And what do you do? - Next Action Associates

Business man in bulls eye

At a dinner party recently, the question began to circulate. I could feel it coming my way, and had my usual habits at the ready–mumbling something about “a sort of executive coaching” or “productivity training”, suitably vague to move the conversation along (and away from me). Instead I heard the words come out of my mouth: “I help working parents get home for bedtime.”

Far from allowing me to fade back into my chair, after a momentary interlude of bemused smiles, I found myself drawn into a range of enthusiastic questions, like “what do you mean?” and (even more interestedly), “how do you actually do that?”

At the beginning of my coaching sessions, I ask clients to tell me about their successful outcome for our time together. It helps them to define it, and me to understand it, and both of us to hold it as a shared focus. Often the first answer is something about productivity–more focus, less stress, clearer priorities.

Underneath this, though, there is usually a much bigger “why”–such as the senior executive who wanted to make it home before her son’s bedtime at least once a week. Or the scientist who wanted to spend more time in his lab, doing groundbreaking research, instead of feeling buried under paperwork. Or the busy administrator trying to balance a demanding career with caring for an ailing relative. Or the doctor who wanted to carve out a little time to explore her love of painting.

I help people take better care of themselves, the ones they love, and do things that spark creativity and joy in their lives. What job could be better than this?

I can only help them, however, once they are willing to admit to themselves that this is what they want, and that simply pushing harder, stressing more, and sleeping less isn’t getting them there. It can feel almost taboo to admit that they want to find a smarter, better way–one that acknowledges their multi-faceted nature. It goes against the “good soldier” ethos of an indomitable singular focus and indefatigable toughness. Such monomania, however, can be frankly both dull and exhausting.

The truth is, we all have these deeper “whys” that light us up. They are also a million times more likely to get some attention and forward motion when acknowledged, and can be profound motivating forces for adopting new behaviour such as the GTD method.

With one client recently, I just asked, “What would make you really smile by the time I go out the door later today?” We identified it clearly, and by the time we got through processing her email inbox to zero–something she hadn’t seen since starting her job role many years ago–she beamed up at me, shaking her head in disbelief, “You said you were going to make me smile.”

Actually, she made herself smile, by setting such a clear intention that we almost couldn’t help but fulfil it together. So, go on. Have a go at it: what is going to make you really smile? If you’re smiling already just thinking about it, you’re probably on the right track.

So, over to you. You don’t have to have me sitting next to you to answer the question, “What do you really want?” You don’t even have to share it with anyone else. But sharing it with yourself–the deeper reason why you want to learn to live and work a bit smarter, and with less stress–can be the beginning of a remarkable journey.

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