Stop helping you're making it worse

Tired, exhausted feeling like you are doing two jobs?  Well you might just inadvertently be doing that.

There seems to be an endemic of employees at the moment, who are really good at doing not only their job but the job of those around them.  In fact, they take on so much work it’s almost the work of two people and then they wonder why they are tired, exhausted and their family complains that they never get to see them.

Three common reasons why people take on the work of others, they want to help, they want it right, they don’t want it to fail.

The helpers

This was exactly the case for a client of mine, David.  David is a director of a finance organisation, although a founder and senior in the organisation David was really friendly and supportive towards all his staff.  David had an ‘open door policy’ which meant everyone wandered into his office throughout the day hoping he’d solve their problems which of course he happily did. Several complications manifested over time, David struggled to get his work done and ended up working late, he took on the emotional and mental burden of seemingly all the problems within the organisation which caused him stress and everyone around him was learning to become incompetent, they didn’t need to solve their problems David did.  It was only after David’s second heart attack did he realise change needed to occur and I was brought in as a coach.

We made two changes:
1) When David needed to work on his stuff David closed his door and he had a sign saying come back and talk to me after a specific time.
(David was under strict instructions not to reward any interruption even if someone said, ‘just a quick one’).
2) We put a bright yellow banner on his computer saying ‘ask for a solution first’ this was to remind David EVERY time an employee came to him with a problem he asked them: ‘What do you think the solution is?’  Initially no one had a solution, why would they? This meant they had to go away and think about it when they actually engaged their brains most didn’t come back, they had solved their problem themselves, those that did David guided them to find the right solution by asking questions not giving solutions which firmly kept the problem with its’ rightful owner THEM.  

Understand the best way you can help someone is to teach them how to do it themselves, not do it for them.

The perfectionists

Our gorgeous perfectionists, I love working with you, you spot my typos, attach my attachments and write comprehensive plans.  The challenge for you is your standards are so high you don’t believe we can achieve those standards, and you are right by the way, we don’t think those standards are realistic or necessary especially in this fast paced world we live in.

So, what happens is when you are meant to delegate work out, even if you do delegate, you will redo their work, your thought process will be along the lines of ‘see, I knew I should have just done it myself in the first place, this is just rubbish’.  You will tell yourself this over and over again until the rest of us give up trying because whatever we do it’s never ‘good enough’ and you end up doing all the work.

Now, I’m not saying we throw standards out of the window, absolutely not, but you do need to reconsider your standards to avoid burning yourself out, burning others out or burning your relationships.  Your new mantra to help you thrive in this busy work should be;
‘good enough is good enough’

To help you do this think about how you title your work.  Imagine you are writing a marketing proposal for a specific product. You are presenting your ideas to the Head of Marketing, Head of Sales and the CEO.  You will start this project thinking you need to get this ‘right’ and therein lies the problem because trying to get it right perfect means you will need to get into the brains of all three executives for it to be perfect, you know they are all going to have views and they will want to give their input.  So, the word I want you to put in front of the title ‘Marketing Proposal’ is ‘DRAFT Marketing Proposal’ which will give you permission to do a good enough job to start the discussion. 

The fixers

The final reason people take things on is they don’t want things to fail, they have a view of ‘Don’t worry I can fix that’ without considering the impact that has.

Imagine you are at a circus and there are two people spinning plates up on long bendy poles, (I loved this act as a child, seeing the plate wobble wondering if the man would get to the pole in time before the plate fell crashing to the floor). In this act you are spinning six red plates and believe me that’s no easy feat in itself and your partner, Bob, is spinning six blue plates.  You notice a blue plate near you starts to wobble, that’s OK you think, ‘I can fix that’ so you shake the blue pole, over the next 10 minutes you have notice even more of Bobs plates are wobbling and before long you are now spinning all the plates and Bob is having a cup of tea and chatting to a colleague. When it comes to review time on how many plates were broken you and Bob get the same review, zero dropped plates but unlike Bob who has built great relationships with his colleagues, you get the feedback that you appear stand offish and are often very abrupt (stressed perhaps?) and would you make more of an effort to get on with the team.  Do you get the picture? Sound familiar?

Sometimes we need to let things fail for organisations to work out where the weaknesses are, be it a system, a process or an individual, but by doing the work of others we simply mask these problems and instead improving the situation we unwittingly make it worse.