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How To Do Your Best Work

When I first started Life Coaching full time I used to spend a long time prepping my calls.

I’d read my client intake forms, check previous notes if applicable and then spend ages, often getting anxious, trying to come up with cunning Life Coaching questions.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say there were times when I probably spent longer prepping than the actual call itself took.

After a year or two of this approach it started to dawn on me from a Life Coaching standpoint it wasn’t at all effective.

I’d find myself guiding the call in the direction I wanted, rather than simply letting it flow in the direction it was meant to go.

Then one day I thought, “Fuck it, this is a waste of time and energy, you know what you’re doing, so just do it

So I stepped outside my self imposed box and decided that other than reading notes from previous sessions to jog my memory and getting myself in the right mental state, I wasn’t going to prepare for calls.

The net result was I became an exponentially better Life Coach.

All of a sudden I was in the call not just on the call.

I started to trust that the ‘right’ question would come at the right time because I knew what I was doing.

And guess what? They usually did and still do.

Not always of course, but a high percentage of the time and way more than was previously the case.

I’m not saying that preparing is never necessary, of course it is. In fact it’s critical in some circumstances if we want to perform optimally and I did a lot of prep work for a workshop I gave last week.

However, it’s equally if not not more important, to allow your unconscious to take over when you’re underway without thinking it will screw things up unless it’s on a tight leash.

Especially with a profession like Life Coaching that’s inherently more reactive than proactive.

Sometimes I’ve no idea where my client questions come from and I’ll often start sessions clueless to which direction we’re going to head in.

But the difference is I now trust myself and it’s alright that I can’t predict or control the future because that’s not my job.

Even if your job requires that you prepare thoroughly, the important thing is that once you’re underway you start to trust yourself because that is when your best work will come.

You cannot get into the flow state if you’re second guessing yourself.

So the question is, are you trusting yourself enough?


50 comments to How To Do Your Best Work

  • We can’t build a strong intuitions until we first practice following those gut-instincts (and occasionally screwing up). I struggle with this myself – too analytical sometimes. Sometimes I just need to throw away the “script” that I constantly play in my head and just let spontaneity take its course.

    • I bet if you look back on the times when you did your best work you weren’t even thinking about it! I know my best client sessions truly flow and an hour is gone in a heartbeat. I love that.

  • very interesting
    hard work pays off…and not only that, but the harder you work for something, the greater the satisfaction once complete
    thanks heaps :)

  • Eric

    In my job, preparation is essential. I do have to go with my gut (as Steven states) when the call/meeting goes in a direction that I had not prepared ahead of time. But, experience and being really in the call or meeting and doing more listening that talking allows me to let my gut get all the information it needs and the time to digest it to make a decision or guide things back.

    • It used to be the same for me in previous employment. Selling HR outsourcing and walking into a meeting with the Board of Directors having not prepared would be a recipe for disaster.

      For some jobs it’s crucial, I’d not suggest airline pilots ditch their pre-flight check list or a surgeon not bother consulting his patient!

      I suppose in retrospect, my preparation is always striving to learn more so that when I’m in a session with a client I have as many tools at my disposal as possible.

  • Roy Naim

    Love that.

    I recall a few years back when I did YouTube video and scripted it, rehearsed it and totally sucked at it. It wasn’t Roy Naim. It was some other dude.

    The day I decided to go with it, bam, I was a natural and felt comfortable in talking to a video camera.

    Just this morning I read from a man name Willie how he was assigned the task to rewrite out a daily report for the team to his Commanding Officer. He was nervous as heck. When he asked the best way to go about it, he was told to just write it out and then edit it. That is what he did and often didn’t even have to edit it.

    Now of course in some areas we need to prep. When running, there are time that we spend time beforehand planning out the run in terms of route, mileage, pace and so on and then there are times when we just run it.

    When asked to help someone stop smoking or eliminate phobia, I will go back to the books to refresh on the topic and then just go with it.

    And if I prepare too much, often I find myself not really listening to others. I think one of the bet gift to give oneself and others is being presence. Just be there.

    • Yes! I did a TV interview one time trying to replicate answers to questions they had supplied before hand. It sucked, but fortunately the interviewer blew her lines (not sure if that was a favor to me), so I threw my cue cards on the floor and winged it and it went great.

      That’s why when I’m ever doing an interview I turn down knowing the questions in advance. I usually say, “If I can’t answer what you’re going to ask me you shouldn’t be interviewing me.”

      Nothing wrong with your approach for change work Roy, but in time you will stop doing that because you will start to adopt the approaches to fit you and they won’t be in any book to check on. They way I do Swish isn’t in any book.

  • You talking about the New Year Resolution interview? It was about that time that I connected with you on Twitter.

    And ya, I definitely appreciate not getting the questions in advance as it allows for more fun interview and you know what, even if one doesn’t know the answer, I would take pride in saying I don’t know but I sure as heck am going to research it now.

