Leaders addicted to ‘busy’ need to stop


It’s important for leaders to cultivate a healthy work-life balance for themselves and their teams.
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Leadership is a demanding role that requires resilience, focus, and strategic thinking and many struggle with burnout and an addiction to activity.  With WHO now recognising burnout as a medical condition, it seems the struggle is very real.

Constantly running from one task to the next, answering emails at all hours, and feeling like there are never enough hours in the day is a common experience. Unfortunately, this leads to decreased productivity, decreased creativity, and in many cases decreased happiness or wellbeing which in turn can lead to poor decisions and missed opportunities.

It doesn’t have to be this way. By making some simple changes to the way they approach work, leaders can learn to stop being busy addicts and lead a more fulfilling life.

Have a theme, not a goal

Having a one-word theme allows you to compare all daily decisions against a simple standard. For example, if your theme for 2023 is “growth” than all you need to do, in every decision point is ask, “Does this align with my theme?”.

Goals can be rigid and all-consuming, often requiring a specific outcome to be achieved within a set timeframe which in turn creates pressure and stress. When circumstances change, it can also make it difficult to adjust.

A theme, on the other hand, provides a more overarching idea or direction that can be applied in multiple ways.  It serves as a guide for decision-making and prioritising, without the added stress of needing to achieve a specific end result.

Make 1 decision, not 100

Related the point above, 4-hour work week Author, Tim Ferris says that making too many decisions is often symptomatic of poor systems or process. He suggests that having “blanket policies” reduces the exhaustion and mental strain we feel when we have a lot of decisions to make.

What are one or two decisions you can make, right now, that will reduce the number of decisions you have to make later in the year? 

From a personal perspective, this could be setting daily routines, a bedtime, exercise and from a business perspective it could be timing for meetings, limiting your access to email, or making yourself (more or less) available to your team.

Here are some questions that will help:

  • Where am I making decisions or saying “yes” out of guilt? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for me to say “no”?
  • In what areas am I making a lot of decisions, or sending a lot of communication? Are they concentrated anywhere? Can I create a blanket policy that makes it easier for other people to make those decisions?
Build in a buffer

When was the last time you had ‘free time’ in your diary? Most of the time we end up with a bit of free space by accident when an appointment is cancelled and how good does that feel?

One of my clients identified these rare moments as ‘purple patches’. I encouraged him to block out these patches so he could take advantage of them any time he liked! He colour-coded the time — in purple — in his calendar.

Book a recurring meeting with yourself every day for at least 1 hour.  This gives you some much needed space to step away, clear your mind and think about bigger picture issues.  With the time to think, you will make better informed decisions, prioritise and allocate resources appropriately.

It’s important for leaders to cultivate a healthy work-life balance for themselves and their teams.  By taking one (or all) of these steps, leaders can improve their mental and physical health, be more effective in their roles and reduce the risk of burnout.

Donna McGeorge is an author and global authority on productivity. Find out more at www.donnamcgeorge.com

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