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Time to prune?

 Tree pic 

Rita Perea is President of Rita Perea Leadership Coaching and Consulting, specializing in working with senior leaders to successfully establish executive presence, lead high-performing teams, engage employees, manage change and create work/life balance.

During my first meeting with a new client I play the role of detective. It’s the time when I am trying to pinpoint what the client’s goals are and why they are seeking the support of an executive coach. I am also listening for clues to tell me how much frustration, anxiety, despair or, conversely, happiness they are experiencing in their personal or professional life. That first meeting is usually very telling.

Susan, a new director in a large organization, shared her frustrations with me: “I have this new position that I worked really hard to get. My company wants me to be involved in the community. I serve on 13 boards and I’m feeling so overwhelmed! I never get to see my family. My kids are in bed by the time I get home every night. I am not feeling effective anywhere -- my job, my personal life, my community involvement. I need time. Time is the thing I need more of!“

I always suspend judgement as I listen to my clients’ stories. But, you have to admit, volunteering for so many different, and demanding, board positions sounded less like community involvement and more like a full-time job as a volunteer. Is it any wonder that Sue felt that she needed more time in her life? Susan had all of the time that we all get to accomplish our important “to dos.” She just needed to take a little bit of that time to prune the deadwood, bundle it up and send it away.

The end of a calendar year is the perfect time to take stock of all of your activities during the past 12 months. It is a natural time to honestly assess if each commitment has gotten you closer to reaching your goals. It’s a great time to reflect on what worked well and what you think you might do differently to create a more healthy, balanced and productive professional and personal life. The end of the year is the perfect season to prune.

In the gardening and landscaping world there are seasons for planting seeds and watching them sprout; cultivating the new growth as plants are lovingly tended to; reaping the abundant harvest of the plants; and, finally, during the fallow season, clipping out the deadwood or the stalks that are no longer productive and, if left, could damage the plant. This phase of eliminating the plants that are spent or the branches that are no longer useful is called pruning. If a gardener does not prune, their plants, shrubs and trees will get overgrown and the landscape will become overwhelmed. It’s like that in our lives too, both at work and at home. If we don’t take the time to prune those things that are not necessary for our own growth and which may be taking too much time or dragging us down, then our interior landscape can become overgrown. Like Susan, we might feel frantic and as though life is out of control.

How do we survey our personal landscape, sharpen our saw and prune?

Try these four steps:

1. List: Compile a list of every group, organization, board, committee, work team you have been assigned to or committed your time to. In addition to those for your job, don’t forget your family roles, church and community activities. These are all a part of your personal landscape.

2. Reflect: Honestly and fearlessly review your list to decide which items are “absolute must dos” (include those activities that feed your soul) and which activities are not necessary but only “nice to dos.” At this point your ego may be jumping up and down saying, “but if I don't do it (serve on this board or be the Cub Scout leader), who will? No one can do it the way that I can!” While that may be true, if you hoard all of the board seats or leadership experiences for yourself, you are robbing others of the opportunity to grow. My new client Sue was actually preventing 13 other individuals from participating in a growth experience by saying yes to volunteering for 13 different boards.

3. Prune: Now get out your pruning shears (or red Magic Marker) and begin to mark items off of your “nice to do” but not absolutely necessary list. If this is hard at first, make an effort to cross off just one activity from your list. Maybe the group that you don’t really feel a connection to or the committee that ties your stomach into knots of anxiety before you attend? Notice if there are any feelings coming up as you consider crossing items off your list. Are you breathing a sigh of relief? Celebrate taking this first step toward freedom. Is guilt welling up inside? Are you telling yourself you “should” do something because “if you don’t, who will?” That is not a super great reason to continue to give your precious time away.

4. Repeat: Feeling better already? Try steps 1-3 again to continue trimming the activities down to a manageable size. You will continue to feel more balanced, peaceful, confident and less overwhelmed. When the boughs begin to break in our internal landscapes, we can lack the energy and focus to complete our obligations with effectiveness.

Thoughtfully trimming even one item from our long list of commitments can create a sense of freedom and open our awareness for greater innovation. Taking the time to prune what is not working in our lives gives us the courage and confidence to begin a new year with purpose and poise.

©Rita Perea, 2016

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