Can you have too much of a good thing?

‘Now I’m finally doing what I always wanted and I’ve got so much on, I thought I’d be really happy with my work but I’m just not,’ said my client – we’ll call him Dave – as we sat down for coffee. ‘I’m confused.’

I picked up the cafetière and started to pour out my drink. ‘Wow, this smells great, I’ve been looking forward to a cup of coffee all the way here,’ I said as poured.

I kept on pouring, right to the very top of the cup, until the coffee almost brimmed over the rim. Then I poured Dave’s coffee, leaving enough room for him to add milk and pick up the mug easily. He did so.

‘Oh no, I can’t pick mine up or I’ll spill it – how annoying! I love coffee but I’ve just put too much in there.’

Dave laughed – ‘I see what you’re doing! I’ve waited so long for this opportunity and now it’s come along and I’m so keen to make a go of it, I’ve just taken on too much. I can’t enjoy it because I’ve overfilled my days.’

‘What are you going to do differently?’

‘Well, just as I need space in this mug to be able to use it properly and enjoy the coffee, I need to build a bit of space into my schedule to avoid being overwhelmed by the work I love.’

We spent some time reviewing Dave’s priorities and his weekly schedule to streamline activity and create space. Next time we meet, he’ll reflect on his month-long trial of the new schedule and see if it’s helping him to enjoy his work and feel fulfilled whilst still achieving great results.

Last year, Nathaniel Drew released a great short video called ‘Why you never have enough time’: why not pour yourself a (not overly full) cuppa and take just nine minutes to see what he has to say?

These words really struck me: ‘I still fully believe in working really hard and pushing myself but again, none of it really counts for much if I’m not living in the here and now. It’s easy to lose sight of things and I’m seeing how overdoing it with self-imposed structure and pressure and expectation actually limits my access to creativity and inspiration and the magic that sometimes accidentally happens.’

I return to my question in the title of this post: can you have too much of a good thing? I think you can and I think that sometimes our striving towards doing more and being more takes us away from the great things that are happening right now.

Today’s pebble for you to ponder: is your schedule so tightly packed that you can’t enjoy what you do and feel fulfilled? 


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.



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How can you tackle poor performance?

After my recent post on using the Wheel of Work to assess our own and other’s performance, a former client dropped me a line to ask how he could help an employee of his who is currently under-performing.

After a longer discussion about the specifics of the situation, we came up with the following process:

1              Acknowledge there’s an issue that needs to be addressed

Too often, it can seem easier to take a short-term view and move either the problematic task to another team member or move the under-performing team member to another team without investigating underlying issues.

2              Take time to reflect

Think about whether you yourself may have contributed to the underperformance. Are your expectations clear? Have you been giving (and receiving) regular feedback?

If you’ve used the Wheel of Work with your team member and identified gaps which need to be closed, is he consistently failing to make progress or is this a recent blip in his performance? Is your team member lacking in the necessary skills? Or experience? Has anything changed recently for the employee, either at work or outside?

3              Check out your thinking

Assuming you have been having regular 1:1 meetings with your underperforming employee and still need a fresh perspective, it’s worth speaking to trusted colleagues to see if there is a something you might be missing. It’s essential that you do this in a confidential and appropriate manner. Perhaps your team member came to you from another department – can you talk to his boss to see how things worked there? You can discuss your thoughts with your own manager to help you ensure that your frustration with the situation isn’t clouding your judgement.

4              Time to talk

Once you’re clear on what you’re observing and the impact it’s having, it’s time to talk it over with your team member. Using my feedback framework and reassuring him that you are here to help and recognise that you may need to make some changes too, ask him for suggestions to improve his performance. This may require you to give him some time to reflect and generate some ideas so be ready to schedule a follow-up meeting.

4.1          What if they don’t want to change?

In the rare event that your team member doesn’t see that there is an issue, you have a choice: you live with the issue and its consequences or you help him to understand why this situation is untenable and what other options may be open to him. This is never an enjoyable process but with openness and an intention to do what is best for everyone, it can be managed in a professional and compassionate manner.

5              Plan, monitor, review

Once the two of you have created an action plan with realistic timeline and resourcing to achieve the agreed changes, you will need to plan in regular progress checkpoints to ensure everything is on track. It may be beneficial for your team member to select a trusted colleague who can provide encouragement and feedback in between your catch ups and this will have the added bonus of providing some third-party feedback.

