brain to lift its foot off your stress gas pedal, so you can work and rest productively.

Tip #1:

See time off as an investment - Explore and clarify to yourself how you will be more productive if you take time off to rest, whether that's for an evening, a weekend or a holiday.  Set out clearly what you would gain - naming it makes all the difference, then you know what you're aiming for.

Tip #2:

Make a list of everything that needs to be done - Include everything, big or small.  This allows you to stop worrying that you’ve forgotten something and allows you to stop spinning those mental plates.  Remind yourself you can add any jobs, when they come into your head as you go along.

Tip #3:

Prioritise what needs to be done – Do a reality check and ask yourself - Is this thing possible? – is it essential? – Also ask yourself what would happen if this wasn’t completed before the end of the month, or if you were off sick?  Chances are most of these tasks will be less 'urgent' and 'important' than you feel they are right now.  Where you can, block out things into a basic timescale or planner.

Tip #4:

Switch off your media – This means no checking in on emails and social media.   Give yourself a digital detox and if you find this makes you anxious or you have such strong ingrained habits to pick up your phone, put your phone or laptop out of reach at least for a short while.

Tip #5:

Find something practical to do – If you engage in a practical activity, you're more likely to be distracted from the anxious feelings, at least for a while.  Get outdoors for some exercise.  Not only is this a great stress-buster, it will also help you to sleep.  Whether it's indoors or outdoors, book activities in that you enjoy and revel in that restorative distraction.  Why not catch up with friends and family too?  Having a laugh and talking with others is a great distraction.  Just stick to those positive people in your life and avoid the 'joy stealers'!

Hopefully, these will help you set some positive habits and ensure you have some quality time off so you're well-rested and on top of your game when you return to work.  In the meantime, here's wishing everyone a positive and productive month, no matter what you have planned!

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how our coaching and training services can help you, check out our website HERE, or call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

 


3 Reasons Everyone Needs a Coach

3 Reasons Everyone Needs a Coach

By Karen Amos

As Bill Gates said… ‘Everyone needs a coach.’  And who am I to argue?  I mean, the lad’s done OK for himself hasn’t he?

As a coach, I’m often asked, ‘Do you have a coach?’  The answer is, ‘Yes, I have several coaches.’

I have coaches for various aspects of my life and work, depending on what I need.  For example, I have a long-standing coach supervisor who supports and challenges me to improve my own practice as a coach.  I’ve also had business and personal coaches at critical points.

I’m writing this blog, as I had a realisation this morning I needed more coaching.  This time it’s for physical fitness.  Some of you may know I had a hip replacement in the spring.  It was successful and I’m now getting my life and mental wellbeing back, being able to walk up my beloved mountains and get the space, peace and exercise I so need.  (Even though I do spend a disproportionate amount of time asking myself what on earth I was thinking, when finding myself on a steep slope in the pouring rain!)

So back to my fitness coaching.  Most people understandably assume that as a coach myself I’m hyper-motivated all the time and know all the nifty coaching techniques to successfully coach myself to whatever goal I choose.  Which is kind of true, but here’s the problem – I’m only human.

That being human means that sometimes I can be a bit defeatist and even, dare I say it, a bit lazy.  Yep, let’s face it, we all have our excuses ready from time to time don’t we?

To quote another famous sleb, ‘You can have what you want, or you can have your excuses.’  That one’s from good old Arnie and again, he seems to have done OK for himself too!

“YOU CAN HAVE WHAT YOU WANT OR YOU CAN HAVE YOUR EXCUSES”

So, with all that in mind, I’ve called my gym coach to discuss returning to paying her to allow me to complain, swear and turn into a sweaty mess for a couple of hours a week – otherwise known as gym classes.

Now, I have all the equipment at home and knowledge of training routines to crack on and get my fitness up to scratch again, so why don’t I just do that?  Well, the same reasons I would recommend a coach for anyone at work, applies to me too.

1. Challenge

Your coach, whether that’s a leadership, fitness, business or any other type of coach, will push you out of your comfort zone.  That ‘un-comfort’ zone is where the change that needs to happen, does happen.

Let’s stick with fitness as an example – you start off with great intentions, but within a very short space of time, you revert back to what’s comfortable.  That’s just human nature – it’s how we’re wired – but to get meaningful change we have to enlist someone who’s going to challenge us.  This is vital, whether that’s to do that extra set of reps with the weights, or to make that scary decision we’ve been putting off.

