The conversation goes like this, “How’s it going?” “Busy, but it’s a good busy.” “Beats the alternative. ” “Yep.”
In the economic realm, busyness is generally a good thing. It’s confirmation that what we provide to the marketplace fills a need, is useful, and has value.
I spend a lot of time with successful people who want to be better leaders. If you were to be a fly on the wall in my coaching sessions, you’d learn that the lack of time is one of their biggest challenges. Yet when I conduct 360 feedback with peers and direct reports, I find that some leaders “make doing it all look easy” while others fall victim to “bad busy”.
As we unpack the challenges and create new strategies to avoid the collateral damage that busyness can inflict, clients learn to stay on guard for signs they are slipping back into the danger zone.
Sign # 1 You don’t start your day with intention.
Firefighting is not a time management technique, no matter if things get done.
Starting your day with intention means that you have an aim and a plan. It involves creating a positive ritual – something that you are drawn to and provides a host of benefits (much like brushing your teeth).
Those who don’t let busy turn into “bad” busy, follow a plan that includes…
Reflection. Write down three things each day for which you are grateful. Deepak Chopra starts his day by asking himself, “how can I have the most joyful day.” Studies show that starting our day with positive thoughts will help us to see and think differently.
Connect to a purpose. It’s helpful to ask ourselves regularly… “What will I do today to advance the goals I’m trying to reach? ” This can be something as simple as reviewing your quarterly sales goals. It might be taking a few moments to think about your goals for the year or even a more aspirational vision. Priming yourself each day helps your subconscious do its magic.
Identify today’s priorities. We can’t manage time, but we can control what we do with our time. Identify 3 specific tasks (based on the importance) that need to get done.
Plan your day. Ideally, you should have wrapped up the day before by looking ahead to the next. But baby steps. Look at your calendar and make sure that you have time for the tasks you need to accomplish. If there are gaps of space, write down what you intend to do, like going to the gym or running an errand. Even though you might not work in an environment that mandates a break… schedule them in.
Sign # 2 Your edges are sharp (or sharper).
Some personalities react to additional responsibilities with a “let’s take this challenge head-on” approach that can frustrate, discourage, and upset those they lead. Instead of equipping and encouraging their team to handle the increased workload, they find themselves dictating, demanding, and fault-finding. People stop asking for help or avoid conversations.
None of this is very productive, at a time when performance and productively is needed the most.
In the book, The Power of Full Engagement, the authors Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz write that there are four kinds of energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual and that energy is the central currency of high performance. Every thought, feeling, and action has an energy consequence.
I use this framework with my clients whose negative emotional energy gets revved up when they’ve taken too much on. I ask them to think about themselves as a boat and to pay attention to the wake they are creating as they operate in their hyper-busy mode. It’s powerful imagery that quickly makes a point.
Are you tipping boats over with your wake?
Sign # 3 I’m busy becomes your excuse.
We all go through phases in which our commitments outweigh the hours in a day. Month-end. A product launch. The 24 hours before we are going on vacation. We are genuinely busy and have good reasons why.
But sometimes we miss meetings, don’t prepare as we should or forget a significant milestone. When called out our defense becomes, “I’m busy…”
A recent feedback provider for a client stated, “He comes across like he is the busiest and most stressed person in the organization. If his excuse for his behavior is that he is too busy or stressed, he needs to do less.” Wisdom.
Thankfully my client recognized that he was at the center of his busyness storm and is working toward improvement. Though he can’t control the volume of tasks associated with a business that’s growing at 20%, he can make it a habit of asking, ” Is this the highest and best use of my time? ” The upside is that he has been able to further empower his team and give them opportunity to learn and contribute in a meaningful ways.
When business is good, the busyness will increase. Vigilant leaders stay focused on the practices to manage the overwhelm.