6              Complete the process

If there is no defined end to addressing performance issues, employees are left wondering about the outcome which can lead to anxiety and further hamper performance improvements.

When you see progress, make sure your team member knows about it: that positive feedback will help him to feel that his efforts are noticed and acknowledged.

If the employee doesn’t improve, you will need to make him aware of the consequences and potentially move towards disciplinary action. As mentioned in step 4.1, this isn’t pleasant but the consequences of ineffectively addressing poor performance will ripple out to your team and potentially your business and customers.

Today’s pebble for your consideration: have you had to deal with poor performance? If so, what worked well? What didn’t? Could the process outlined above help you in future?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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How can we tell the difference between common sense and self-sabotage?

Caroline* was full of excitement when we sat down for her coaching session.

‘I’ve just been asked to speak at a networking event next month,’ she explained. Then she went on to talk me through all the details she’d received so far and what that might mean and how she planned to present.

Then something interesting happened.

‘Actually, now that I say all this out loud, it doesn’t really make sense.

‘I’m not the right choice for this event. They need someone experienced who has worked in this area before. They’d get a lot more value from someone like that. My business is so new and I’m not sure I have enough to offer an audience like that.

‘No, the more I think about it, I’m not the logical choice. I’ll drop them a line later and let them know they should look for someone else. That makes sense, doesn’t it?’

‘Does it?’ I asked. ‘Shall we explore that a bit further?’

Caroline assented.

‘What just happened as you were telling me about the invitation?’

‘As I was on my way here, I was thinking about it and felt so chuffed and honoured that they’d asked me to do it and I couldn’t wait to tell you. Then as I talked about it, it just became clear to me that it’s not such a good idea.’

‘How did it become clear to you?’

‘I don’t know, it was like an inner voice said “hang on a second, who are you kidding? They can’t possibly want you to do this.” And then it just seemed so obvious that they’ve made a mistake. I guess you’d call it my inner critic but it’s really important to me that I’m authentic with people so I think I need to be honest about my lack of experience and suggest they ask someone else.’

‘That’s interesting that you brought up your value of authenticity. If you had an inner cheerleader, how might she use your value of authenticity to encourage you to take this opportunity?’

Caroline sat quietly and thought for a while before answering.

‘She’d tell me to get in touch with the organisers. She’d tell me that they’d chosen me in the first place so I can ask them why they’d picked me. She’d suggest I have a conversation with them about me, my work, what they’re looking for in a speaker and to give them the opportunity to check if I’m a good fit.’

‘It sounds like your inner critic is using authenticity to close things down and your inner cheerleader sees authenticity as a way to open things up. Is that right?’

‘Yes – it seemed like it was sensible to say no but now I feel like that would be self-sabotage. If I listen to the critic, I’ll actually be giving in to feeling scared about the opportunity and calling it common sense. I’m going to give the organisers a call and have a chat.’

‘What’s the worst-case scenario for that chat?’

‘That when we talk about it some more, it becomes clear that I’m definitely not the right person to do the talk. Actually, that’s not that bad – I’ll have been honest and open with them, they’ll know more about me and hopefully appreciate my authenticity and maybe there’ll be another event that I’ll be just right for.’

That coaching session was last year. I saw Caroline speak at the event: she was excellent. She’s just been asked to speak at another event.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: when you find yourself about to turn something down because it seems the sensible choice, will you spend a few minutes considering whether you’re actually self-sabotaging?


*not her real name

Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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What is our greatest freedom?

My favourite book of last year (possibly of the whole decade) is Charlie Mackesy‘s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. It is a beautifully simple yet profound book. Leafing through it yesterday, I was struck by this page:

One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things‘ – Charlie Mackesy

I mentioned this page to my husband which led to a long discussion about discussions we’ve had with friends, with family, with colleagues and with each other when sometimes we’ve not reacted in the most helpful way.

We talked about the fact that sometimes it’s necessary to insert a gap between something said to you and the response you offer: that gap might be a few seconds, 10 minutes whilst you go off and make a cuppa or overnight to allow both parties some space to think.