    And when I go back to the books, it is not so much to remember how to do something but to see if there’s anything else I can pick up on that I didn’t last time and if there’s another way to do something.

    For me the book is just a reference, a place to branch out of.

    This just reminded me of a story. There is a certain Rabbi in Israel who is considered one of our greatest sages of our time. He knowledge in Jewish laws (trust me, not as simple as it seems), of the Talmud, and various of topics is WOW. 100′s of people go to him daily to seek his blessing and advice.

    Now I don’t recall the details at this part, but someone went over to another great Jewish sage who is more of a critical thinker/philosopher and also has knowledge of the laws, and they were discussing this other Rabbi when the critical thinker said “he is just a donkey”.

    What he meant was that he just memorizes text/information, gathers it and share it accordingly while others actually compare and come up with their own information through study.

    As a teen, I remember finding this story discouraging and yet encouraging. I too memorize and blessed with a memory where I can tell you where something is found, quotes, stories and so on. No, not photographic but accurate pinpointing (has to do with my strong visual sense). And then was thinking, maybe I am too just a donkey with no critical thinking.

    I went to my teacher at the time and shared with him what I was thinking and he smiled and said “You forgot the rest of the story. When this came back to the “donkey’s” father who was known to be a critical thinker (and a great sage as well), he said and we need a donkey in this world as well”.

    Fast forward today, I am still more heavily on the donkey side :) And you know what, I am loving it as I know my place and how valuable it is to have someone who knows a lot of information and the where about. At the same time, over the years I did make a point to develop my critical thinking and quite proud of it.

    And count on Roy to extend a topic :) You do know that everytime I comment it is basically a blog post in it’s own right, right?

  • This post is so right on! I have noticed over the years that when I just engage with the client, live and in real time, rather than try to work my preparation ON them, it always turns out better.

    I’m also super-glad I learned the value of preparation back in college (when I stopped winging it!). My preparation informs me, but it is not my talent, and that’s a big difference! My clients are paying for a service that requires my talent, not just my preparation.

    I suspect the same is true for you, Tim. You bring something very special, and without it, no amount of preparation makes a difference.

  • Maggie

    I can remember when the switch happened for me. I had a workshop coming up and no time to prepare for it. I was used to doing hours of review and preparation on every aspect of the topic, and seriously considered cancelling or postponing the session. But I went ahead anyway. It was a much better session than usual, mostly because I was on my toes (a bit of anxiety is helpful) and wasn’t fighting the exhaustion of information-overload. When I thought about it afterwards I realized that there was more than enough content and expetise in my head: I could now trust myself to fly by the seat of my pants, if necessary. Later I refined that and changed the focus from content to a much more experiential and interactive style of working. It isn’t about the preparation of the material so much as having trust in my own ability to respond, to be present, and to know that I am enough for the task.

  • I think this was the golden nugget for me.

    “I’d find myself guiding the call in the direction I wanted, rather than simply letting it flow in the direction it was meant to go.”

    In business meetings it makes sense to have this kind of structured flow, but when helping others and listening to their concerns, there needs to be some flexibility.

    Great points and I’ll definitely work better after reading this.


  • I also remember the moment I realized I was “trying” to be a life coach instead of just being with my clients. It was a remarkable improvement in flow, content and effectiveness, not to mention a reduction in anxiety and time! I now take just a few minutes to set an intention to do nothing other than to be present and trust what I already know. As a recovering overplanner I now put my organizational skills to better use!

  • I love this. I used to be afraid of starting my own business because I didn’t know all the answers. But in one of our sessions, you reminded me that I don’t need to have all the answers, I just need to be able to find them out when I don’t know.

    Now that I’ve started my own part-time business, I can testify that you were spot on, Tim.

    Life’s much more enjoyable when I don’t pressure myself to be the best in the world at my job. As long as I’m reasonably competent, and my employer/customers are happy, then all is good.

  • isn’t this the same issue of intuition vs preparation? we prepare and study and practice enough that our intuition gets more and more spot on. as a newbie (to nearly anything) it’s all about preparation. as a not-so-newbie, things work much better when you let all that good learning dance freely. imho


  • What a great article. You know, I have a natural tendency to over think, over prepare and over analyze at times. I believe it’s a manifestation of perfectionism, which is something I once thought was a great attribute.

    What I’ve learned is that the more perfectionistic I am, the less perfect things turn out in the end. So, I began to slowly let myself off the hook a bit. It’s really shown me that excess is never the answer and that I can indeed trust myself. This was the start of so much progress in my life.

    • “What I’ve learned is that the more perfectionistic I am, the less perfect things turn out in the end”

      Weird that, isn’t it?

      Fortunately, I’ve never been afflicted by perfectionism as many of my posts will testify to!

