I have changed names, demographic information and some other irrelevant details in order to maintain client confidentiality.
Laura: Managing overwhelm at work
Laura is an administrative assistant at a large, nonprofit corporation. She contacted me for help in prioritizing and completing tasks more efficiently. She had gotten into a pattern of working on the weekends (without pay) to complete tasks she hadn't accomplished during the week. She noticed a pattern of being easily overwhelmed by the constant inflow of action items, and then retreating into non-productive habits such as surfing the web or reorganizing her email folders.
I first met with Laura in her office, where she wanted help to work through a backlog of filing and email, which gave us real-life examples of where she gets stuck.
I was quickly impressed by Laura's resourcefulness, conscientiousness, organization, and excellent interpersonal skills, but also noticed that she became bogged down when a project was complicated with competing priorities or was particularly tedious. Laura explained that she got caught in an inner struggle of rationalizing why it made sense to delay the work, while at the same time berating herself for not just doing it.
Coaching revealed several underlying beliefs and perspectives that caused Laura to set unrealistic expectations for herself. She is working to reframe her perspectives and be more realistic and self-compassionate.
Our work together has also helped Laura increase her awareness of her sensory sensitivities and processing modalities. She uses this information to adapt tasks so they are less aversive and/or more interesting. We also found ways to make her work environment more appealing. All of this increases her motivation.
Laura is seeing improvement in several areas:
- Email management
- Managing interruptions
- Project planning and breaking things down to manageable steps
- Utilizing a task list
- Project wrap-up and follow through
- Reframing tedious tasks to make them more interesting
- Routinizing recurring tasks
Now Laura rarely works nights or weekends. When she gets stuck or feels overwhelmed, she takes steps that allow her natural creativity and resourcefulness to emerge, instead of retreating into a state of frozen panic. She is much more confident in her job, and also beginning to think about what new career options are possible for her.
Manuel: Therapist struggles to manage it all
Manuel was a brilliant, compassionate man with ADHD, who was in the process of starting his own individual therapy practice after many years of working in a group setting. He had already enlisted lots of support--an administrative assistant, a marketing specialist, a small business mentor, tech support, website designer and more; but he was overwhelmed trying to manage all the moving parts, as well as maintain important relationships in his personal life. It was hard for him to reconcile his organizational challenges with his innate intelligence and interpersonal gifts.
Manuel's frustration was transferring to his devoted support team. They wanted to give him whatever he needed, but with no clear priorities and lots of distractions, things were dissolving into a series of mini-crises everyday.
To cope with his dynamic environment, Manuel attempted to implement as much structure as possible, requesting that his team develop highly detailed routines and procedures. Manuel's staff did their best to accommodate him, but they didn't always communicate well with each other, nor did they fully appreciate his need for structure, and tensions mounted.
I worked with Manuel to clarify his goals in each of the different areas, and assign more realistic time frames, so he could relieve his over-burdened "urgent" category. We also clarified the support roles on his team, and it became obvious that some team members were not good fits for their role expectations. With this reality brought to light, Manuel was able to make some personnel changes.
With a better fitting support team in place, and a more realistic approach to meeting his goals, Manuel is feeling more in control. He is able to devote less energy to monitoring the administrative details, and more energy where he is best: helping his patients.
Sylvia: A little bit of coaching goes a long way
Sylvia made a middle-life career change to teaching high school. She loved working with kids, but hit a wall when it came to organizing her classroom and managing student homework. She was leaving work totally exhausted every day and beginning to second-guess her career change.
Sylvia had been diagnosed several years ago with ADHD and understood her strengths and challenges quite well. She recognized her ADHD impacted her organizational skills, but she also felt confident that with a bit of support, she could find alternative strategies. We started our three-hour appointment with a coaching conversation, during which Sylvia had an “aha!” moment when she became aware of how sensory overload in the classroom was aggravating her ADHD symptoms.
Once Sylvia had that understanding, she got “unstuck” and we spent the remaining time implementing changes to minimize the overload she had been experiencing. I left Sylvia with a list of products I thought might be useful to her, many of which she already had stocked at home, but hadn’t known how to use effectively.
I checked in with Sylvia a few weeks later and she reported that things were flowing much better in the classroom and she was finding energy left at the end of the day to enjoy her personal life.
George: ADHD, anxiety, and a stalled career
George was self-employed as a legal consultant, and diagnosed with ADHD later in life. He called me because he wanted help in setting up a home office. He had moved from across the country two years ago, and had never created an effective workspace in his new apartment, which was making it nearly impossible to work and establish his practice in his new community.
