Could the chairman’s gloom be lifted by lessons on how to tackle his daily ‘to-do’ list? He seems willing to give it a go


“So how are you feeling?” I asked the chairman of the implausibly-sized investment company Second Coming Asset Management as we enjoyed a pint or two of Pmiton Or Migma at The Path To World Domination Begins In Reading. “Do you really have to ask after the way markets have been behaving lately?” he sighed.

“Apparently the only assets that haven’t dropped in value over the last few weeks are the US dollar, cash and shares in the media trainer Ben Bernanke hired straight after his mid-June press conference – and with inflation the way it is, I’m not even sure that’s true about cash. Needless to say, however, none of our funds were invested in those areas.”

“OK, but didn’t I recently see a headline saying ‘Scam added to China short before market crash’?” I asked. “No,” said the chairman. “You saw a headline saying ‘Scam added to China shortly before market crash’.” “Ah,” I said. “All right – try this. Scam funds were already losing money so, now everyone else is, surely they look less bad?”

“It’s awfully kind of you to try and make me feel better like this but please, please do stop,” said the chairman. “I know you may find this hard to believe but Scam fund managers don’t actually set out to lose their clients money so times like this are actually incredibly stressful for everyone connected with the business.”

“Stress, eh?” I said. “It just so happens I recently received a press release on that very subject.” “Out of interest, do you ever receive press releases on, you know, real financial matters?” the chairman asked. “There are few more real financial matters than the stress caused by the idea of tackling one’s daily ‘to-do’ list,” I replied indignantly. “Where do you think any financial matter starts off its existence?”

“Anyway, according to research from the Payments Council, one in five Brits find their ‘life admin’ tasks so overwhelming they constantly play on their mind, while nearly one in seven lose sleep over them. Apparently young people suffer the most with 30 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds so concerned they feel ill while 21 per cent lie awake thinking about the things they are yet to strike off their list.”

“Life admin tasks?” said the chairman. “Household chores, doctor’s appointments – that sort of thing,” I replied. “Oh and switching current accounts, which may have been the whole point of the research.” “So nothing about seeing millions wiped off one’s clients’ collective wealth on a daily basis then?” the chairman clarified. “That wasn’t mentioned specifically,” I admitted. “But stress is stress, right?

“And, according to social psychologist and life coach Dr Gary Wood, who worked on the research, stress triggers our ‘fight or flight response’, which distorts our perception of time and limits our sense of available options. As such, we think ‘survive’ rather than ‘thrive’ when really we should give ourselves space to sit back, appraise our lists and find a logical way to tackle them.

“Dr Gary even has some top tips to help.” “Of course he does,” said the chairman.” “And is there any reason to think they might work in an investment context?” “Well … um … his motto for life coaching and life in general is ‘little by little, a little becomes a lot’,” I replied eventually. “Not bad,” said the chairman begrudgingly.

“OK,” I said, taking that as my cue. “The first thing to do is take some deep breaths – no, not gulps, breaths – as this takes down our stress levels and restores a more balanced perception of time. Also, approach everything with a positive mental attitude – apparently we tend to process information more efficiently if we have a ‘can-do’ frame of mind.

“Build confidence by breaking tasks into smaller milestones – the old eating an elephant one bite at a time trick – then tackle them in intensive bursts of activity to keep information-processing abilities at their peak. Balance mental exertion by taking a little physical exercise and, finally, which you’ve got to love, celebrate your successes. What do you think – will you try all that?” “OK,” shrugged the chairman. “What have I got to lose?” “About as much as your clients,” I replied – perhaps tactlessly.