Drawing the line

Drawing the line

Making decisions is not always easy and clear cut, but sometimes it really is just a case of drawing a line and stepping over it to move forward or even drawing a line for others to know that they have reached the boundary of your toleration or patience. My coach tells me sometimes that when you reach a point of dissatisfaction in whatever scenario in life or business that this is an ideal point to examine the boundaries and maybe look at whether they need to be reset and adapted.

In the last couple of weeks I have had to make a few important decisions, which definitely stretched my comfort zone in terms of boundaries. So whether you have business decisions, personal choices or even staffing questions to answer, this may well be relevant to you and useful processing or questioning.

In this economy a lot of small business owners are facing important decisions regarding staff, investments etc. What was acceptable behaviour or at the most tolerated from staff in a boom economy, now has become obvious as non-constructive or even unhelpful. Because there is more management time for observation and analysis, clarity is coming forward often like a blinding flash of light. More and more frequently these days, I have conversations with clients regarding toleration levels and at what point to draw the line.

Here is a good yardstick: we assume you are unhappy with a situation…

Ask yourself, what effect is this having on me, on my business, on my clients, on my time, on my health, etc.

Then establish your boundary line or the point at which you say ‘I have had enough’.

When you know at what point the line is reached, all you need to work out is how to deal with the changes that inevitably will have to be made. From the line forward you need a plan of action, whether this is parting company, giving up a business, a client, a supplier or letting go of a staff member. Once you know your options, the best course of action often jumps out very clearly in your research process. On rare occasions inaction is the correct approach.

I find that a lot of clients and friends are blaming the economy for not making decisions, because the impact it may have on other people, but they forget they are only ever neglecting their own boundaries. Crisis can lead to indecision and sometimes time and distance will lead to perspective. But let’s face it, the recession is going to be around for some time and it is very much a case of let’s draw the line of moaning about it and stepping over it and designing a plan of action for yourself as to what you will do from here on in.

Energy wasted on what-if scenario’s isn’t always helpful and if you are born with the analysis gene, be aware you could be affected by analysis paralysis just as easily. In actual fact the time for lining up ducks and crossing t’s is not a time of crisis, where really only decisive action is the way forwards.

It does mean gathering the courage to hold difficult conversations with people that have really stepped over the boundary for long enough and have gotten away with it for far too long. It also means sometimes embarking on scary new actions, when your confidence may be screaming out for the opposite to action. It may mean becoming a portfolio worker with more than one job or string to your bow. It may even mean moving to a different location, job, etc.

Only you can decide when you need to draw that line and enforce the boundary. Tolerating people pushing the boundary consistently is ultimately bad for you, your sanity and definitely long-term also your good health. It is perfectly justified to explain to someone that enough has been reached, just say it with calm diplomacy and a smile, even if in your heart you feel like punching or screaming their head off. It takes a bit of practice, but even I master calm diplomacy on occasion even when my blunt and direct approach is edging to come out. In my mind I try to see it from their point of view, which on occasion is hard to do.

When you are going through a particularly difficult time, you may find a lot of people come along who will offer advice willingly and with positive intentions or if like me you have quite a few coaching acquaintances you may find yourself in a full-blown coaching interrogation without an invite on your part. Drawing the line in this kind of scenario is vital. If you invite the advice, then take it for what it is worth, but never forget to process it under your own value filter. Trust your own ability to make decisions you will know what is right by you in the end of the day.

The fear of upsetting other people in the process of enforcing your boundaries is far outweighed by the freedom and sense of relief you experience once you actually go ahead with those difficult communications. Honesty may not always be the most comfortable approach, but it is way more liberating and healthy than tolerating things that shouldn’t be tolerated.

So for all of those caught in economic crisis one way or another, I dare you to draw the line and step over it. Accept it will be around for another while, accept that some bad things may have happened to you as a result, also accept that dwelling on them is not helpful forever, do your best to learn the lessons, but above all draw the line and focus on actions that will lead to a happier future.

A close friend of mine recently put it absolutely accurately ‘I don’t want to know the past shit, we are in the present now.’

I dare you to draw that line and claim your power back.

The inner critic: are you managing yours?

The inner critic: are you managing yours?

We all have an inner voice, an inner critic which regularly distributes self-talk that is extremely far removed from being helpful or constructive. In a way it is a trained voice, which can take the shape of a previous boss, family members or relationships past or present. Whether it is circumstances or society at large that have shaped the words and viciousness of this unlikely invisible character, I am not sure of, but it is a powerful source that can stop us in our tracks at any given time.

