Colin’s Case Book 01: Overworked, Unappreciated, Depressed


TAKEAWAY: The importance of spotting the unguarded casual remark that can reveal the true cause of client concern.

METHOD: Telephone coaching – Six one-hour sessions at weekly intervals.

I dread going to work now and I cannot see the wood for the trees.”

It wasn’t until our third weekly session that I was able to drill down to the real issue that led to a happy conclusion a couple of weeks later.

My client was a softly spoken 35 year old man. He had a wife who stayed at home to look after their two young children and they lived happily in a modest, but heavily mortgaged, house.

As a self-taught accountant he was justifiably proud to have a business card that named him as Financial Controller. He initially enjoyed the excitement when the young sales and marketing business had launched, especially as he was its first employee and that the Managing Director came from a similar background.

The company grew rapidly and, as it did, it became obvious that the young boss had much to learn. In his view the sales team were creating the income while the administration back office trio – the client, a clerk and a secretary – were perceived as expensive overheads, despite dealing with steadily increasing workloads.

The client attempted to cope by getting in to work earlier, then staying later too, Once he started working at weekends to ‘catch up’, his health, energy and marriage began to show serious strain. He told me that he was scared of making a mistake, that he was getting further behind in his work each week and that the founder was criticising his lack of the enthusiasm that had earned him the job in the first place.

During our third session my client remarked that he dreaded going to work the next day because his desk was ‘hidden under a mountain of paper’. He couldn’t risk the financial loss of leaving or the imagined trauma of seeking a new job. I picked up on that ‘hidden desk’ remark and asked him to describe his home surroundings room by room. My initial idea was to distract him from his fears of the next day. As he described the house with pride he revealed that his wife was becoming irritated by all his clutter and unfinished projects in every room.

Desk hidden below a mountain of papers

I asked him to go to work the next day as usual, but instead of doing any normal work he was to clear his desk one piece of paper at a time. I told him that he could only handle each sheet once … to be shredded, filed correctly, added to a ‘tomorrow’ tray or delegated to the clerk or secretary. I suggested that he prioritised each task in the tomorrow tray, had only one file on his desk at a time and would put it away before the next one was started. I set him some weekend domestic homework too, where each room would undergo a similar critical examination with the maxim, ‘if in doubt, chuck it out’. Finally, I instructed him to report back in some detail during our following session.

When the time came he admitted a default on the domestic front. This was happily because he had enjoyed the decluttering at work so much that he spent all weekend at the office to get it finished. Then he had refined the filing system with the full involvement of the clerk and secretary.

During the weekend cleaning he unearthed a mail shot from a firm that could handle their entire payroll and tax administration. When it had arrived on his desk a year earlier the company was too small to use the service but now it had grown sufficiently for such outsourcing to be a viable option.

During our final session he actually phoned ahead of time. ‘I just had to tell you, the boss is so pleased with the new approach that he has offered me a raise along with a profit share agreement’. The clerk was fully committed to the new systems and the secretary now felt included as a valued and happy team member.

I was not surprised because clutter is so often a cause rather than a symptom. Would the client have realised this without my coaching input? Would he have done anything about it if he hadn’t been asked to report back on the tasks we agreed? His salary increase was more than ten times my fee for the entire course of six sessions.

He sent me a Christmas card this year, announcing the arrival of their third child, but all credit for that was totally down to him and his wife.

Colin Edwards


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