We talked about going deeper than just acknowledging or challenging the words that are said. If I hear you say ‘He always over-reacts to everything I say‘ and I choose to reply: ‘Is that actually what happens? Is it always? Is it everything?‘, there’s a risk that I come across as pedantic rather than trying to go a little deeper than your words and find out what discomfort or hurt is causing you to use such words.

Thinking about Charlie’s statement ‘One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things’, I remembered Jack Canfield‘s success formula:

Event + Response = Outcome

Canfield’s formula says that the way we respond to an event determines its outcome. In that case, if I want a different outcome and I can’t change the event, I need to change my response.

So if I hear ‘He always over-reacts to everything I say‘ and my desired outcome is that I’d really like to understand the other speaker’s motivation for saying that, I can choose a response that will provide space for them to tell me more about that rather than potentially frustrating them by drilling down into their choice of words. On another occasion, taking a closer look at those words might be exactly what’s needed.

As you go through your week, both at work and outside work, notice how you react to events and consider how you might achieve a different outcome with a different response.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: if our greatest freedom is how we react, will you exercise that freedom this week?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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What do you need to move from where you are to where you want to be?

Last week’s post, Are you wasting your talents?, provoked several emails along the lines of ‘I feel like I know how I want to progress but I’m not sure how to get there.’ This subject crops up from time to time with my coaching clients too and so I thought it would be useful to share with you the process I use with them.

Stage one: where do I want to end up?

Stage one is an information-gathering exercise. Spend some time finding out everything you can about your desired goal: if it’s a new role, can you get hold of a job description? If it’s a role within your current organisation which isn’t being advertised at the moment, you have a few options. You could talk to your HR team and tell them that you’re interested in moving into that area and ask them for a copy of the JD; you could approach the current post holder and ask them to tell you about the role and maybe ask them to share their JD with you – or if neither of those options is appropriate or comfortable, you could search online job boards for similar roles and job descriptions.

If your aim is to re-enter the academic world, what qualifications will you need? How much time is involved? What are the costs? Is the teaching in person or online?

Perhaps you have a personal goal – to move from being a reasonably fit weekend walker to climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for your favourite charity. What’s involved? Do you need to change your fitness routine? How much time would you need to prepare? What kind of publicity would you need to generate to raise sufficient funds?

You get the picture: stage one is all about the information.  Now you’ve got all the data, let’s move onto stage two.

Stage two: where am I right now?

Now you know where you’d like to end up but do you have a clear picture of where you are now?

To help clients evaluate where they are right now, we adapt a template you may have seen called The Wheel of Life. You’ll see from the images below that it’s pretty easy to draw up a wheel for yourself but if you’d like me to email you one, just drop me a line.

For The Wheel of Work, we take the wheel template and around its edges, we write down the most important aspects of the new job. Let’s say you’re working in Operations and you’d like to work towards becoming the Head of such a team for which role you’ve identified the following key responsibilities:

  1. Strategy formulation
  2. IT implementation
  3. Data protection compliance
  4. Team management
  5. Budget forecasting and oversight
  6. Supplier contract and relationship management
  7. Policy creation to support the aims of the organisation
  8. Implementation of effective processes and standards

For each of those areas, evaluate your current abilities and performance, giving yourself a score out of 10 where 1 represents little experience/knowledge and 10 indicates an excellent level of skills and experience. Mark the appropriate point on the wheel and when you’ve done all of them, join up the marks to form a wheel (or maybe a wonky wheel!).

Then identify what score out of 10 you think you would be necessary for the Head of Ops role and add that to your wheel in a different colour. Your wheel might look like this:

I’ve added an asterisk to the three areas with the biggest gaps between the current situation and where you’d need to be. Closing these gaps becomes your development priority over the next few months. In coaching sessions, I help my clients to develop a plan of how they will close those gaps – on the job experience? a course? shadowing a colleague? – and whose help and support they will need in order to do so, whether that’s their manager, someone else within or outside the business, a tutor or me as their coach.

If you are able to talk about your aspirations with your manager or a colleague, that’s great. If not, take a look at your professional and personal network and get in touch with anyone you feel may be able to help or link you up with someone who could help. You’re welcome to email me to see if I can help in any way.

