Way Too Busy? How to Get Off the Hamster Wheel.

Busy executive on Hamster WheelWhen coaching leaders, one of the most common complaints I hear is, “I’m too busy.”

Too frequently, they insist that they are too busy to become less busy.

So, they are choosing to be too busy.

Because being busy feeds something in them.

That’s not what they tell me. But when someone won’t stop doing something that they say makes them miserable…well…they are getting something out of it.

What Being Too Busy Does for Us

Maybe being so busy:

  • Squeezes our adrenal gland. Sweet, sweet adrenaline.
  • Makes us feel important.
  • Reinforces the image that we are, in fact, the only smart person in the room.
  • Allows us to avoid something. Or someone.
  • Excuses our lack of direction or decisiveness.

Does this come across as blunt?

Here’s the deal: Whatever level of complexity you lead or manage, there are people who aren’t as smart as you who are handling more.

They still have full lives. They aren’t too busy. What kind of magic is this?

It’s not because they were gifted with a mature team of brilliant and experienced people. Or because they inherited an organization that runs like a top, everyone naturally loves each other and makes crazy money hand over fist.

They simply don’t want to be busy. There is nothing in them that is being fed by being busy. They recognize that being busy is costly.

So, they find a way to accomplish goals without doing it all themselves.

They might like to work. They may prefer to stay active.

But they aren’t too busy.

What Being Too Busy Costs Us

Being too busy is costly. This list isn’t definitive. But here’s how I see my clients paying for busy-ness:

  • High personal stress.
  • Missed opportunities.
  • Unable to provide strategic leadership.
  • Unable to take a break.
  • Loss in overall business value.
  • Strained team relationships.
  • Higher than needed staff turnover.
  • Drama and conflict.
  • Difficulty building and retaining a high-performing management team.
  • Poor follow-through or inconsistent completion of goals.
  • A tendency for self-medication: Alcohol, eating poorly, etc.

I’ll stop. You get the point.

What you also may have noticed is that many of the consequences of being too busy are – situations that require more work.

Here’s What You Are Doing. Here’s How to Stop.

Identify (if you can) what being busy feeds in you:

What are you getting out of this? This is an important enough question to spend some time reflecting on.

For some people, the answer is pretty clear.

For others, it is either difficult to see or difficult to accept.

Ask your friends. Ask your co-workers. Ask a coach or counselor.

Here’s why this is important. Whatever being busy feeds in you is probably important. It’s my guess that it comes down to the pursuit of one of these three things:

  • Wanting to feel, prove or secure our significance. We want to be valued. We want to feel important.
  • Wanting to feel, establish or maintain our security. We want to be financially secure. We want to feel like everything is in control. We don’t want to worry that the wheels are going to come off.
  • Wanting a little bit of the good life, a modicum of satisfaction. We want to be happy with the people we are with, the job that we have, the vehicle we get in.

There is nothing wrong with any of these desires. In fact, they are all good, healthy desires.

But we can attempt to pursue healthy things in unhealthy ways.

Being too busy is like that.

Once you’ve discovered what is really driving you, you can find better ways to meet those needs.

Ways that are more meaningful. Ways that are more effective. Less costly.

Develop Your Big Picture

What are you trying to accomplish? What is your organization trying to accomplish?

Here’s what I’ve found. Leaders who are too busy often fall into two different camps:

  • They know what they want to accomplish but other priorities (internal, see above) are driving them.
  • They are often unclear or uncertain about what they are trying to accomplish.

So again, getting honest about what really drives you will help you understand and manage your priorities.

Clarifying your big priorities, and visualizing the big picture helps you (and others) focus.

When other people can see what the big picture is, especially if they were a part of creating it, they can and usually will work to support it (when allowed).

Already, your job might be getting easier.

I know…you feel too busy to take time to think about where you are trying to go.

How much of that perception of busy-ness or urgency is truly real? Fact: Busy people end up dropping balls and stop spinning their plates all the time.

