No matter the reason a client comes to coaching, it seems that the conversation eventually comes around to the topic of work-life balance. Clients say that their work assignments and to-do lists overwhelm their lives. The endless demands of their jobs drain their energy and creativity, leaving them little time for other life pursuits.
This is career clutter.
Like the TV show Hoarders, I was once a cluttered hoarder in my professional life. I couldn’t say no to anything and I said yes to everything. The nickname for my office was “grand central station,” because there was a constant stream of colleagues coming through. I worked 10 hours per day during the work week (with an hour commute each way), then I’d add another 8-10 hours of working at home on the weekends.
What happens to us when our careers are cluttered? It doesn’t take too long before we start to feel overwhelmed, disorganized, and in that state of mind where we fear there is more to do than can ever be done.
At some point, we make a conscious decision to get it under control. Just like cleaning your cluttered garage, attic or basement, career clutter cannot be resolved in one day. I started with a small step – working from home on Fridays, which immediately saved two hours a week in commuting time. Next I made a commitment to myself to stop working on the weekends and to turn off my work e-mail from my phone during weekends. That helped to de-clutter my brain so I could get some cognitive space from work-related stressors. I decided to delegate more to my subordinates, which often involved the difficult process of letting go of some projects in which I was deeply invested.
It was tough, but two years later I’m much less stressed, more organized, and more in touch with what my priorities and passions are for my career.
Recently a fellow coach, Dana Platin, co-facilitated a workshop with me. The goals of the workshop were to assist clients to de-clutter and organize professional commitments, and identify areas to regain balance, both at work and between work and personal life. Participants completed a worksheet: How Did You Spend Your Time? This worksheet is attached for anyone reading this blog who wants take the first step in de-cluttering their career. For one week, write down all of your career and professional activities, including meetings (scheduled and unscheduled), e-mails, administration, staff management, work on projects/budgets/writing, commuting, networking, trainings, etc.
Check the Foresight Blog in the coming weeks for the next step in the De-clutter Your Career series, where I’ll explain how the worksheet can be used to make decisions about your most valuable resource: your time.