Nigel: “You’re a Ten on your guitar, where can you go from there? Where?”

Marty: “I don’t know.”

Nigel: “No where. Exactly. What we do is if we need that extra push over the cliff … know what we do? Put it up to Eleven.” – This is Spinal Tap (1984)

Nigel has a secret weapon. His amps go up to Eleven whereas typical amps and guitar volume controls only go up to Ten. Many of us have a volume of work, obligation,  and responsibility that bring us to Ten on our dials. We might think we have dials that go to Eleven but we do not. Because we are not Spinal Tap.

Coaching clients who struggle the most to improve their productivity have one thing in common. They think they can “Put it up to Eleven” with a volume control dial that only goes to Ten. They might believe they are a “good multi-tasker,” or that they can “handle it” even though “it” stresses them out and decreases their effectiveness, and/or, that it doesn’t matter because they don’t believe they can control their level of work, obligations and responsibilities.

I see this developing when a client seeks coaching to help them bring order and organization to an amazingly long list of cases, professional obligations and family responsibilities. When I suggest that they examine these, the client night defend each one with no sense of what is most important, what could be put on hold for now, delegated or let go of.

Eventually, the clients realize that they have too much on their plate and maybe their next move is to turn down the volume. They might hone their case list to matters that are most profitable and enjoyable. They may reduce volunteer commitments to just one or two at a time and loosen their grip on personal responsibilities by asking for or hiring help. They might make time to work “on” their practice (as a business owner), not just “in” their practice (as a lawyer), to regularly address finances, operations and staffing issues so they do not become a source of constant stress and chaos.

These changes can help bring a sense of focus and control over what was previously a hectic and overloaded calendar, case load and task list. Remember those divided cafeteria trays in school? Productivity tools and practices are like the tray’s dividers. They don’t work well if there is too much heaped on top. Similarly, we may need to decrease the volume of work, obligations, tasks, etc. to realize the benefits of productivity tools, organization and practices. Then we can focus our intentions, work and priorities in more effective ways that yield results.

Unless you are Spinal Tap and can “Put it up to Eleven” with a special amp, you are probably like the rest of us with a volume dial that goes up to Ten. Don’t push yourself over the cliff. Instead, dial it back a bit and see if you start to feel better. You’ll know you’ve done enough when you can get a few important things done each day and leave the office with time for a healthy meal, exercise and social connection. Isn’t that a life worth pursuing?

Photo by Anastasia Zhenina on Unsplash.