  • I have found myself in the same boat, Tim. I prefer to listen intently to the client, understand where they are coming from and then use questions that are relevant to them. Thankyou for this.
    be good to yourself

  • When I first did my Coach training I was on a huge high about finally finding the career that would allow me to do something I loved each day. Then I started getting clients and I quickly dropped into feeling I had it all wrong and had made a huge mistake in choosing my new line of work. Before every session I felt unprepared, unexperienced and overwhelmingly anxious. I couldn’t see how this work would ever be fun and fulfilling when I felt this way. It had to be the wrong work for me.

    I took my dilemma to one of my tutors who explained quite obviously (now) that I was doing coaching, not being a coach. I had to step aside from my ego and let the client have the space instead of trying to perform for them. After a whole career of plotting and planning I was being given permission to just wing it and trust that I had the skills to make it work.

    Then the fun began and now other than a quick review of my client notes from the week before I do no other preparation. Oh, aside from a nice big deep breath and taking my place in my comfy chair ready to be with my client. And I LOVE my work! This absolutely is what I am meant to do and I just had to let go and sink into it rather than trying to ‘drive’ it.

    Great post Tim. And thank you for the reminder to keep being…

    • Fortunate you had a wise mentor Rachael, and even more fortunate (although that may be the wrong word) you love your job. It sucks not doing so, and hundreds of millions don’t.

  • Funnily enough, I only gave myself about 10 minutes of prep time nearly from the first time I started coaching.

    I usually just want to bring what we talked about before to the forefront of my mind, in case I need to call on it during the call. Then I take a few moments to clear my mind and get in a great mental state for the call.

    I’ve also found that if we had a plan a week ahead for what we would talk about during the phone call… often that idea would go flying right out the window once we start talking. A lot of stuff can happen during a week to make different issues the most useful ones to talk about.

  • Brilliant post, Tim. Yet one more example of how we sometimes need to just get out of our own way.

  • Karen Bayly

    In her book “The Power of the Actor”, acclaimed acting coach, Ivana Chubbuck, goes through 12 steps to creating a great performance. The first 11 steps require a lot of work – analysing the text, finding things in your own life which resonate as being similar to the character’s experiences and which can act as starting point to making the character come alive. Plus a great deal of specificity in everything you choose to do as the character and hours of rehearsal to get it all working.

    But the last step for performance is “Let it go”. Trust that you have done the work and everything you need to be able to do a great job is already there. That reasoning applies to so many other things we do – and the prep is either specific to the task, or the accumulated knowledge and experience we have in our chosen line of work.

    Mind you, other acting coaches say the same stuff – Ivana just puts it so succintly!

    • Reminds me of the Maverick Mindset and the difference between the trusting and the training mindset. You can’t be in both at the same time and you always leave the training mindset at the door when it’s time to go to work!

  • Tim,
    I got to say I fully resonate with you on this.

    When I was at my NLP training, at each new process I learn, I needed to demonstrate it back. But almost everytime I do so, I would be all over my head thinking about what’s the next step, what did I do wrong. I was totally trying to get the process right, and paid little attention to the the client, oblivious to whether he was getting it, how he was feeling, how was his physiology… etc.

    It took me some time before I realized that the importance of a coaching session is how the client feels, and what he gets at the end, and not how correct I did the process.

    There is no right process actually. I can do it whatever I like as long as I go with what gives the client the best results.

    And yes, as you said, I need a lot of trust in myself to go with the flow.

    Thank you for a great post Tim.

  • Love this Tim! Have definitely been guilty of over-preparing myself when it comes to speaking, and you’re right; it comes down to being confident in what we have to offer. In being enough…

  • Lefteris Kokkinhs

    Hard work is actually the way :D

    Sometimes I find it hard to trust myself but there are also times when I follow my heart and push my egoism away and try to make everything better :D I remember once I had a fight with a best friend,and I realized at the end of it that I was wrong.Then the voice of my heart told me to do anything to fix the situation and so I did.I trusted myself and I faced my mistake.Got to admit it is very hard though…

  • One thing that helps me is to say, “I don’t know [what to do / where to go /whatever]” when I get stuck. This seems to loosen me up and get me out of the conscious, deliberate way of doing things.

    • That’s a good idea because admitting our own limitations can actually diminish their hold on us. Giving ourselves permission that it’s ok not to know is one of the kindest things we can do for ourselves.

  • When in trouble and pressured. trick your heart, because it scares so easily or hurts easily. Focus, learn the situation and solve the problem.

  • I have never worked with a life coach but I can imagine how the preparation is. The call itself will give you the answers you need. Over preparation is never a good thing. Sometimes you just have to jump in.

  • Really enjoyed this post, Tim, and could so relate. When I was a beginning coach I prepared a lot before the call, too. Then, one day, I realized… so much of what I was preparing for never even came up in the call. It was a “wake-up” call to really slow down, stop over-preparing (which was pretty much time better spent on other things), and show up and dance in the moment with whatever my client brings to our call!