3 things you can do to be clear, save time, and get to sleep at night

written by Erica Quam

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When I first accepted the head coaching job at Washington State University, my former boss congratulated me and then said, "Congratulations coach! That's so awesome. You're not gonna be able to sleep for a month."

He was right. 

As soon as I said yes to this job, my brain turned on with a never-ending checklist on a continuous scroll. All the things I needed and wanted to do would pop into my head - day and night. I had so many thoughts. I couldn't shut them off.

The best thing I did during this transition was hire a coach. We began working together immediately and our coaching relationship continued - almost weekly - for 9 years. I can't imagine how hard things would have been without her consistent support. She taught me strategies I still use and now teach to the coaches I work with today.

Whether you're transitioning from an assistant coach to a head coach or you're looking for ways to be better where you are...here are three things to start doing each week. I can literally guarantee you will become more clear, more confident, and more effective as a coach:


The skill I struggled with the most during my transition from assistant coach to a head coach was prioritizing. I was supposed to be in charge...yet it seemed other people controlled my agenda...telling me all the things that needed to be done NOW. 

To me, every task seemed important. I was so overwhelmed, I literally couldn't sort out what needed to be done first.

I remember the exact session with my coach. She had me talk my way through my own to-do list. 

I began to see there were things that didn't need to be done until next month...or even several months down the road. The thing was...my brain wouldn't let me forget about them. I stayed awake at night. Even though - rationally - I knew something didn't need to be done until later...at night I woke up worrying about things I would forget.

I needed a system!

A system may sound super boring... and I've come to realize that systems are awesome! When you come up with a system - for the things you do over and over again as a coach - it can free you up, give you more time and literally change how you manage your life.

Here's the deal...your brain isn't a storage device. It's a solution device. When you use your brain to store your to-do's and project lists...you're bogging down the system.

Find a specific place to 'park' your to-do's....especially the one's you don't need to think about right now. Create your own parking lot system. Maybe it's a paper planner, a digital calendar, or a combination of the two. 

Every once in a while when you're overwhelmed, do a "brain dump" to get all your thoughts out of your head and actually down on paper. Once you see it, then tease out what you actually need to do.

For me, I had 12 hanging folders - one for each month. If something didn't need to be done yet, I filed it away to deal with in the month it was due. On the first day of each month, I would check the folder and figure out what week to put it on my calendar.

Once I started doing this, I realized there were other ways I could utilize my folder system - quotes I wanted to remember later in the season, activities I wanted to do on training camp, critical reflections I wanted to pull back out before our next team retreat.


It's easy to get to the end of your week and feel like you've gotten nothing done. And if you're really not careful...you're athletes will feel like this too.

Don't 'yeah, but...' your way though the season! 

  • That was a decent practice, but...
  • We performed well, but...
  • They went fast, but...
  • We broke six records, but...
  • We won, but...
  • We had a good conversation, but...
  • I got a lot done, but...

When you use the word 'but'...you negate everything that comes before it. The more often you do this, the more you feed the negativity bias. 

Your brain dwells on the negative - that's the nature of your brain. Shift away from the negativity bias, by being consistent and intentional about searching for the positive - especially when you're more stressed and tired. 

Keep it simple. Make a list of what you accomplished at the end of each week: things you got done, conversations you had, and things you're proud of - no matter how small they may seem.  


There are lots of things you COULD do each week. Narrow it down to one. If you don't set priorities, it's like telling your brain that nothing is important. 

When everything is important, nothing is important. 

Before you start each week, choose the ONE 'make-you-the-proudest-give-yourself-a-high-five' thing that you'll focus on first. 

Why only one? 

Things come up each week that are beyond your control. The more priorities you choose, the more you'll get distracted, the more your attention will get splattered, and the more you'll be pulled in a million different directions. 

Decide. Choose. Determine rank. 

Ask yourself what you need to do to move one step closer to your most important goals each week. Train your brain to focus. Then, take your first action step. Once you're done with that priority, move on to the next. Lather, rinse, repeat.


With all three of these examples, my recommendation is to keep it lo-tech. 

Put down your smartphone, shut your laptop and save all those neat little apps for another time.

Get things out of your head and down onto P-A-P-E-R. Pick up your favorite pen or pencil. The physical act of writing will help you process. The best way to remember things is to write it down - by hand.

Plus...the probability of getting distracted by an alert or an incoming email will go way down!

Get started today! Share a celebration and your one priority for next week in the comments below.