Coaching people who have ‘too much to do and not enough time’.

| 4 August 2023
‘Why are you so busy?’

This article is written for you if you use a coaching approach in your leadership role.

I’m sure that from the very first day you started using a coaching approach in your leadership work, you’ve been coaching people who struggle with ‘getting it all done.’

Maybe you’ve been coached on those things too.

The truth is, most of us know, in theory, exactly how to manage our time.

Coaching people who have ‘too much to do and not enough time’.

We’ve got all sorts of apps to help us be more productive.

And yet……

We’re still trying to help people who are ‘too busy.’

Why is this?

Busyness enables us to avoid things.

To avoid the emotions and feelings we don’t want to feel.

To avoid the real problems we don’t want to face.

It gives us permission to be ‘always on’ rather than strategic, thoughtful and proactive.

We all say we’d loooooooove to be less busy and yet…… we do everything in our power to stop us from getting what we say we really want.

There’s a remarkably simple reason for all this.

Busyness is addictive.

Busyness is the natural default state of our brain.

Using our conscious brain on the other hand takes – well – conscious choice and effort.

When we’re working with busy people, we need to help them – literally – to engage their brains!

Here are four tips to help you.

Tip One – Start with a simple question:

Why are you so busy?’ (Said, of course, with curiosity not judgement – this is a time when the ‘why?’ question can be helpful and your assumptions are unhelpful).

Listen to what is said and what is not said. Look at what is a belief presented as ‘the truth.’ 

Really listen to the words and language your team member uses.

Maybe it’s the ‘busy hero’ syndrome’ (aka ‘I’m so important/valuable/indispensable and the organisation will fall apart without me’).

Or the ‘learned helplessness’ syndrome – ‘It’s just the way it is and there’s nothing I can do.’

That sense of helplessness is partly attributable to chaotic organisational systems and cultural – albeit often unspoken – beliefs about work (For example when leaders value presenteeism more than results).

When we are part of that ‘busy being busy’ system ourselves, it can feel like wading through treacle to make any inroads or shifts. Which is why tip two is so fundamental to our success.

Tip Two – Use this Mantra.

Focus on what YOU can influence and change.    It’s where your personal power lies.

Tip Three – Activate the RAS

Ask your team member to write down the answers to these two questions and put them somewhere they can see them every single day:

Firstly – ‘what do you want to achieve at the end of this week/month/year?’ (No surprises there – a classic goal-oriented question).  

Secondly – and I think more importantly – ‘Who do you want to become to enable you to reach that goal? 

For example:

I want to become someone with strong boundaries, someone who protects their time and has more gravitas and influence because I’m calmer, more considered and more present.’

Writing down the answers and seeing them every day is crucial because it activates your team member’s reticular activating system (RAS).

That’s the part of the brain that toggles between our conscious mind and our subconscious mind and prioritises things for us.

How does it prioritise?

It prioritises ‘survival’ first.

Then it’ll prioritise what you tell it to prioritise!

Hence the importance of making those answers visible every single day so they’re front of mind.

A simple example of how the RAS works is this:

Imagine you’re thinking of going on a walking holiday to Cornwall. Suddenly, everywhere you look there is information about Cornwall or walking holidays – or walking holidays in Cornwall!

​That information has always been there, but your RAS was not asked to prioritise it!

So, encourage your team member to get their RAS working in service of their goals. (Of course, this applies to any of their goals, whatever it is they’re working on).​

Tip Four – Focus on where you’re going.

These two questions will help you and your team members focus on moving forward.

What are you doing today to move you one step closer to achieving your desired outcome?’

‘How are you going to show up today as the person you want to become?’

Of course, there are many other things we can help our busy teams with.

Sometimes it really is the practical stuff (how to lead more effective meetings, for example).

But more commonly, their ‘busy being busy’ issues are caused by their beliefs, their scripts, their fears, their old habits and their thoughts.

Either way, I’ve found that helping them focus over an agreed period of time on these four tips first of all is a highly effective way of challenging and changing the ‘too much to do and not enough time’ conversation.

PS:  My next Lead with Confidence 90-day programme starts on 12 September 2023. I guarantee you’ll have more time to do the important things.  You’ll stop trying to fix everything and people will notice the difference.  In a good way. But more importantly? You’ll feel liberated and in control.