When I am coaching people, I often allow them to focus solely on themselves. They find it strange at first, as we tend to put ourselves at the end of an exceptionally long queue. It can also feel selfish focusing on yourself when there are so many other aspects of your life vying for your attention.

But why, in coaching, do we start with the self? Steven Covey’s “Sharpen the Saw” habit says there is no point in cutting a piece of wood with a blunt saw, and if you do, it will take you longer than if you stopped, sharpened the saw and then got to work. If we keep running on low or empty, we will eventually run out! So, let’s start with yourself.

How do you know when you need to slow down and sharpen the saw? Starting to listen to yourself and understand your emotions will help you get there before you burn out.

When we are busy, feeling overwhelmed or stressed, we become extremely focused on the day to day and the to-do list. This approach can mean that we are not lifting our heads and seeing the bigger picture on the horizon.

How many plates are you spinning, what balls are you juggling? Where did they come from, and which ones are important? Are there any plates missing?

The Juggling Act Most of Us Are Balancing:


Focusing on these three areas will help you to understand what’s important and maintain your momentum:

1. Personal Fitness

This area is usually the one that when we are busy, we shove to the bottom. But if you are not physically and mentally ready, if your “saw is not sharp”, how can you perform at your best across all the other domains?

Self-care is a word that is so widely used that most of us are not even sure what it means now – is it still candles and a bath? A spa day? Self-care is going to be different for each one of us. Start by checking in on what makes you breathe a little deeper and calms your mind. It could be yoga, a long walk alone, or even a drink or dinner with some friends. Whatever helps you switch off for a short while, making you feel good and focused on yourself, is all that is needed to satisfy the definition of the term “self-care”. Personally, I tried a mindfulness app in my desperate search for the ‘missing link’ from my self-care routine. I would feel like a failure at the end of each session as I ended up with a thorough to-do list of all the things I was currently avoiding. It was not the restful bliss I was predicting! But after some perseverance, I discovered yoga which is now my go-to. If there are competing activities with my yoga time, I remind myself and my family that I am a much nicer person after my yoga class! Running is the same for my husband.

Once you know how to care for yourself, we can start to look at the other plates.

2. Career Fitness

Take a moment to remember the big-picture career aspirations you have and ask yourself, ‘is what I am doing each day going to get me there?’

Career fitness can help focus you. What are your career goals? What is YOUR big picture? You don’t need to look too far into the future – start with either 1/3/5 years. Take a moment to picture this – how does it look, sound and feel? Can you see what are you doing in the future and how your life looks? Do you understand what is different? Think more about your overall goals of where you want to be in the long-term – your everyday actions will lead to this, but they will do so incrementally.

3. Job Fitness

Once you connect to your career fitness goal, look at your job fitness plate – your day-to-day tasks. Does what you are doing each day tie back into your career goal? Are they putting you in the right direction? Start as you mean to go on. While not all your day-to-day tasks of your job will point directly to your career goal, they should take you in the right direction. The jobs tasks that relate to your career goals are the tasks you should start each week with – putting first things first.

How to Get Where You Want to Be

So, you’ve considered how to balance your plates; you’re now in a solid position to take on your everyday life and work towards achieving your long-term career goals. When thinking about your longer-term goals of where you want your career to head, an overlooked skill is examining who can help you get there in your network. We don’t need to do all this ourselves; other people can help!

  • Do you have good sponsors, people who understand your big picture so that they can look out for you too?
  • Have you expanded your networks to include people who might be able to help in the future?
  • Are you visible to those who will be instrumental in achieving your goals?

And my last tip for achieving your goals is to constantly check-in and be willing to reassess the plan – is this you at your best? Does it play to the strengths you are known for now? Is it still aligned with what you want? To check that you’re always on track, it might be worth asking yourself the following questions periodically throughout the year:

  • What would you most love to be known for in the future?
  • What makes its way to the top of your to-do list first?
  • When are you lost in time?
  • When are you at your most engaged and energetic?

When you know the answers to the above, working within your strengths will take you to the top of your game.

Now we can tie in what we do each day with our larger career goals.

Work out what is going on in each plate, step back and reassess your big picture, breathe and take time to sharpen your saw so you can start to see the wood from the trees. Sometimes, less really is more.