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So, where are you right now?

It’s an interesting question, isn’t it? Because there’s two ways of answering that.

There is the physical sense of course. “Well, I’m sitting in a traffic jam on the motorway looking at my emails to use the time productively.”

Or there’s the mental sense. “yeah, pretty good. Maybe a bit stressed about a few things.”

For many of you when you get home tonight, you’ll be asked by a loved one or friend whether today was “a good day at the office”. But what makes it a good day and what makes it a bad day?

4 doughnuts with hole in middle

A good way of visualising it, is thinking about all the possible mental states as being somewhere on a round doughnut. The ones with a hole in the middle like the one in the picture.

That hole in the middle is when you’re relaxing. Reading a book, sleeping, watching TV etc. Whatever your way of relaxing is.

The bit outside the doughnut is when you’re out of control. Maybe in a good way like an intense sports match (playing or maybe for some of us just supporting). But perhaps in a bad way when your emotions have overtaken the logical part of your brain and you’re upset, angry or worse.

The rest of the time your mental state and your conscious brain is somewhere on the doughnut. Hopefully, you are somewhere on the doughnut at all times in the working day. In my accountancy practice, we once had someone here on work experience who fell asleep in the toilets for several hours. We called his college and home to alert them to a missing teenager. And then he just strolled back into the office as if nothing had happened.

We also made the mistake one year of having the office party in the middle of the week. The following day one staff member (who is now a partner I might add) had to go and have a doze in the staff room.

Other than that, I can’t think of many times when someone has been in the hole in the middle of the doughnut during the working day.

Occasionally one or two people get close but fortunately we have some pretty good team leaders who can gee things up a bit.

On the other hand, we have had the occasional meltdown when someone is outside the doughnut feeling overwhelmed about a problem or a workload. Again, time for a good team leader to step in and help.

But this isn’t about my staff. Or even your staff for that matter.

It’s about you. In fact, this whole book is about you.

So, where’s the ideal place to be. Near the middle? Nice and relaxed, sailing round the office with chirpy conversation uplifting the team as you ponder what on earth you’re going to do when you finally make it to your desk because you have so few responsibilities these days?

I doubt it.

That’s not you, is it? Not if you are the person who set this business up in the first place and worked 15-hour days to get it all to where it is now. Not if you still have a hunger for the business to be more than it currently is. Not if your competitive instincts want you to keep growing even if the part of you that likes your holidays and off time is constantly asking you questions about how hard you work.

So you’re on the doughnut. And probably not near the middle. More likely nearer the edge. Maybe only a step or two away from being outside the doughnut out of control in crisis-mode.

Because you probably feel that you need to lead from the front. If you’re not the one driving and pushing, who else will?

One of the team and I used to refer to a now ex-colleague as Levi because he was always out the door at 5.01. He assiduously avoided moving too far away from the middle of the doughnut.

Of course, the problem with that was that it pushed other people closer to the edge of their particular doughnut. When he dodged anything urgent, someone else had to do it.

Personally, I’d rather be closer to the edge than the middle. But not too close.

We all have times when we drift a bit close to the edge. When you’re in the thick of that huge contract you signed up which is starting to go wrong. When you’ve got lots of great work on the go, but a legal dispute has arisen in relation to another job or maybe with an employee.

Add in a few personal or family things and your usual positive demeanour is replaced by a grumpy boss who is snappy with their team. And your team don’t understand why.

It’s possible that you are your own worst enemy on that front. When you’re on top of things, what do you get drawn to do? Important but not urgent tasks that will make the business less dependant on you when it gets busy again? Or are you drawn to a new project, another business deal, more aggressive marketing and sales?

That’s not to say that the latter approach is wrong. It depends where you are and where you want to be. Sometimes it’s a fine line between boredom and stress!

Here’s the big problem. Here’s the paradox of this situation and probably the reason why you aren’t doing anything about it.

The problem is that when you are stretched like this, you are also at your most profitable. Everyone is running a full pelt. There’s no slack in the system. But there’s a lot of energy.

So your profits are going up. And that makes it very hard to contemplate that there’s a problem.

But you’re also at your most vulnerable to a mistake.

In the early years of my career, I acted for a printing company who went through two years of extraordinary growth. Lots of new staff, changes of premises, on the edge of their cash flow all the time.

Back then all printers were using what were relatively new Apple Macs. These were expensive but there was a shortfall. Apple couldn’t make them fast enough. As a result, there was a second-hand market where machines were being sold for more than cost.

One day they came into the office and there had been a burglary. All the Apple Macs had been stolen. The police said that it was a targeted robbery.

They called the insurance company and the assessor visited within 24 hours. “Where’s your Redcare alarm system?” he said.

“Oh, it was due to be installed next week” was the reply.

“In that case you’re not insured” replied the assessor.

And that was it. Game over. With no spare resources to replace their expensive equipment, the company could not trade and went into liquidation.

They’d just been too busy to get something essential done.

If you’re feeling close to the edge of your own particular doughnut, it’s important to rationalise it and think why that might be. There are lots of reasons:

  • It might be temporary. Those manic days that fly by dealing with one big problem or lots of little ones can be fun. But if there are too many of them, that can lead to burnout.
  • You’ve simply got too many responsibilities. If that’s the case, you need some solutions. That’s one of the aims of this book. There’s always a solution in the long run. But it needs to be the right one.
  • Maybe there are things on your plate which aren’t as important as you thought they were or as urgent. Maybe we can delegate some of them away.
  • You’re not as close to the edge as you think but are just beating yourself up over not being able to do everything. This is sometimes referred to as “Imposter Syndrome” but it’s also caused by the emotional side of your brain (the back bit) drowning out the logical side (the front bit). This is explored in an excellent book called “The Chimp Paradox” by Dr Steve Peters.
  • Your job is far more complicated than it needs to be and maybe a bit of a systems overhaul is needed.

Alternatively, perhaps someone else is pushing you closer to the edge of your doughnut than you would be if they were doing their job properly. Handle this one with care though. They may be closer to the edge of their own personal doughnut than you realise.

Or maybe they’re closer to the hole in the middle than you realise. Maybe they’re capable of a lot more than you think. A constant goal for you as leader of your organisation should be try and identify unfulfilled talent. I always believe people are capable of personal growth, sometimes when they don’t even think it themselves!

So, will today be a good day at the office?

Well, we don’t know the answer to that for certain do we? Problems may occur that you couldn’t have predicted at the start of the day.

But if an average day is spent on the outer limits of the doughnut, then your business is far too dependent on you. Let’s get this journey started.

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