Of course, you could use the wheel to help you with projects outside work too: in my Kilimanjaro charity climb example, you might want to evaluate how you measure up in the following areas – fundraising ability; resistance training; hiking stamina; social media promotion; cardio training; mental preparation; having the right clothing and equipment; necessary medical preparation. The wheel is a versatile tool which can be adapted to suit your own purposes: you can even use it in appraisals with your team.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: will you use The Wheel of Work to help you identify the gaps between where you are now and where you’d like to be?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Are you wasting your talents?

Right now, in your mind’s eye, picture one place at work or at home that’s a mess with things crammed in any way they’ll fit. Maybe it’s your filing trays or perhaps your team has a cupboard where you store materials for the events you attend. What about that box under your workbench in the garage? Perhaps your first thought was of the wardrobe in your spare room.

Now imagine what you might find if you had the opportunity to remove all the contents and see what was actually in that space. That paperwork you had to fill in again last week because you thought the original had been binned. A box of 250 branded pens you could take to that networking event next week. The fittings you need in order to install the new taps in the bathroom. The spare pair of trousers you bought to go with that jacket.

When I was in Ikea last year, I walked past this graphic on a cupboard in the kitchen section: What is hidden will be wasted, what is visible will be used.

Of course, Ikea were using this to promote their range of drawer and cupboard fittings that make it easy to access your groceries and saucepans but I think it’s applicable to us too.

What skills do you have that you haven’t used for a while? What experience did you have at a former employer that could be of benefit to your current employer? What do you do in your personal life that is transferable, either directly or indirectly, to your work life? Does your Linked In profile just talk about what you do in your present role or does it show the breadth of skills, interests and expertise you’ve acquired in other roles and areas of your life?

If you’re a manager, how about your team? Have you run a skills audit lately? Are there any hidden talents amongst your team which aren’t being fully utilised, or worse still, wasted?

If you feel like you’re not sure any more what it is you’re good at, here are three ideas.

  1. Take the free VIA Character Strengths Survey
  2. Email 5 trusted friends and colleagues and ask them. Your questions could include ‘if you were to recommend me as a good person to go to for ‘x’, what would ‘x’ be?’; ‘what do you think is my greatest strength?’ and ‘what skills do you think I have that I could be making more use of?’
  3. Track not just your work but your energy levels whilst doing each task – if we find a task to be invigorating and energising and we are operating in state of flow, there is a good chance that in that task we are using strengths and talents.

Another way in which you could work on discovering and developing your strengths is to work with me. Working with a professional coach who is objective and focused on your development is a great way for you to make the most of your potential and access those hidden skills and talents.

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: are you wasting your talents?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching.

If you’d like to make the most of your potential and feel more fulfilled in your career and life, please do email me and let’s have a conversation about how we can work together.

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Twenty/twenty vision for the year ahead

Happy New Year!

Ever since I’ve been thinking about the beginning of this new decade, I’ve had the concept of 20/20 vision in mind. Although it’s not routinely used by opticians in the UK, most of us have heard the phrase to express having perfect eyesight. Having written about fresh ways to look for my last post of 2019, it seems appropriate to carry on with the vision theme for the first post of this year.

This isn’t an all day activity – I’m just asking for 20 minutes of your time. When I’ve run similar exercises in the past, I’ve found it can be helpful to avoid overthinking and go with your first response.

Get comfortable, find a pen and paper, set an alarm for 20 minutes and let’s go:

Question 1: what one word best describes your 2019?

Question 2: jot down three things which went well last year

Question 3: note down three things which were challenging last year

Question 4: write down the names of three people who had a positive impact on you in 2019

Question 5: name three areas in which you would like to develop (professionally or personally) in the coming year

Question 6: write down three specific goals you’d like to achieve during 2020

Question 7: note down three ways in which you’d like to make a positive contribution this year

Question 8: in your mind’s eye, fast forward to New Year’s Eve 2020. What one word would you like to use to describe how this year has been for you?

That’s it – you’re done. Now put your answer to one side for 48 hours or so. Next, re-read it, fine tune any of the answers and decide what actions you need to take. Add them to your calendar. Studies show that we’re more likely to succeed with our goals when we ask a friend or colleague to keep us accountable so why not share them with someone you trust?

Today’s pebble for your thoughts: will you allocate 20 minutes to create your 20/20 vision?


Turning over pebbles is the blog of Thinking Space Coaching. 

If 2020 is the year in which you’d like to transform your work or your life, why not email me to see how we can work together?


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