Is it really true that everything would fall apart if you intentionally set a ball or a plate down for a moment to figure out, “Where are we going anyway?” and, “Why?”

Get Ruthless About Clarity

Once you know your big picture (whether for the next five years or five months) get clear about a few things.

This might feel like work. But it makes everything else so much easier.

When there are clear roles and responsibilities, clear targets, clear ways to measure progress and clear indicators of success, the following happens:

  • People begin to self-manage.
  • You stop herding cats, chickens and turtles and start working with sheepdogs.
  • People get along better.
  • Team meetings become far more focused and productive.
  • Problems are caught far earlier.
  • Opportunities are able to be taken.
  • Creativity and innovation begin to reemerge.
  • Quality improves.
  • Productivity improves.

That feels like magic. But you know you put the hard work in the right place.

The leaders who accomplish a lot but don’t do a lot – focus their time in only three areas:

  • Defining Direction: Discussed above. Setting direction and sorting through priorities.
  • Finding, Building & Guiding People: High performing leaders help others do a lot. They don’t do it themselves.
  • Gathering Resources: Make sure everyone has the resources they need to succeed.

A simple tool you can use in your meetings this week:

  • Whenever you meet – identify any action steps that come out of the meeting.
  • Clarify who should be responsible to carry out those action steps. This should be just one person.
  • Clarify when this should be completed by.
  • Create a record of this agreement.
  • Set up a time to review progress.

This process is so simple. But it is so rarely used. Perhaps because it is so simple it isn’t used.

Clarity allows easy accountability. This supports follow through. It allows timely interventions.

This means you end up having less to do.

If you choose.

Face Your Ego and Your Fears

This is related to knowing what drives you.

Actually, it’s the same thing. But worth revisiting. Necessary, in fact.

Leaders, particularly owners and executives, grapple with ego and fear.

Learning to recognize when ego or fear begins to inform a decision or a priority is a major step to cultivating leadership self-awareness.

Leaders, everywhere, struggle with what is often called “The Imposter Syndrome.” It’s not discussed openly. But it is common.

Common like dirt.

Simply put, it’s the idea that if others really knew us, they’d know that we aren’t enough. We aren’t knowledgeable, able, skilled, self-controlled, motivated….good…enough for our role.

So, we work hard to prove them wrong. Or keep them from finding out.

Here are proven approaches to address Ego and Fear:

  • Practice Gratitude: I bring this up a lot. It changes people. Write down three things you are grateful for every day.
  • Reframe Success: Learn to see and value progress – not perfection.
  • Recognize Offenses, Worry or Fear: When someone bruises your ego or something happens that triggers anxious thoughts – recognize it. Name it. See it for what it is. A very normal, human response. It’s there but it doesn’t need to own you. Don’t let it.
  • Visualize Obstacles & Plan For Them: Take time to get clear about the problem. Then start to imagine or create appropriate solutions for the problem. Then take action.
  • Learn: View life as an essay, not a math test. An essay we can get feedback on as we grow. Ask yourself these questions when you accomplish something or meet a challenge:
    • What just happened?
    • What did I (or my team) do to make this happen?
    • What can I (we) learn from this?
    • What will I (we) do next time?


Being too busy is very much a state of mind.

Ignoring the consequences of being too busy is also a state of mind.

That’s why turning things around has so much to do with addressing how you see yourself in the context of your life.

Here’s the really cool thing: Learning to be accomplished without needing to be so busy allows you (and others) to experience a deeper, richer, more enjoyable you.

You actually grow as a result of this. Everyone else gets the benefit of that.

That’s worth it on its own.

Take good care,


P.S. Would you like to talk to me, one-on-one, about how you can rapidly increase your ability, accomplish your priorities, decrease your unwanted workload, boost your profits or do more of what you love?

95% of my clients report positive results within the first 90 days of working together. Additionally, they report adding between $120K and $1M in new, annual revenue or savings.  Contact me to learn more: christian@vantageconsulting.org or 907 522-7200.

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