The important thing about challenge in coaching is that it’s done with positive intentions and to serve the agenda and goals of the coachee.  This isn’t about the coach getting off on how uncomfortable they can make their clients.  Any old dictator can do that!

2. Mindset

This goes along with the challenge.  A good coach will help you envisage a step-up bigger than you would normally take yourself.  They don’t take ‘no’ for an answer and will help you build a positive, can-do, growth mindset, not based on wishful thinking, but on affirmative, tangible action and results.

In short, a good coach helps you get out of your own way.

3. Accountability

Commitment makes or breaks success.  Doing something once, however well will not bring you lasting success (even if that one thing is buying a winning lottery ticket.  With the wrong mindset, you’ll have blown it in no time).  As the US coach Tony Robbins describes, we need to take small, consistent steps to maintain lasting change.

Working with another person is a fantastic way to help build personal accountability.  This is particularly true if you’re a senior leader or business owner, or even if you’re doing something for you, such as starting a new fitness programme.

The fact is, stating an intention out loud, particularly to someone whom you respect, means you are much more likely to follow through on your actions.  Let’s face it, none of us like to be proved wrong, or wanting do we?

Additionally, paying for this means we feel we have personally invested something.  We have skin in the game.  It’s an uncomfortable fact, but this is why ‘free’ programmes often fail and have much fewer participants at the end.  There’s just not enough investment personally from the participants.  Not enough to lose.  This way, we’re much more likely to dig deeper – if you’re a born and bred Yorkshire woman like me, you’ll always want to get your money’s worth!  This inevitably means better results.

So the question is, how and from whom can you get the right level of challenge, positive mindset and accountability?

Hopefully that’s given you some insights into why all good coaches have coaching.  Why not give it a go?  After all, think of how much you could gain…

Check out the links below to find out more about our latest coaching-based training courses and programmes.  We also offer individual and team coaching on leadership and performance matters.  

For schools and education settings

For business and organisations

Or call us: 07714 855757

or click HERE to book in a short, no-obligation chat

 

 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports leaders and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

3 Reasons Everyone Needs A Coach


Wrestling the shark - getting to grips with the unknown...

Wrestling the shark – coaching questions to help you get to grips with the unknown…

By Karen Amos

I’ve just been reading an article about Great White Sharks in Scotland (Spoiler – there are some, but not many, so you’re more likely to die of hypothermia!).  As it does, my mind went on a little meander, taking me back to watching the film Jaws for the first time as a kid.  I wasn’t old enough to watch it at the cinema, but later watched when it aired on TV in 1981.  The rest of my family was out and I remember my Mum asking if I really wanted to watch it on my own.  She knew I wasn’t a fan of scary stuff, having been traumatised by the daleks and a pantomime of Beauty and the Beast years before.  (I know, it’s not exactly the exorcist, but I’m a horror lightweight OK!)

The article vividly brought back the suspense in the lead up of the film. The tension, anxiety and fear.  The glimpses, the terror of the characters and of course, the music.  This was going to be horrific – should I be watching it alone?

Then we finally had the reveal and saw the shark in all its terrifying monstrousness… erm, no… I remember laughing out loud.  Special effects weren’t exactly enhanced in those days and Steven Spielberg definitely got the hang of it later, but the sight of the obviously latex shark just took the scariness out of everything.  From that point on I just buckled in for the ride and enjoyed the rest of the film as a bit of a comedy adventure.

This lead me on another little meander to think about how I use this technique in my coaching to help clients with change.  No, I don’t make them swim with great whites (although perhaps there’s a business opportunity in there somewhere…), but the process is the same.  Simply, that

We fear what we can’t see.

Fear is disabling.  We’re all familiar with the ‘fight or flight’ adrenaline response to danger, but there’s actually another, less well-quoted response that’s equally as powerful.  That’s Freeze.

For this response, think rabbit in the headlights.  The rabbit knows the danger is coming and even though it’s naturally built to flee, it just can’t get its muscles to move.  We often have the same response in life and the causes and effects can be quite insidious.  Usually the cause is nothing so obvious as a shark attack, or a car about to run us over – it’s the stuff lurking in our subconscious.  It’s there, we’re largely unaware of it – but it’s controlling our every action, thought, emotion and decision.

