Finding Time in a Culture of Busyness

Kristen Steegstra
Feb 10 2023 | Observaciones
Two women smiling at each other, one is using a laptop, at a communal workspace.

Business demands and change are ever increasing, and we don’t have time to do all the things we want to do.

When work and home are blurred, and we’re constantly distracted by interruptions – how can working smarter compete with information overload or the appeal of TikTok? Often the first to go by the wayside is focusing on our development. Most employees have 1% a week available for learning – and that’s only if we use this time to make progress. How can we, as leaders, help our teams focus on the things that matter?

Are we addicted to busyness?

We need to find our way through the noise, rather than getting stuck in a phenomenon known as the busyness paradox, a heightened state which shuts down our thinking brain. Our focus narrows, and we are “tunnelling”: only able to concentrate on immediate actions so we can fight fires, rather than focus on our strategic goals.

How many meetings have you been in that starts “I know everyone is really busy…”? This reinforces our addiction to busyness, and we show off overwork – to our boss, our team, our peers – as a badge of honor. As it’s hard to measure knowledge workers' productivity, we’re collectively using hours worked as the currency, despite long-term studies that show overworking as a risk for mental and physical health issues.[1] Oftentimes hours worked is being rewarded, rather than progress on important priorities, perpetuating the busyness cycle that we can’t snap out of.

Our own worst enemy

Overworking is having a negative effect on our health (for example, we could reduce mortality rates and annual health care costs if we worked less [2]). And it’s impacting our personal lives too.

A recent Deloitte study showed that 63% of employees and 73% of the C-Suite report they can’t disconnect from work, because of things like excessive work expectations or no one to cover their work. This leads to unproductive work behaviours we’ve all been guilty of, such as working while sick or regularly working round the clock. We use “being busy” as an excuse not to prioritise the things we know are important to us personally.

Culture of busyness

We start early, stay glued to our desk all day, leave late and answer emails in the evening – our current mental model is always-on. We aren’t going to find more time – we need to get smarter at what we do – and this starts from the top. Leaders who always say “I’m busy” may not realise this is the organisational culture they are setting. Sending late night emails or working on days off sends social signals that others around them feel pressure to mimic. We have a responsibility to create healthy working environments and help make time for learning and growth.

The time is now

Now is the time to re-set the norm and create new mental models in our organization by visibly and intentionally taking lunch breaks, using our vacation, and saying no to work that’s distracting us from our goals.

One way to embed positive habits is by working with a trusted coach who’ll keep you accountable for making the changes stick. They can help you build constructive leadership behaviors coaching is proven to increase, like increasing your ability to delegate so you have more time for strategic work.[3] No-one ever came out of a coaching session feeling it was a waste of time. You’ll come out with steps to start changing your culture for the better.

How YOU as a leader can make the difference

We can help our teams by choosing not to be busy all the time and to focus our energy on the important things that create positive, high-performing cultures. Here’s my top tips – pick those that work for you and grab your coach to plan and implement these habits:

  • Use your language wisely – Practice saying you have “plenty to do” instead of talking about busyness – a simple language tweak can send the right signals to others

  • Pick your working “system” – think Steven Covey’s Big Rocks or Eisenhower’s urgency/importance matrix or Productivity Ninja

  • Capitalize on your peak productivity – work out what time of day you are most productive – and use this time wisely

  • Build in slack time – things happen! Make time in your schedule for the unexpected, work that takes longer or to catch up after time off

  • Prioritise your team – prioritise work, help managers set reasonable and transparent workloads, re-set expectations with stakeholders, and ask for more resources or delegate to contractors– if now is not the time, you’ll be ready when there’s more budget

  • Practice saying no – use the cost-quality-time triangle[4] to explain to stakeholders and clients the trade-offs for saying yes

  • Cut out the noise – set the culture and tone that rewards quality, rather than time spent, and reduce heavy-handed organisational comms that is distracting rather than enabling.

How coaching can help

Leaders often think they are too busy for coaching but after 45 minutes with a coach they find ways to save time. Working with a coach can help you snap out of unhelpful habits and focus where you’ll make the biggest progress. Areas coaching is proven to have positive benefits include:

  • Goal setting and prioritization

  • Engagement and productivity

  • People management and relationships [5]

At EZRA, our professional coaches provide personalised development support to help you achieve the impact you want as a leader. Participants on our programs have reported 15% increase in their ability to prioritise, say they are 18% better at balancing work and life, and see a 33% uplift in KPI delivery. We’ve seen a leadership group use their coaches to move from spending too much time on the tactical, to finding sustainable working practices that enable them to focus on their strategic priorities.

Interested in using coaching to help you make the most of your day? Contact us to find out more.

[1] Leka, S., Jain, A. and World Health Organization, 2010. Health impact of psychosocial hazards at work: an overview.

[2] Goh, J., Pfeffer, J., & Zenios, S. A. (2015). The relationship between workplace stressors and mortality and health costs in the United States. Management Science 62(2), 608—628.

[3] Anthony, E.L. (2017), "The impact of leadership coaching on leadership behaviors", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 36 No. 7, pp. 930-939.

[4] Barnes, M., 1988. Construction project management. International Journal of Project Management, 6(2), pp.69-79.

[5] Kombarakaran, F. A., Yang, J. A., Baker, M. N., & Fernandes, P. B. (2008). Executive coaching: It works! Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 60(1), 78–90.

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