Even with my most successful clients I am often amazed how much they still listen to that inner voice which often so fundamentally knocks them off their chosen path or destination. As their coach I am in the privileged position to point out that the inner critic is not necessarily basing its opinions on facts, but rather on perceptions or feelings and most often doubts and fears.

When you are working in the positive field of business coaching and training, it is often assumed that we don’t have those demons anymore and I can safely say that no coach and trainer is immune from the inner critic, whether they admit to having one is probably a personal choice, but we all have one.

The inner critic is massively powerful, it can stops us from achieving great things or even stops us from going after what we truly want, based on some irrational perceptions or fears. When you are really truthful and honest with yourself, what has the inner critic stopped you from doing? Did you still go ahead and was it as bad as your inner critic had predicted?

The level of ease with which we recognise when the inner critic is talking and the tools we use to manage this resource is what sets us apart and equally determines our level of success in the chosen field and in life in general.

Personally I spend a lot of time working alone even though it is with people and at some level we look for feedback or confirmation of our abilities, expertise, likeability, etc and when we don’t receive external responses or non-favourable responses, it is then that the inner critic has a field day. On those days managing that voice is essential.

What I do to manage the inner critic is write in a journal, which is not for publication or reading by anyone not even the closest of friends or family. Equally I do my best to regularly read motivational books, articles and surround myself with positive and supportive friends. In addition to these techniques I sometimes use recorded NLP techniques and I also have my own coach, who has my best interest at heart.

With my clients I often ask them to get back to the facts about themselves, when the inner critic has been particularly harsh. I ask them to make an objective factual list of all their achievements, qualifications, awards and things they learned since they were born and getting this list started often feels odd to people, because we are so pre-programmed to see the shortcomings and do our best to not be boastful especially not about ourselves. Yet, if you think about it, you have achieved an awful lot since you were born even down to simple things such as learning to walk, read, write, etc, I challenge you to write out the list. Then when you feel down, look at the list and check whether the feelings you are having are inner critic talk or based on facts.

Have fun managing the inner critic and never forget that it is perfectly alright to be gentle on you!

Hear my silence

Hear my silence

I just finished reading a book called ‘Hear my silence’ by Karina Colgan, an Irish journalist who told her story of dealing with depression after being a succesful, strong business person and mother. She shares in the book how all-consuming and gripping depression can be on the life of the individual suffering from depression but also on their immediate friends and family. She gives advice on how to deal with depression from every angle, which I found extremely useful and encouraging.

I wrote a few comments on my facebook page about the book and unleashed a debate. Ironically it proved every point in the book that in Irish society we love to swipe this kind of disease under the carpet. According to statistics as many as 1 in 4 Irish people of all ages, all social backgrounds etc, will suffer from depression in their lifetime.

80% of the depression sufferers do recover and resume a normal lifestyle.

Some of the greatest minds in science, music, arts, writing and politics suffered depression (Edison, Roosevelt, Nixon, Beckett, Van Gogh, etc). I believe the message Karina wrote about is essential for a lot of people to hear about.

Here is a poem from the book that describes the motions of depression (written by Jo A. Witt, USA as printed in the book ‘Hear my silence’ by Karina Colgan, copyright of poem remains with Jo A. Wit):
When I’m hurting
It’s easier for you to walk away, than it is for you to reach out to me.
It’s easier for you to look away, than it is for you to see the depth of my despair.
It’s easier for you to look through me, than it is for you to see ‘me’.
It’s easier for you to distance yourself, than it is for you to really care.
It’s easier for you to hear, than it is for you to listen.
It’s easier for you to judge, than it is for you to understand.
It’s easier for you to label, than it is to get acquainted.
It’s easier for you to bask in your joy, than it is to feel my pain.
It’s easier for you to bewilder at my mysteries, than it is for you to probe deeply into the depths of my soul.It’s easier for me to look away, than it is to let you see the feelings betrayed through my eyes.
It’s easier for me to cry, than it is for me to talk.
It’s easier for me to walk alone, than it is to risk rejection.
It’s easier for me to push you away, than it is for me to be held.
It’s easier for me to distance myself, than it is to trust that you won’t hurt me.
It’s easier for me to die, than it is for me to face life’s challenges.It’s hard for me to smile when I am hurting.
It’s hard for me to talk when you won’t understand.
It’s hard for me to reach out when I need help the most.

If only you’d really look at me and see who I am.
If only you cared enough to reach out when I push you away.
If only you’d hold me, without asking why.
If only you’d acknowledge the validity of my feelings.

But it’s the easy roads that are most often taken.
And so I hurt alone.

Poem by Jo A. Witt, USA

In my view the poem truly describes the various emotions someone goes through in depression and how the world around them reacts. It’s frightening to think that even just understanding and being with the person with a non-judgemental attitude can help them move forward again. It is so simple and yet so often neglected. If there is someone in your circle that is suffering, do them a favour, read this book and give them understanding.

