Do you wear “busy” like a badge of honor? Busyness is sometimes a goal of its own for leaders. So many of our leadership coaching clients start out feeling like this: If they stop being so busy, they’ll feel like they’re not contributing.
But when we’re too busy, our performance starts to suffer and our stress levels increase.
The pandemic, in all its unpredictability, helped some people un-busy their lives, giving them a chance to slow down — stop, even — and reframe what’s important. They’ve been able to reframe what their real contributions are.
Others, on the other hand, weren’t so lucky. The pandemic made them busier. It has caused busyness to become engrained in everyday life, so much so that stress and overwhelm are almost second nature. This is true for many front-line workers, families with kids who participated in at-home learning, anyone whose responsibilities increased while the world faced crisis after crisis, and others.
In our years of coaching, we’ve seen it first hand: There is competition among leaders and all kinds of people. Who is the busiest? It’s like the amount we have on our plates measures the kind of value our lives have, especially when we’re talking about our work.
Indeed, it seems as though we have come to associate being busy with being important.
Why is that? Maybe feeling important gives us a feeling of status. Human beings welcome any chance we have to create the impression of having status. It used to be expensive cars, clothes and jewellery were the status symbols representing excellence, but now we have a new contender: busyness.
We often hear leaders say that they wish they had more time to spend with their teams or even their families, but they’re just too busy.
Our reply is that connecting with your team — and even your family and friends outside of work — is a crucial part of your job. You can’t create exceptional relationships or encourage excellence without taking the time to connect.
Connection time is an investment that will pay for itself many times over once you have created a highly engaged team. In fact, if you’re too busy to connect with your team, you’re too busy to really lead them.
Here’s How to Stop Being So Busy All the Time
As leadership coaches, we encourage our clients to change up the narrative to calm their minds at work. It might feel better to focus on the successful ways you communicate or connect with other people rather than using your to-do list as a shield.
But how do you do it? When your to-do list is really really long, it can feel like a sinkhole, and that can be tough to free yourself from.
Here are our top 4 strategies to help you become less busy and more effective in your leadership — and in your life:
Focus On Your Goals and Needs
The first step to stop being so busy is to pause and focus on your ultimate goal. What is your objective? What needs do you have that are related to this goal? This requires some self-reflection and, of course, time. Take that time. It’s an investment in yourself. Now, think about how you fill your days, your weeks, your months. Think about the items on your to-do list — the ones you’ve checked off already and those you haven’t gotten to yet. Are the things you’re doing allowing you to meet your needs? Are they bringing you closer to your goal?
Staying focused on your goals helps you remember your motivation. It gives you the why you need to keep going in the right direction. It also helps you clean out the superfluous or extra tasks that aren’t adding to your life or bringing you closer to your goals. Pay attention to this. Honor it. And then honor your needs.
Be Conscious and Creative
Creativity can be an exit door that leads you away from busyness, stress, and overwhelm. By using creative solutions or tapping into creative ways to lead when demands are high, resources are low, and time is ticking fast, you’re essentially bypassing busy work. Creativity can help you problem-solve and get through tasks faster, without all the stress and time.
The problem is, to be creative, you need clarity of mind. You can’t tap into your inner creative resources if you’re stressed, busy, or overwhelmed. Your brain won’t let you think creatively if it thinks there are emergencies afoot. So, our suggestion is to go back to #1, revisit your goal and make sure your needs are being met. Then, with clarity and focus, see if there are creative solutions that can help you stop being so busy.
Build In Free Time
As a leader, you have the unique privilege of creating a workplace — for yourself and others — that’s sustainable. To get there, you need to decrease busyness for you and for the people who you work with.
You can decrease a culture of busyness by encouraging your team to try steps #1 and #2 on this list. Then, you can build free time into your schedule. This free time should be built into all calendars to make room for the meetings that go long or the tasks that take more time than you planned for. This will help you and your team avoid that feeling of being behind and keep your mind clear and focused. It will also help you manage your expectations so you’re more realistic and less panicked.
Grab a coffee with a coworker. Go to that twice-weekly yoga class during lunch and strike up a conversation with the person next to you. Make your one-on-one meetings about how the work is feeling, not just about the progress being made. If you connect deeply with the people around you, two things will start to happen: One, you’ll begin to find more meaning in your work (we’ve written a bit more about that before), and two, you’ll find a sense of renewal and peace that only comes from connection.
Connection is a human need. It’s instinctual. So when we connect with others, we’re fulfilling a basic need of ours that was potentially lacking. Your lack of connection previously could have been contributing to your lack of calm at work. When you prioritize connection, you won’t ever be too busy for it. And that’s far more productive time spent improving your mental health and the mental health of the people you work with.
The goal here is to stop being so busy but to be more productive, happier, and healthier instead.
Love this? Sign up for our free course: 4 Foolproof Steps to Communicate Better with Your Team to discover how conscious leaders can do better in the face of mistakes, misunderstandings, and miscommunication.