This stuff includes fear – particularly fear of failure, or of being judged.  Other things can be good old imposter syndrome, or a past negative experience that we subconsciously don’t want to repeat.  The problem is that we’re often completely unaware on a conscious level of what’s actually going on and berate ourselves for not driving forward in the way we would like.

My wonderful coach supervisor has a phrase to sum this up perfectly…

‘Let’s identify it – let’s name it – then we can control it.’

If you find yourself procrastinating, or tinkering around the edges of a task or project, this could be the root cause.  The fact is that once we name the thing that’s causing the problem, we find, just like with the latex shark, that it no longer has a hold over us.  It’s common for my clients, once they’ve named the issue, to quickly and metaphorically roll up their sleeves and crack on with the task at hand as if there never was a problem.

So as usual, here are some coaching questions to break out of the freeze mode and identify and name what’s really going on.

  • What is it about this task/issue that I find so difficult?
  • What’s the part I really don’t want to do?
  • What am I worried may happen if I do this?
  • What are the risks for me here? (NB: risks can be personal/emotional as well as physical or financial)
  • Can I relate this situation to something that’s happened to me before?
  • What would I be embarrassed to admit about my approach to this?
  • What’s ‘unseen’ or uncertain here?
  • If there was one thing holding me back, what would it be?

It’s a fact that whilst coaching has a focus on action and goals, often the biggest part of the work is around the reality check of ‘What’s REALLY going on here’.  The fears, anxieties and general horrible imaginings that hold us back from getting what we really want.  Do remember that these are also questions you can use to help someone else who seems ‘stuck’ too, whether you’re a manager, a colleague, or just a friend.

If you’d like to find out how our 1-to-1 coaching programmes can help you get ‘unstuck’ and move forward this year..

Call us: 07714 855757

or click HERE to book in a short, no-obligation chat

 

 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports leaders and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

Wrestling the shark - getting to grips with the unknown


Your Christmas Coaching Survival Guide...

Your Christmas Coaching Survival Guide…

By Karen Amos

So here it is – my coaching guide to surviving Christmas!

When I say ‘Christmas’, I’m talking about the general Christmas celebrations we have in the UK, not the religious festival.  I do feel these are two markedly different things.

So how did it all get so out of control?

There are reports of Christmas being commercialised since the late 1800’s and perhaps even before, so it’s not necessarily a ‘new’ thing.  Santa had been illustrated as dressed in red in the mid 1800’s, but Coca Cola famously linked Santa to its brand colours.  The reason?  It was difficult to sell fizzy drinks in winter!  We’re now in the situation where parents take their children to see the Coca Cola truck and ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ at the spectacle.  Well that clearly worked didn’t it?

The 1947 film Miracle on 34th St is basically about the over-commecialisation of Christmas in a store.  Did you know that even Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was invented in 1939 by another department store to sell merchandise?

So, this retail extravaganza really isn’t that new – along with the stress that we associate with the build up.

The evergreen Christmas stress is tough enough without all the financial concerns people are now having.  So, if the thought of Christmas is causing you more stress than pleasure, this is the perfect opportunity to do something different and have the Christmas you really want.

I say this as someone who took charge of their Christmas years ago.  I got tired of the retail-obsessed, drink-and-eat-all-you-can-fest, so started my own tradition of going to the Cairngorms for Christmas.  My husband and I have one low-key ‘Christmas do’ with our family before departing to the Highlands in our campervan.  We walk in the snow on Cairngorm summit on Christmas morning, before having an expensive bottle of wine and tapas and other nibbles for Christmas ‘dinner’.

Lots of people say they are jealous of us being able to do this, but they could just as easily do this themselves if they chose.   It’s completely in anyone’s gift to change.

But it’s not that easy?

My advice is to think about your absolute ‘must have’s’ for Christmas – what’s really important?  It’s unlikely to be a cuddly toy vegetable from a discount supermarket, or a huge credit card bill and a 7-day hangover!

Here’s a great coaching question to take a step out of your usual mindset:

‘If I could do anything I wanted at Christmas – what would I be doing?’

Your ‘dream’ Christmas may not be possible, but often it’s nearer than you think.

Once you’ve answered this question, pick out the elements that make Christmas special for you, what’s given you joy in the past – and also which bits would you gladly bin!