It became clear that the lack of a workspace wasn't the real culprit in preventing George from moving forward. The real problem was several boxes of mixed personal and professional papers, sitting in the middle of the room. Most of the papers could eventually be purged, but George still needed to sort through them and pull out the important ones to keep. He felt he couldn't devote energy to anything else, until the papers were sorted. The problem was that he wasn't doing anything about the papers and consequently, nothing else on George's To Do list was getting done, either.
The papers were a major trigger for George's anxiety. Living with undiagnosed ADHD had created a long string of traumatic insults to his ego. The ADHD diagnosis offered an explanation for many of his earlier job performance inconsistencies, but it was hard for George to reconcile all that he had experienced. He was hyper-sensitized, and often had a post-traumatic stress response when exposed to the papers and the unpleasant memories and regrets attached to them. George's therapist was helping him to work through and resolve the trauma, and I was able to offer moral support and encouragement as George practiced the various coping strategies he was learning.Through experimentation, we found it helped if I previewed each box of papers and then gave George a general description of what was there before he looked at them. We started with the “easier” boxes and worked our way up to the more difficult, as George's tolerance improved. We also took frequent, short breaks to work on other things that George enjoyed, like learning how to pay bills online or create playlists in iTunes. George discovered the liberating joy of unloading many boxes at his local shredding company and watching while the blades obliterated the painful triggers.
We also experimented with strategies for working through George's long-avoided To Do list. He found it helpful to review his projects with me and rehearse some of the difficult conversations he anticipated. We also broke projects into smaller steps and created mini-deadlines, which helped George stay focused and made it easier for him to initiate tasks.
With the elimination of all those papers and the burden they represented, and invigorated by his success at working through his To Do list, George was able to move forward and re-vitalize his career.
Marie: Chronic illness and a busy life
Marie was a single mom living with a medical condition that affected her stamina. Her home was crowded with years of accumulated papers, clothing, toys and all the stuff that comes with a busy life with kids. Marie was paralyzed by the work that needed to be done and was concerned about preserving her energy for parenting.
During an initial walk-through, we identified the “bottlenecks” that were making routine tasks difficult to accomplish, and also the “dumping grounds” where clutter was accumulating. Marie was committed to letting go of anything that was not critical and meaningful to her or the kids, although she anticipated it would be difficult.
Working together in three-hour blocks, for a total of nine appointments spread out over three months, we sorted through all items in the small home, disposing of what Marie no longer needed, and creating easily accessible, well-labeled storage for the things she was keeping.
About 15-30 minutes of each appointment was spent on focused coaching. We discussed the insights Marie was having during the process, and what activities would be possible with cleared spaces and less chaos in the home. We also discussed Marie’s time constraints and energy cycles in relation to strategies for maintaining newly organized spaces.
Knowing she had moral and physical support, Marie was able to work on tasks between appointments. We made sure the tasks were clearly identified and Marie had all the supplies necessary to accomplish them. With a clear plan in place, Marie felt less overwhelmed and was able to initiate actions that had paralyzed her in the past. She gained confidence not only in her ability to manage her home, but also in her ability to care for herself.
With a better organized, de-cluttered home, Marie is now able to hire housekeeping help, allowing her to preserve stamina for other priorities.
Brian: Phone coaching increases awareness and provides structure
Brian returned to school in his early 30s after leaving an unfulfilling career path. He had hoped that with maturity, school would be easier the second time around—but instead, he found it even more difficult. Testing revealed that Brian has ADHD. An eager learner, Brian instituted nearly all the recommendations for students with ADHD, one of which was to work with a coach. Brian’s goals for working with me were to increase his understanding of himself and how he functions best, and to have both strategic support and accountability for completing his school assignments and maintaining his apartment.
Brian and I found a combination of regular phone calls and email support was most helpful for him. Having the opportunity to “verbally process” allowed Brian to gain many insights. He became more aware how his ADHD affected him and how he could use that knowledge to modify certain behaviors and perspectives. He gained new appreciation for his strengths and was able to apply them in creative ways to boring tasks. He also accepted that certain tasks were more challenging for him, and redefined his expectations of himself, while still ensuring he was fulfilling his commitments to others.
One of Brian’s greatest insights was the value of having an underlying foundation of structure in his life. Coaching allowed him to identify the core elements that keep him on course. These elements are his stabilizers, and whenever things get a bit off kilter, he returns his attention to his core elements and finds that he can recover.
Brian has discovered that he can succeed in school, although he has decided the goal of straight A’s is no longer that important. Instead, he is focusing on putting into practice what he is learning and developing meaningful relationships.
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