Do you feel like screaming – STOP – leave me alone! I need more time!?

Do you feel like screaming – STOP – leave me alone! I need more time!?

Owner managers of small and medium sized businesses have an interesting balancing act to work in order to keep ahead of their schedule, they often have to be the king or queen of multi-tasking and in the end of the day all responsibility and accountability stops at their door, hence the person under most time pressure tends to the boss.

In my experience from dealing with entrepreneurs, the following scenario is quite common and really crept up on these people over time, unplanned and by accident, read-on to see if you recognise anybody.
It is Monday morning 7am and the owner has arrived early, before all the other staff comes in and before the phone starts ringing off the hooks, clients, suppliers and employees start taking over your schedule, so you could just get some work done. It is your favourite time of day without interruptions. As soon as 9am passes, all hell breaks loose and welcome back interruptions galore. You have some great people working for you , but yet somehow the receptionist doesn’t manage to fend off those telemarketing interruptions and finance is now also passing you account queries, not to mention the fact that all difficult clients always end up being referred to you. At times you feel as if all you ever do is answer phones, deal with people conflict, staff not performing or taking liberties, in all honesty you sometimes even question whether they are committed to the same company goals as you or whether they ever considered that their job description actually entails the duties they were supposed to perform. Anyhow as soon as 5.30pm arrives, you can relax again and work in peace for at least another hour or two to finish off that one urgent request and look into your jam-packed e-mail inbox. The next time you look at your clock, it reads 9pm, no wonder you feel drained, tired and hungry and you finally decide to call it a day and vow to make up for it at the weekend. On your way home you question, why being in business is great? And sometimes you even dare to contemplate that your nastiest alter ego, came up with terms and conditions for the owner manager work arrangements.
Does this story sound all too familiar?

The reality is time management is vital for every owner/manager and whilst days like the one above will probably happen to even the best time-keeper under the sun occasionally, they should never be a regular working pattern. In my work on the RTE show ‘How long will you live’ I am invited when business owners are not managing their time and due to the stress that they put their bodies under, they are likely to shorten their lifespan and attract all sorts of stress related illnesses, anything from high blood pressure to heart conditions etc. Obviously the participants tend to have one thing in common, definitely never making time for themselves or even to look after their own health. As busy owner managers, they often forget to look after the one resource that drives everything; you wouldn’t expect your car to continue working if the fuel ran out or the engine gave up, so why expect it from our body?

The start to resolving lack of time management is always to become aware of how you currently spend your time. With my clients I would ask them to track every 15 minutes of their day from start to finish for 2 weeks, including breaks and interruptions and I ask them to note who interrupted them for what reason, to establish trends. When you are aware of where your time is going, you can actually take charge and change it. The tracking exercise will show some very interesting trends regarding quick coffees, quick questions, communication deficits with staff, training issues and delegation problems. So in order to start resolving the problem with time, analyse how you spend it at the moment.

The next step then is to list all your tasks, roles and regular occurring responsibilities, start with annual items, then narrow it down to quarterly, monthly, weekly and daily tasks. On a year planner you can map out expected peak times, where you need to allow for more staff, more delegation and plan to have time for yourself. With the various lists identified, I then ask clients to translate the list of duties into an ideal week plan, where if they had full control over how they spent their time this is how they would use it. I ask them to map this out on an A4 sheet, broken down in hourly blocks, whilst taking into account when they are most alert and work best on difficult or complex jobs, in the least alert body clock time of day I ask them to schedule meetings, because you always pay attention with a person in front of you.

Once you have your ideal week designed, then the goal is to work 1 perfect day as planned per week, not 5 just 1. If you hit 1, then aim for a second perfectly planned day. If you don’t hit 100% any given day, don’t worry, most of us will find that if you work at an 80% as per planned time, your satisfaction and productivity rate is well above average and you start sensing feelings of accomplishment and getting things done. Also be aware that there are odd days where only 40% goes according to plan, these are the ones to accept as exceptions and learn from for future reference.

The rest is a case of choosing between the typical time management actions: Do, Dump, Delay or Delegate!

If you are curious on how you could improve or fine-tune your skills, fill out the wheel of success in time management. For each spoke on the wheel give yourself marks out of 10 of how well you perform on this element (1 meaning very bad and 10 meaning there is no room for improvement, you have mastered the art already). At the end connect the points and hopefully your wheel can actually drive your business forward, if the shape looks no-where near a wheel and has lots of edgy points, then you are in for a bumpy journey. The good thing is though that you have identified your areas for improvement.

Enjoy the road-trip to time management success!