Then work out all the ways, including seemingly impossible ones, to make this happen.

It often helps to do this with someone else, so they can help you find the solutions and work-arounds.

A big fear is that family and friends will be upset or offended if you’re not doing what they want, so remember:

#1 – You can’t control other people – just yourselves.

#2 – There may be ways you can spend time with family and friends, but in a way that still meets your needs.

#3 – Even if some people are disappointed, they’ll get over it!  Let’s face it, by new year, Christmas is already a distant memory for most people.

#4 – Stick to your guns if you’re doing something radically different.  Once you’ve made the change, it’s much easier in future to continue with this.

This was definitely the case on our first year going to the Cairngorms, but now everyone expects us to do this and it’s no big deal.

If you’re worried about what other people will think, or have some ‘shoulds’ or ‘oughts’, ask yourself ‘who says?’

And what will actually happen if you don’t do it everyone else’s way?  The answer is usually ‘not much’.

Another idea for changing things is to give your Christmas a theme – for example, you could hold an ‘eco Christmas’ where you waste as little as possible, or a ‘sharing Christmas’ where everyone pitches in, or even a ‘charity donation Christmas’.

Think about ways you can make this transition:

  • Buffees instead of huge meals
  • Everyone brings something
  • Everyone brings their own glasses
  • A Secret Santa where you just buy one present for each member of the family
  • Going out for a walk instead of a huge drinking session
  • ‘Buying’ a grand day out to be used later in the year, instead of shop-bought gifts – we found our elderly parents would much prefer a special day out, than yet more ‘stuff’ they don’t need!

Just remember – the constant messages we see and hear are designed for one thing – to help businesses part you from your cash.

I have a business too – I get it – and there’s nothing wrong with buying a nice gift for someone.  Let’s just do it in a way that makes everyone happy.

What are your top tips for a stress-free Christmas?

Check out our Positive and Productive Wellbeing programme for schools.  We offer many more coaching tips and approaches to help you manage your time and stress and build a positive mindset.  CLICK HERE to check out our web page for more info, or to book.

Or call us for a no-obligation chat on: 07714 855757

or email: info@bright-bird.co.uk

 

 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports leaders and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 

Your Christmas Coaching Survival Guide...


Overwhelmed with work? Treat your to-do list as if you were going on holiday...

Overwhelmed with work?  Treat your to-do list as if you were going on holiday...

By Karen Amos

Is your workload stressing you out right now?

If so, I’d say you’re in good company.  So many people are saying they’ve too much to do and not enough time to do it in.  On top of this, there’s the added pressure of the summer holidays.  Of course, this is doubly significant for those working in education with end of term looming – but it also applies to anyone who has a break booked, but doubts whether they’ll make it in one piece due to the amount tasks they’re facing.

So before we look at what we can do to manage this, let’s do a quick reality check (Magic wands and wishful thinking are very nice, but some things are just fact – albeit slightly uncomfortable ones!).

FACT #1 – There will always be too much work and too many things to do in any given day, week, month, eternity…

FACT #2 – No matter how motivated, or how good your intentions are, you only have a finite amount of energy.  (Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but you are not a robot!)

FACT #3 – Much of the pressure we feel is artificially created.  It comes from other people, or worse still ‘systems’ and cultures, that we leave unquestioned.

FACT #4 – The more tired and stressed you get, the more ineffective and unproductive you become.

OK, so that’s all the doom and gloom stuff, but does that mean we’re all destined for a life of unproductivity and angst?  Absolutely not!  And the good news is that so much more is in your control than you may believe.

This is why I believe we should take the ‘One week to my holidays’ approach to managing our workload…

So here’s how it usually goes over your last 5 working days:

Day 5 – You’re full of good intentions about how you will clear all those pesky jobs that have lurked on your to-do list all year.  That way you can go on holiday with a clear conscience, self-congratulating at all the amazing work you’ve smashed this week…

Day 4 – You’ve tripled the length of said to-do list, but haven’t actually done a single thing, other than fire-fighting more tasks that weren’t even on there.

Day 3 – You realise that half of these tasks will take at least a week each, so decide to put them off until after your holidays (or even next year!).

