Working Hard on the Wrong Work

A Case Study

One of the problems I often find myself helping clients with is how ineffectively they are spending their time in their business or practice.  My clients tell me that I’m pretty good at catching them in the act of working hard, but doing the wrong work.

It’s a coaching task: pointing out the behaviors that are incongruent with the goals you’ve chosen, and putting those behaviors back in their rightful places.

Even coaches have these issues, though; that’s one of the reasons we hire other coaches to keep us in line.

Last week, I promised my coach that this week, I would have two good introductory conversations with people who are looking to improve their careers or lives.  While my practice is nearly full, I usually have one or two openings each week, and I tend to fill these openings with those types of conversations.

Sometimes such a chat leads to an offer of further coaching for a fee; often, it doesn’t.  The right coach paired with the right client can lead to powerful transformation—if that’s what the prospective client wants.  If powerful transformation isn’t important to the client, or if we both aren’t equally inspired, I won’t offer my services.

For me, sustaining my practice starts with a promise to my coach—and to myself—to make time for truly innocent conversations.  But for the last two days, I haven’t kept my promise.  Here’s why:

Monday I upgraded my iPad.  My iTunes program, which had been syncing with my iPad just beautifully, informed me that an update was available.  When I tried to install the update, the website advised that I couldn’t upgrade iTunes until I upgraded the iPad’s operating system.

So, I did…and my iPad crashed and became useless.  An Apple telephone “Genius” told me that I should take the useless iPad into an Apple Store and have them check it out—not a big deal if there’s a store nearby, but for me it’s 45 minutes each way, plus the time spent there—2 ½ hours out of my day.

So, I made an appointment (you need one) and trekked to the Apple Store.  I was amazed; in twenty minutes, the new system was up and my iPad was running again.

Now, to restore my information to it….When I got home, I hooked up my iPad to my PC.  Before killing my iPad earlier in the day, iTunes had made a backup of the iPad, so all I had to do now was click on the backup and put everything back together, and then sync up all my music, books, and photos using my new, improved version of iTunes.  But the backup wouldn’t reload, no matter how hard I willed it to do so.

So, I started from the beginning.  I loaded the apps I had been using directly into my iPad from the App Store and opened iTunes to sync my full library on the PC with my still blank iPad.  Every time I tried it, however—numbered in the dozens—iTunes froze and refused to do the job.

I began looking online to see if I could solve this dilemma and there were, apparently, lots of “freezing iTunes” stories like mine.  But nobody seemed to have a solution that a non-technical person could use.  I found, downloaded, and tried, without success, two or three free software programs that should have let me get away from iTunes altogether.  I even watched a video on YouTube on how to use one of these newer programs.  But they all froze on me, too.

Then I remembered that my Blackberry sync program hadn’t worked with my PC either, and I became concerned that I might simply need a new PC.

All these attempts to sync, research online to find a cure, download and try new software, watch and learn from YouTube “how-to” videos, and absorb myself in other non-work-related activities filled up a day and a half…and I still haven’t talked to anyone new this week.

But here’s the more important revelation: I had become the very person I help my clients not to be.  I was working very hard—frustratingly hard—doing all the WRONG work.

Before the iPad iNcident, I was busy with my practice.  Now an expensive toy, albeit very useful, was occupying all my time.  I lost a precious day and a half of my work life before I snapped out of it.

I have no doubt I’ll catch up on my coaching conversations, and some part of those is likely to involve helping someone else see that he or she is doing the wrong work.  If you’d like to experience how powerful coaching can be to keep you on track, contact me right away.  Offering this time to talk is how I keep my promise.

Work hard on the right work, and try to let go of the rest.  Stay focused, and keep REACHING…

P.S.  My iPad still isn’t loaded, but I’m going to let someone whose “right” work involves gadgets resolve the problem for me.

Sandy Schussel says:

Thanks for joining the discussion, Dave. There are usually three or four factors that make the unimportant projects our focus, instead of our goals:

1. Working on our goals isn’t fun. That’s the work I’m “supposed” to be doing–not what I CHOOSE to be doing.

2. We’ve lost our sense of what is most important, distracted by the challenge right there in front of us.

3. We’re uncomfortable (afraid) to do the work that will get us to our goal and this distraction is feels way safer.

4. We’re not really committed to the goals

That’s what coaches are for. You and your partner can agree to coach one another, or you can work with a coach–increasing your likelihood of success.

David Spatz says:

I like your story. As an IT company – we solve these problems for our clients all the time, yet it is amazing how ofter our own “toys” break down and take time better spent on productive work.

I find that many times I will jump into unproductive work BECAUSE I would rather do this than what I already know I am supposed to be working on.

P.S.: My partner and I are actively working to implement last week’s goal – Slowwww down and spend intentional time with our existing customers!!

Sandy Schussel says:


Thanks for your comment. It’s not an interruption if you don’t have a clear goal for what you want to accomplish. If you don’t, google away! If, on the other hand, you DO have something you want to accomplish, It helps to start by always asking these questions:

1. Is what I’m doing now the most effective thing I can be doing to accomplish my goal?
2. What can I be doing now that would be the more effective?

Often the answer to the first question is “yes,” and you can move on to the second. But if I’m doing it myself, accountable only to me, it’s easy to ignore the answer to these questions. That’s just one of the reasons I DO have a coach–and just one of the things I help my clients with. It doesn’t have to be DIY!

Ruth Greenwood says:

When heading into “wrong” work, any symptoms or signals we can be aware of, or questions we can ask ourselves, to help us weigh whether we need to stop and find help?

The same quagmire happens with information: researching solutions, finding specific answers, seeking others’ opinion on a product, or comparing products. We live in a pump-your-own-gas, self-checkout, DIY era that tells but do you have any rules of thumb for knowing the maximum number of minutes to invest in any information-gathering activity?

In both situations above, how do you get past the thought, “I’ve already put TIME into this; it will have been wasted if I stop now” that keeps us slogging longer and deeper into the mire?

Love your blog, Sandy! Were you looking over my shoulder late yesterday when I hit a wrong key and suddenly everything on my monitor was sideways, and I had to hold my head at a 90° angle as I Googled for a solution?