Through my work, I talk to many people (executives, mid-level managers, and individuals) in many different companies and industries, and the one issue that seems epidemic, is that people are all too busy.
I see three underlying issues that cause people to get and stay too busy.
It’s worth asking yourself if you are falling into any of these traps, because the reality is, if you want more time, you need to look only to yourself as the source of that time.
Your company and other people can absorb an unlimited amount of time from you — and not worry about you in the process.
It’s important to remember: We are each the source of our own time.
Our time is completely defined by what we say yes to, and what we say no to.
1. Mis-reading expectations from above
It’s interesting to me that when I talk to executives in companies, they never ask me to help them get people to work longer hours.
They DO often ask me to help them to get their people to think and work more strategically.
It’s annoying to top executives when people complain about being over-worked, yet make no suggestions of their own for how to work differently.
The executives don’t need you to be busier, they need you to help them make decisions about what is most important.
Think and Clarify
When your boss assigns you a task, the worst thing you can do is to just start doing it.
What you first need to do is to clarify the expectations, the scope, the audience, and the expected time frame that the executive wants you to invest in completing this task.
Then you need to go back and gauge the importance of this task against all the other things you have been asked to do.
Then you can go back to your boss and say, “Here is my recommendation…if I understand the business priorities correctly, it’s more important for me to first finish these other two things, then I will start on this new thing. Do you agree?”
I can tell you as a busy, C-level executive myself, the high performers were the people who thoughtfully assessed their workload, and then came back to me with a doable recommendation.
The low performers were the ones who assumed they were supposed to just say yes to everything and then failed to get it all done, or died trying. That does not help.
You need to recognize that your manager is not just delegating the work — but the thinking about the work.
It’s impossible for your boss to do the high quality thinking about all the work they assign to everyone that reports to them. They need each person to be smartly making decisions and judgements and recommending the way forward — it’s a key part of your job.
2. Social/Competitive Pressure
I see many environments where there is just a culture or an expectation that everyone works really long hours.
People are loathe to go home on time because they see this as a high risk move.
They work long hours to create this image of a highly committed, competitive, top performer who comes in early and is the last one to leave.
I have hired many executives in my career and never once was the discussion of the interview team, “who works the longest hours?” — Not once.
In many environments the executives have nothing to do with this arms war of who can work the latest. In fact they ask for my help to try to break this habit, because they don’t want their team burning out.
Throughout my career, I never was the one to work the longest hours. I didn’t work weekends. I needed rest.
Then when I got back to work, I got bigger, better stuff done. I got promoted because I could show more compelling results.
Of course there are deadlines, launches, or releases, that will have you working 24×7 for awhile. We all need to do this sometimes.
But if you find yourself equating value or status with long hours, you are not doing the math the same way hiring executives do it.
They want to see what you have achieved. They want to see how you have created efficiencies, so people don’t have to work so long and hard to accomplish the same thing. They want to see how you have created leverage by building strong teams, and working with and through others.
Another reason I see that people keep themselves too busy is that it makes them feel important.
“I am so busy because I am the only one who can do these things and that makes me important.”
Again, this is not how executives do the counting.
One time when I had my first executive role, I was totally over-busy. It was a turn-around situation and my schedule was booked solid every single day from 7am to 7pm and people were upset with me that I was not willing to have 5am phone calls or dinner meetings every night.
I was working with an executive coach at the time telling her that I was feeling out of control and very tired, and that I needed time to think. She said, “then schedule it”.
I said, “I can’t, there are too many people who need to have meetings with me… She then said to me, “Patty, you are not THAT important”.
It was just the thing I needed to hear!
From that moment, I started carving out 2 hour per week for myself to think and work on my strategic planning. I hid from the world from those two hours, and it really allowed me to make the move from busy to important.
The work I was able to get done, and the strategic thinking I was able to do during those 2 hours per week, helped me to actually be even less busy over time. Doing this gave me the chance to step back, assess, combine, align, delete, delegate… instead of just trying to do everything.
Giving yourself time to think and scheduling it is the single most important thing you can do in your quest to move from being busy to adding more value.
How you invest your time is your choice. You may need to negotiate with your boss or your family to carve out time that you need, but YOU do need it — It’s your choice and your responsibility to do it.
Your company is not waiting for you to work more hours. They are waiting for you to add more value.