Day 2 – You’ve ditched 80% of your original tasks and are now prioritising the the things that will cause disaster/mayhem/get you the sack if you don’t do them…

Final working day – You’re ditching tasks from that list with abandon (many of which will never find their way back onto it, even though you were convinced were non-negotiables three days ago).  You’re becoming slightly delirious and demob-happy and start doing the bare bones of what’s needed and seem to have forgotten about your perfectionist tendencies after all…

Sound familiar?  I know it well!

So if those tasks were so important in the first place, why do some become more negotiable/optional the more time-pressures exert themselves?

Usually it’s because they actually weren’t so important.  They were wishes, they were unplanned and they were good intentions (and we all know what the road to hell is paved with…).

That’s why we should be grateful for that last-minute panic before our holidays.  It helps us shine a light on what’s really important and also what our day is actually filled with.

Here are some coaching questions to help you see your workload in a new light:

1. Realistically, how long will these tasks take me with no distractions?

2. What would I advise the people I line manage if they presented me with this to-do list?

3. What needs to change in order to achieve the more strategic stuff, or the things that will make a difference?

4. What 3 things can I put in place quickly and easily to cut out distractions and fire-fighting?

5. Who are the key people around me who can help me with this?

Hopefully, you’re now able to give yourself permission to take a fresh view of that never-ending to-do list and have a wonderful, restorative holiday!

If you’d like to find out more about our training courses and programmes on time-management, work-life balance and wellbeing please get in touch.  We also offer individual and team coaching on leadership and performance matters.  

Call us: 07714 855757

or click HERE to book in a short, no-obligation chat

 

 

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports leaders and managers to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a down-to-earth, practical approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Overwhelm - taking those first steps out of the swamp...

Overwhelm - taking those first steps out of the swamp...

By Karen Amos

The problem with overwhelm is... well, it's overwhelming!

Yes, I realise that's pretty obvious, but if it's really that obvious, why don't we easily sort it out and feel more in control?

Because... yes, that's right - it's overwhelming.  The Cambridge dictionary describes overwhelm as 'to be too much to deal with'. (1.)  So there you have it - how can you deal with something, which by definition leaves you feeling as if you can't?

Overwhelm sucks us down and dulls our responses and behaviours, sapping your energy and confidence.  It's a swamp land for your productivity and wellbeing.

So here's how to deal with the stuff that feels like it's too much to deal with...!

1.  Accept there is no 'one-step, easy answer' to overwhelm

Overwhelm means different things to different people, at different times.  There are often several contributing factors, each of which compound the other.  This is why we can't often find a way through - and why we often don't even know where to start.  Acknowledging what's going on for you - and importantly, making a conscious decision to change things for the better is a great start though.

2.  If you don't know where to start, start in the easiest place

Because overwhelm then leaves us powerless in its grip, we often do nothing.  We don't know what the 'best' thing to do is, or what the solution is.  So we do the rabbit in the headlights routine.  Often though, just taking one small step can start to lift us out of the swamp.  And each step out, increases our capacity to gain control, energy and impetus.  So don't wait for the whole solution, just take the one small, easy step you know will lead you in the right direction.

3.  Overcome the fear of switching off

Whilst we know we would benefit from taking proper time out, this can actually feel pretty scary when you're under pressure.  The problem is that trying to plough through is often counter-productive, leaving us even more exhausted, but the bogeyman of letting go can really hold us in its grip.  Rationalising how you will benefit from even a short amount of time out will help you make that decision.  Remind yourself for example, how much more productive you will be the next day if you turn off your smart phone and have an early night, or even just finish work at a normal time for once, to go do something nice with your loved ones.

4.  Break tasks and activities down

If we see a large, complex or long-term problem, it's hard to know where to even start - and the positive feelings of achievement aren't so easily found as we try to plough our way through.  Instead, break your goals/outcomes down into smaller steps that you can tick off frequently.  That way you can see your progress and more importantly gain the feelings of satisfaction and control that come with this.  This is even true of smaller, personal habits - e.g. saying you're going to do physical exercise/training 3 times a week can seem too much and mean you don't even start.  However, saying you'll go to spin class on Monday evening, do a 30 minute run on Wednesday and a long walk at the weekend can much more easily be planned in - and ticked off each day.

