A few days ago, a client sat down and told me how unhappy he was. He was struggling with all sorts of things. He was unhappy at work because his tasks seemed to multiply and multiply. As soon as he saw one task finished, he would have five more take their place. At the same time, his boss had cut his wages, so he was doing more for less reward than ever. What was strange was at the same time, his boss was leaning on him more and more. My client was virtually running every aspect of the business while his boss lived in Hawaii, complaining what "a hard life" he had out there - being the boss of a company, sending out directives by email. The boss also complained how inconvenient it was that my client was never available on the phone due to the Time Zone difference. Hawaii is 10 hours behind the UK. To make sure that he caught him in, my client's boss had lately taken to ringing at ten in the evening - and then after midnight - with new projects to complete. Then there was my client's home life. He had commitments here and commitments there. Because he worked all the time, he just couldn't squeeze his personal commitments into his life. Then there was the business that he wanted to start up. He really wanted to be self employed, run his own business and strike out on his own. And because his boss was on the phone from Honolulu late at night, he didn't have time for his own dreams. He kept dreaming of Honolulu, instead.
I told him about a friend of mine who has a very smart technique when dealing with bosses who demand too much. My friend works for an engineering company, and coordinates his work across five different Departments. He reports to five different Company Executives.
Sometimes he has to deal with the Personnel Department. The Personnel Executive gives him working time directives and training requirements to increase his effectiveness as a manager.
Another department he receives work from is Research and Development. That executive gives him targets for the engineering side of the company.
Then there is the IT Department. Because of my friend's competency in this area, the IT Executive often calls him in to help with managing IT projects.
Meanwhile, the Quality Control Department, which had recently been renamed "Enterprise Excellence" were also coordinating with him in order to improve the product.
Then there is Health and Safety, who ensure that he and his staff are trained in the latest safety procedures, both on the factory floor and in the office.
One day, his intray was groaning under the weight of all the different tasks that he had been given to do, when an Executive came in with another pile of papers.
The Executive plonked the pile of papers on his desk, and asked him, without telling him what the work was: "Where do you want me to put this?"
Resisting the more obvious temptation in reply, my friend didn't even ask the Executive what the work entailed. All he said was:
"Yes, I am happy to do the work that you have asked me to do. All I would ask of you in return is to go through this -" he pointed to his intray, which was completely stacked with projects, and virtually collapsing under its own weight "- And select out the piece of work that it is going to replace. Then I want you to go and see the head of department for whatever piece of work it is you decide to take out, and explain to him why the work that you are asking me to do is more important than the work that he has asked me to do. When you've got his agreement to remove that work from the pile, I will gladly deal with your work, in turn."
The executive looked at the tottering pile of paper in my friend's intray, and smiled. He knew that my friend was not a slacker, that he always worked quickly and efficiently - and realised that he was asking him to respect just how much work he had to do. The executive went to another employee, and asked him to do the job.
After I told my client this story, we discussed what things he would need to have in his life to improve it. High on his list was "time to think".
"Time to think about what?" I asked. My client replied:
"That's exactly it. I'm so busy I don't even know what to think about. The first thing I am going to do when I get out of here is sit down with a cup of tea and a biscuit, and work out exactly what are the most important things that I need to do. And that is the number one thing to do."
Like my friend in engineering, he is going to assess what all his Internal Executives are telling him, and he's going to get them to prioritise. Are the things that he is thinking about now really important? If not, can he get rid of them? What are the core tasks he really needs to start doing so that he can move towards starting his own business, and live a more rounded and happy life? What things are not helpful to this goal? What things are going to help him get to his goals in life generally?
He looked at me very clearly and said: "You know, I thought I didn't have enough time. But really, time is all I've got. So I might as well start using it - and make it count!"
Sometimes it's just necessary to take some time to stop, clear your mind of the things that are building up inside of you, and address your priorities.
And a final thing: He also told me that he's going to switch off his phone in the evenings. That way he gets to sleep properly, and his unconscious mind gets to dream his own dreams - not have nightmares about the maddening habits of an absentee boss in Honolulu!
Copyright Matthew Wingett, 2009