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Are you too busy to read this post?

| October 26, 2021

by Peggy Huston

[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Peggy Huston, Leadership Coach at MOR Associates.  Peggy may be reached at [email protected].]
Are you busy?  I’m busy.  It seems like many of us are busy.  It seems that we are so busy at times that we don’t have time to plan where we are going, but we sure are busy trying to get there.  In her book Daring Greatly, author Brené Brown states, “…one of the most universal numbing strategies is what I call crazy-busy.  I often say that when they start having twelve-step meetings for busy-aholics, they’ll need to rent out football stadiums.”  Given that we have a culture in this country that promotes being busy, you may be trying to attain a feeling of success through your busy-ness.  But, does it make you feel successful?  Are you achieving your strategic goals?  Perhaps most importantly, are you achieving fulfillment and the growth that you want to see in yourself?
As a coach, I think it’s important to think about why you are so busy and yet, you’re not focusing on the things you want to focus on.  This self-awareness is important because until you understand why you do something, you are not going to understand what you have to change to get a different outcome.  Your reasons might include, “I don’t like to say no,” or “I’m afraid my boss will think less of me,” or “I might get fired.”  Do your thoughts reflect reality?  Or do they represent the thinking of someone early in their career who is trying to prove themselves by taking on everything that is asked of them, or even someone later in their career who has never stopped feeling the need to prove themselves?  As a leader, you have a responsibility to your organization, your unit, and yourself to be intentional about how you use your time.
While internal and external factors are undoubtedly contributing to your busy state, you are the decision maker.  When the boss puts a meeting on your calendar, you may decide to attend for good reasons.  But are you intentional about your response to every meeting on your calendar?  When you receive an email for immediate help from a customer/stakeholder, you may decide to drop everything and work on a solution for good reason.  But does every email and text message require your immediate attention?  If you are blaming your organizational culture, your boss, or continuous interruptions for being out of control busy, how is that helping?  You are a leader in your organization. You have control of how you spend your time.  If you are not actively demonstrating a better, more productive way to manage time, then aren’t you contributing to the culture you are blaming? 
You are a valuable asset for your organization.  They likely hired you for your strengths, your experience, and the ideas that you shared in the interview process.  As a leader, the organization is expecting you to make the decisions that will enable your ideas to be realized.  Imagine sending a request to your president’s or chancellor’s office to have 30 minutes of her/his time.  There is going to be an executive assistant, or some other gatekeeper position, whose job is to make sure that every moment of that leader’s time is well invested.  Only after that gatekeeper is satisfied that the 30 minutes you requested will be a good investment will you get the appointment.  Whether you have someone in the gatekeeper role or you are doing it yourself, those thoughtful decisions on allocating your time must be made to ensure that the investment will give you the return you need to feel that you are not only handling the immediate activities, but also the important activities that will advance your strategy.
Have you had the experience of going to a conference or a workshop where you heard about great ideas and met people that are making changes that you would like to make in your own organization?  Did you return to work re-energized and motivated but quickly fell back into the daily routine of busy work?  Did you find yourself thinking that you will do some strategic thinking, or try to begin a new routine, or focus on your professional development when things slow down?  (If you’ve read this far, you know what I’m going to say here.)  Things are never going to slow down.  It does not work that way.  It would make it easier but, if it wasn’t challenging, would you really be learning?  Time does not take control and create open space on your calendar to do the things you keep putting off.  Those things will happen when you decide to make them happen.  Once you start making decisions and prioritizing what makes it on to your calendar and what does not, the decision making is like a muscle that will get stronger with practice.
To help you think about how you will start to make a change, here are three ideas for increasing your satisfaction with how you spend your time.  These should sound familiar to you. 

  1. Assess your calendar.  Review your calendar and be honest with yourself about what percentage of your time is focused on the important/leading and what percentage on the immediate/doing?  Is that intentional?  Consider setting a target for your calendar that is achievable in one month, and then do this again next month.
  2. Schedule time to get up in the balcony.  Step away from your computer, smartphone, and people and find a quiet space to think.  Ask yourself some coaching questions to shift your mind to a strategic focus, e.g., what changes are happening external to your unit that will have an impact on your unit over the next 1-2 years?  Start with scheduling 30 minutes and increase over time to achieve your target in #1. 
  3. Schedule time to set goals and reflect.  Take time on Monday morning to set 3 important goals for the week.  Take time on Friday to reflect – did you accomplish your goals?  Why or why not?

These are simple ideas to make progress because it does not require complexity.  It requires a mindset change.  If your busy-ness is not moving you in the direction you want to go, you are the leader that is responsible to identify and address the problem.  Taking time to let your thinking expand and your mind grow will have a positive impact on how you feel about the work you do.  You will still be busy, but you will be busy in a different way, a more productive and satisfying way.  Additionally, you will be demonstrating the behaviors that you want to see in others in your organization.  After all, isn’t that the role of a good leader?
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” –Socrates