5.  Get your priorities right

When we feel so overwhelmed with our workload, there's a danger that we end up working on completely the wrong things.  These often swing between the jobs (or people) who shout the loudest, or the things that are easiest and least risky.  Neither of these necessarily are the right thing though.  (And if you think this isn't you, just remind yourself about the times you've ended up doing the dusting rather than tackle a gnarly task!  Yeah, of course, we'd all choose dusting as our new favourite hobby right?!)  Instead, take a few minutes to check through everything that's going on and ask yourself:

  • What could and should be dropped off my to-do list (or even completely off my radar) at this point in time?
  • Are there any quick wins here, that will buy me more time and energy moving forwards?
  • What's the most important thing here?
  • What are the things that no-one would really notice if I didn't do?
  • If I assume I don't have time or energy to do everything that's expected of me, what will I have to put down first?
  • Where's the 'noise' coming from?  Is this legitimately something I should be listening to?  If not, how do I tune it out?

If you were only going to do one thing right now, I'd recommend taking a few minutes away to ask yourself some of these questions.  Then take one step - just one - that will start to take you in the right direction and lead you out of the overwhelm swamp.

References:

  1. OVERWHELM | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports under-pressure leaders and managers  to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better wellbeing, leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Workload – Is this the next Emperor’s new clothes?

Workload – Is this the next Emperor’s new clothes?

By Karen Amos

Exhausted.  Overwhelmed.  Inundated.  This is what I’m hearing and seeing around me, from clients, associates and on social media.

There’s too much work to do and too little time to do it in.  And yes, there are so many things going on right now, resulting in endless firefighting and over which we have very little control.  Vast swathes of staff teams going off sick with various illnesses, of which covid is only one, as an easy example.

I get the feeling of helplessness that goes with this, but can’t help but think there are also many things we CAN do something about, but often don’t.

As we come up to the festive season, this is never more needed.  What should for many be a time of holiday and celebration, becomes a source of stress, anxiety and overwhelm.

This is where our mindset comes in.

Working out what we can control or influence and not expending mental and emotional energy on the things we can’t, will ensure we expend our energy in the right way.  The good old Stoics and latterly Stephen Covey hit this on the nail.

That’s only part of the story though and I’m on a mission to call this out.  I’m going to be the little boy to the Emperor’s New Clothes of workload…

Here are the basic facts of the modern work-life as I see it:

1.  We will NEVER complete all of our workload

2.  We only have a finite amount of time and energy available to us

So let’s unpick this:

1.  We will never complete all of our workload.

We don’t want to think we’re failing, so we try to fool ourselves that one day… one day… we will have ticked all the tasks off on our to-do lists.  The fact is that there will always be more that could or should be done.   We can always do more, make things better, build on the last job… on it goes.

2.  We only have a finite amount of time and energy available to us.

Despite our best efforts there are only 24 hours in a day and you will never have the energy to consistently work huge proportions of this – not if you want to stay well that is!  Even if you had 36 hour days, you’d only have a certain amount of energy you could expend.

So this is why I liken workload to the Emperor’s New Clothes.  No-one is calling this out.  So I am.

If we accept these 2 facts as accurate, we’re left with 2 choices:

1.  Accept the inevitable frustration, despair, meltdown and ill health

2.  Make a mindshift in how we think about and approach our work

Doesn’t seem possible?  Then check out this example:

It’s the Monday, a week before your much needed holidays.  All you can think of is getting away and forgetting about work for a week or so.  So you have great intentions and have made a list of all the things you’re going to achieve from your to-do list before you go.

By the end of day one, you’ve made very little inroad.  In fact, you’ve actually added to your list.

By mid-week, you’re feeling the pressure.  You’re nowhere near getting those big chunky pieces of work out of the way and it really doesn’t look like you’ve time to do them before Friday.

By Thursday, you’re starting to cross off some things that ‘can wait’.

By Friday, you’re crossing off most things, deciding they’re probably not that vital and guess what?  For many of them, you’ll never even add them back onto your list when you return!

Which just goes to prove that much of the issue isn’t about WHAT we’ve got to do, it’s WHAT OUR ATTITUDE IS to what we’ve got to do.

Of course, there are many tools and techniques we can effectively use to manage our time and workload.  I teach many of these in my training programmes, but the fact is, these alone will not solve your workload issues.

For example, I’d always advocate that people use lists to help lighten your cognitive load amongst other things.  The problem is that if we don’t approach what we put on our lists with the right mindset, we’ll find ourselves writing them on kitchen rolls they’ll be that long.

