Making the Work “The Horse” and Not “The Tick”

September 10, 2022

By Lisa McNeill

I was working with a client a month or so ago, and he said, “I need to make this work – the horse not the tick!” 

This particular client’s passion and purpose is to develop reduced emissions resources to help fight climate change and improve environmental, economic, and health outcomes for local communities – and the world.  His “day job” is doing contract work in which he is very knowledgeable and can do easily.

I asked him to tell be more about “the tick” and “the horse.” 

“The tick devours time and resources and doesn’t produce dollars or results,” he said. He continued, “The horse is young, like a foal, it needs to be fenced in, corralled, so it doesn’t run away, and it needs training.”

“And nourishment?” I added.

“Yes, it needs to be fed and looked after so it can grow strong and productive.”

In the past we had talked a good amount about the client’s mission and vision for reduced emissions resources solutions and the kind of company and structure he thought would work best to bring those solutions to market.

“I need to focus on making this work lean and efficient, like a healthy horse, but right now I feel like it’s a tick sucking energy and resources. I need to have confidence in the work—in the horse.”

“And your contract work that provides resources right now, how do you feel about that work?” I asked.

“I spend too much time on it. But it’s easy, I know how to do it, I know I’m good at it.”

“I can see why sometimes the reduced emissions resources work might be draining, even exhausting. You’re creating and building something new, and there isn’t always a right answer,” I said.  Even with work we love, we can feel tired, and we might procrastinate by doing “easy work” first.  

“It’s human nature to want to accomplish things, and if you are running into roadblocks in one area –the reduced emissions resources work, for example—it’s okay to switch over to get some of your contracting work done. It gives you that sense of achievement and the resources you need to help take care of your family and to continue your other work,” I offered.

“How would you feel if you didn’t have the reduced emissions resources work; if you focused on your contracting work, which you know how to do, you are good at it, and it helps pay the bills?” I asked.

“I don’t think I could do that. I don’t think I could give up the reduced emissions resources work. I wouldn’t be satisfied.”

We spent some time discussing how growth happens when we get out of our comfort zone. A growth opportunity –whether it be a new job or leadership role, a new social experience, or working on a new solution to a pressing issue—provides us the chance to stretch ourselves, learn and practice new skills, and expand what we can achieve in our lives. It can also be exhausting!  

Being clear about why and how we are doing something – setting goals, establishing objectives and priorities, determining benchmarks, timelines and milestones –are important in providing parameters and helping us stay focused, just like my client’s fence for the foal.  

We also talked about setting up a schedule for spending part of the day on his contracting work and part of the day on the reduced emissions resources work, understanding that some days would necessitate more time on one or the other.  Doing this can allow the sense of (easy) accomplishment that the contracting work allows him while also giving him the mental stimulation and creativity that he needs without overdoing it and getting burnt out.  

Finally, we discussed the time of day he feels most productive. Scheduling new work and challenging tasks during times of peak effectiveness, and easier tasks at other times of the day, supports us in taking on new work and accomplishing complex tasks.

I encouraged my client to think about the time(s) of day he is sharpest, and schedule that time for his most important work: the reduced emissions resources work that is his purpose and passion – to make it the horse, and not the tick.

Lisa McNeill is an ICF-certified coach and consultant who works with leaders in a wide array of industries as well as those in transition. Throughout her career, she has worked to build and develop strong teams in international to grassroots settings.

Image courtesy of Markus Hiltbrunner from Pixabay

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