Written by: Tim Sayers

Feeling the pressure of your workload? Stressed & anxious? Struggling to prioritise? Waiting on others to take action? Worried about that difficult conversation or delayed prospect call? Worrying about waiting to hear back on something? Wondering why the team aren’t as productive/profitable as you would like?


The reality of the world that we now live in is that it is just so crammed full of stuff! The infinite number of choices that we now have, the ‘consumerist’ society that surrounds us, and the scary speed of communication for a start. Then the explosion of information & knowledge, the exponentially higher number of people that we know (compared to previous generations) and the complexity of so many of those relationships.  So is it surprising that all too often we feel like we are suffering from overload and grinding to a halt?

The Coping Strategy- The ‘Circles of Influence’

Here is a very simple exercise we use in our behavioural workshops which has transformed literally hundreds of our delegates in the way that they manage stress, prioritise better, support colleagues, develop better leadership qualities, increase team & employee engagement and improve productivity & profits.

So here’s how it works….

As a team, list all the barriers, constraints & challenges that are getting in the way of you achieving your tasks, projects & goals. Whether that be on a daily, weekly, or longer term basis. The list will be varied and could be anything from the telephone system not working, colleagues not getting back to you or clients keep changing their minds; these are all the things that hinder our progress and our effectiveness.

One tip here is to ensure that everyone is as specific as possible.  So don’t just write ‘communication’ or ‘systems’, ensure people write what communication, who, about what, etc.

Next, categorise the list into the things that you feel are:

  • Within your control
  • Within your influence
  • Outside of your control or influence.

Now as a team step back and review how you have categorised the issues and challenges your team faces.

The key learning

  • All those things that are down to our own behaviour, by definition are within our control
  • All those things that are down to others’ behaviour, by definition can only be within our influence
  • In theory the only things outside of our control are the natural forces of life, the weather, the number of hours in the day, the economy, etc. We can mitigate the impact of these, take a brolly when it’s raining, take a time management course or keep a diary to better manage our time.

The reality is that within big organisations certain things are so far away in terms of our influence, including government legislation that they feel and in most cases are for all intents & purposes, outside of our control

We often find that the more junior the delegate group we do this exercise with (or the less decision making authority people perceive they have) the more their challenges ‘gravitate’ away from the controllable category, towards the outside of my control and influence category.  When we challenge it, people realise/accept these things are within their control or influence, but don’t actually feel like they are, which is where our tools to help them in this regard come into play.

The Solution

Focus first on the things that are within your control and therefore down to your own behaviour – ‘Control the Controllables’. You will start making headway and getting things done. This will mean you are better able to handle the challenges that take longer to resolve and require the influence of others. The psychology alone of first focusing on the things that you can control will help, as all too often it is the things that are actually down to others that worry us most, because we can’t directly control them.

The Impact

Recently a senior manager at a successful technology business attended our programme on ‘High Performing Teams’ and had a ‘light bulb’ moment as to how impactful this exercise would be to do  with his 12 strong team.

He ran the ‘Circles of Influence’ exercise as an ice breaker at the start of their monthly team meeting and found it a powerful team exercise in a number of ways

He experienced many benefits of this, including:

  • Understanding others’ perspective of whether something is in or out of their control
  • Understanding the perceived challenges and pressures of the team
  • Helping his team to realise we have more control than we often think
  • Raising awareness of how issues can be better managed/handled
  • Identifying where the team are in their development and therefore what needs to be done to support them


By decluttering our workload and focusing on the controllables, we…

a) Start to make progress

b) Have more time, confidence & motivation to plan/prioritise what & how we influence others to sort the rest of our workload.


A problem shared is a problem halved’ – Control the Controllables

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