Let’s face it, none of us are going to be on our death bed saying, ‘At least I got to the end of my to-do list!’

The solution to this I believe, lies in having better quality conversations – with ourselves, our managers and our teams.  A conversation that says, ‘OK, this work has just landed and I’m already at or over capacity with my workload.’

  • What do I need to do myself?
  • What do I need to be saying to others?

Here are some coaching questions to get you started:

  • If I accept it’s impossible to get to the bottom of my to-do list – what needs to happen to ensure I can still do a good job and stay well?
  • What if my wellbeing was as important as getting my jobs done?
  • How can I work more collaboratively with others in a way that helps everyone?
  • How can I work more efficiently?
  • What happens when I prioritise my work better?
  • What should my response be if someone comes to me with more work?

One of the things we can say could be to our managers, at what ever level.  Easier said than done in some cases I admit, but what if we were to say, ‘I’m already at capacity.  Can you help me work out what I can do and when?’

I’m not saying this is always the case, but I confess that on occasions in the past, I have been that manager.  The one who was so overwhelmed that when another tranche of work came in, I did a ‘dump and run’ on my team.

The result?  An over-worked and disgruntled team and myself, feeling like I’d sold my values down the river.

The thing is that the solution doesn’t necessarily mean appointing more staff – although how can we ever present a valid business case if we don’t acknowledge what’s there?  Often though, more staff aren’t needed, just the right support, training and advice and some better communication.

In order to truly change things for the better we need to own up.  To shout out if our workload isn’t possible, as there will never be a positive change if we don’t.

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.  

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships. 


Feeling Overwhelmed? Try Chunking...

Feeling Overwhelmed?  Try Chunking...

By Karen Amos

I recently returned from holiday feeling very rested.  I was raring to get stuck back into work – I’ve loads of exciting work, opportunities and projects going on right now.  The thing is I didn’t – get stuck into work I mean.  I just couldn’t find the concentration required to knuckle down to the work, with the inevitable self-recrimination that brings.  That just brought me more stress.

The thing was I couldn’t understand why.  I love my work and all the jobs I had lined up were things I enjoy (well, apart from my book-keeping, but let’s not talk about that right now!).

So what was going on?

I’ve finally realised after a few days it was good old overwhelm.  I was simply trying to hold too much in my head at once.  Now those of you that already know me will know I’m a huge fan of lists, so I don’t have to hold loads of info in my head, so why didn’t they work?  The answer was that the tasks felt too diverse – they were like confetti being scattered all over the place and I was spending way too much mental energy keeping it all swept into a pile.

So here’s when I decided to chunk my work.

Chunking is simply the art of pulling together similar pieces of work or information to allow our brain some space to actually work on things.  There’s no right or wrong way to do this, but here’s how it worked for me…

Step 1 – I wrote down the main functions of my business – e.g. financial, marketing, clients, etc.

Step 2 – Under each of these I listed the main things I need to achieve over the next month – e.g. follow up clients, arrange meetings with contacts, write blogs…

Step 3 – I created a ‘Drop List’ on my One Note app where I can check in with these mini ‘chunks’ and ‘drop’ any new items in there as they arise, or that I may have missed.

Step 4 – Check in at the beginning of each week to plan in time to address each of these issues.

But isn’t this just adding another layer to an already significant workload?

In fact, this is just the opposite.  Now I’ve captured everything I need to do and organised it into meaningful ‘chunks’, I have freed up brain space to actually work on the tasks.  This also gives me opportunity to schedule work into my planner, helping me to estimate how much time I’ll actually need to complete the things I’ve identified.

Along with this, as a person with strong visual preferences, I've colour coded each chunk too.  This helps my brain to separate these out.

The result?  A clear focus, less anxiety and more productivity.  Give it a try if you’re feeling that you’re just not making a dent into your tasks.

If you would like to find out more about how you and your teams can improve their time management and productivity, whilst minimising stress and overwhelm, check out our new Positive and Productive online programme.

For schools

For Business and VCSE organisations

For an informal, no-obligation chat about how we can help you, call us on 07714 855757, or email info@bright-bird.co.uk.

Karen Amos is an executive coach and founder of BrightBird Coaching & Training. She supports business owners and managers who are feeling the pressure, to get the best out of themselves and their teams. She brings a practical, down-to-earth approach to improving working lives through better leadership, communication and working relationships.