I work with many leaders of fast growing organizations. They are big-hearted busy people. Getting time on their calendar can sometimes be a tricky endeavor. With back-to-back meetings scheduled throughout the day, they move at the speed of light through a myriad of issues. Their text and email buzz constantly and they do their best to keep up. They are committed to delivering excellence and care deeply about their team and clients. But, they often miss a critical component to success: white space.
Here’s the truth: “Busy” is not always productive and impactful. Being overly busy can eventually lead to mistakes and burnout. It can also be addictive. The desire to feel needed is strong. The desire to please is also strong for many. But being busy gets misconstrued when it’s equated to your value. Consider this statement: If I am super busy, then I am needed, therefore I am highly valued. True or false? It depends on the impact of how you’re using your time. Detach your busy-ness from your value.
Being overly busy is a reactive state as you scurry to complete the endless list of to-do items and show up to all meetings. This state can trigger a fear-based response and incite a crisis of calendar. Fear of not doing enough, not being enough, and of failing to meet your own high expectations drives your busy-ness as you put in more and more time trying to get relief. Anxiety is a fear-based response and neuroscience shows that it limits access to our cognitive center, the thinking center of the brain. To be a great leader, you need the thinking center!
Sometimes the best use of your time is to turn off your phone and computer, close your door, sit still, breathe deeply, and allow yourself to relax and process. This is white space time. This is unstructured time to relax, reflect, and turn off the churn of anxiety-based thinking. There is nothing to do and no place to go in white space time.
To lead with impact requires a proactive thoughtful approach. Ideally you want to lead from your highest self – the self stripped of fear and anxiety. At your highest self, you are calm, reasoned, and open to new approaches. In a reactive fear-based state, you may sacrifice yourself for the cause or work. You begin to feel depleted, as shown in #3 in my high-impact leadership model (see video).
Luckily, you can shift out of this state. Here are five tips to help you move from fear to trust, combat busy-ness, and lead from your highest self.
- Create a daily routine to set you up for success. This may include meditation, exercise, prayer, gratitude, or something else. A daily routine keeps you grounded and builds your resilience muscle when the inevitable challenges of being human hit.
- Schedule white space in your daily calendar. It can be as short as 10 minutes a couple of times a day or as long as you need – sometimes hours a week. Practice deep breathing, go for a short walk, do some stretches in the office. It will feel weird at first as your brain tries to figure out what you’re “supposed” to do with this time. Embrace the weird feeling as a growth edge. I used to sit in my car with a timer set to 15 minutes. I’d close my eyes and just be. At first, my thoughts would race. But then they began to fade. I emerged refreshed.
- Identify the three high-impact activities that must get done each day. These are important critical activities that move your mission forward. Notice how your brain will try to convince you that there are way more than three. Challenge yourself to focus and pick three. Do these activities. Of course you will have more to do, but be sure to identify these three. This prioritization exercise will help you minimize extraneous “noise” in the system. More is not always better. Teach others to do the same.
- Manage your own expectations first. Be clear and reasonable with yourself. Would any sane person be able to complete all the items you have scheduled on one day with intention and presence? Consider what you can scale back, remove, delegate, or postpone.
- Give yourself what you need to succeed. Control your own destiny. Do not let other’s demands throw you off course. Get more resources, set boundaries, shift roles to be sure you’re working where you add true value, and be sure that the work you do really counts.
Do not perpetuate the busy-ness myth. Teach your team to identify high-impact actions. For long-term sustainability, create a culture where white space is honored, respected, and implemented. I’ve had to learn these lessons the hard way. But I know for sure that deeper impact is much more satisfying, productive, and fun than living in a swirl of busy. Want support? Contact me to schedule a complimentary consultation. Good luck!
Shari J Goodwin is a business strategist, leadership coach, 2x Amazon best-selling author, and speaker. She and her husband live on a farm in Virginia with 5 horses, 2 dogs, 2 semi-feral barn cats.