6 Steps to Break Free from the Busyness Trap


Feeling overwhelmed by endless tasks and meetings? Discover how to reclaim your time and focus as a leader. Why stay trapped in management busyness when your team and organization need you working on leadership innovation?

You’re Probably Too Busy To Read This Post! 

If you’re like the rest of the world, you’re busier at work now than ever before. You may be busier in every aspect of life than ever before.

It’s almost like “busy” is a badge of honor. We feel guilty if we aren’t busy. When someone asks, “How are you?” We no longer respond, “good.” We say, “BUSY!”

Busyness is such an epidemic that we aren’t even sure what life would feel like at a slower pace.

Why Are We So Busy? 

Partially because we are constantly multi-tasking. Our smartphones and other tech resources have made it possible to be connected at all times. We can text, email, comment on social posts, and share pics of our lunch, all within 30 seconds. Our minds are fractured from the multi-tasking.

We could (and probably should) blame meetings. Too many of us are in meetings about the meeting we had last week. And in meetings to prepare for our following meetings. We’re killing ourselves one meeting at at time. 

We could list dozens of reasons we’re overworked these days. 

Of course, we’re also to blame for the pace. We could choose to slow down, but that may cause us to get left behind, which doesn’t seem ideal.

In a way, business is here to stay. But to thrive in this fast-paced world, we’ve got to find a way to lead forward.

Leadership Requires Margin

Leadership is the activity of innovation, creation, and change. It all happens in and through people, but the results are progress-oriented.

On the flip side, efficiency, orchestration, and organization are the work of management. I devoted Chapter 2 of my new book, Big Shoes To Fill, to this topic. I won’t reiterate the chapter here, but the ramifications are significant for our modern workplace.

The pace of work strangles organizational progress. If you’re a leader, no doubt you sense this reality in your team and organization.

You want to think about the future, but there’s too much to do today. You want to work on innovating products but are stuck in meetings about producing current products. You want to assess and adjust your team culture, but you’re too busy filing paperwork.

A Church Example

I spent a decade in the marketplace before transitioning to ministry leadership. There are many similarities and transferable skills, but the church is unique in many ways. One is the rhythm.

There were some rhythms to meetings and product releases when I was in the marketplace, but nothing like the church. In the church, you host an event every seven days. In some cases, it is a large and complicated event. Many pastors work to design and execute this event alone. They’re forced to lead volunteer teams, prepare speeches (sermons), coordinate childcare, ensure the facility is clean and ready, prepare music and a band, stream the event, fund the organization, and inspire participation in the church. Not to mention, their primary job is to help people understand how to live a better life through following Jesus, which requires a cost, selflessness, and going against culture.

All of this happens every seven days! And when you work at a church, it feels like every four days.

Complicating the pace is the role. Pastors show up in tragedy, perform weddings and funerals, and counsel with attendees. Shockingly, none of these things happen at convenient times.

Finding Time For Leadership

Like everything important in life, to make time, we have to make time. If we refuse to rule our calendar, our schedule will rule us.

Here are a few steps you can take today to get back to leading again:

1. Evaluate Your Current Time Usage.

We are all creatures of habit. We keep doing what we’ve been doing.

If you spend your time on unproductive things, you’ll keep doing them until you take a moment to look in the mirror. The first step is to evaluate how you actually use your time. Some call this a “time audit.” It’s simple, really. Write down what you actually do during the workday. If you want to overachieve a bit, write down what you do throughout the entire day. Be sure to include when you begin and end each task, meeting, social media scrolling, lunch, etc. And be honest! You will only see this, so create an accurate assessment of how you’re using your time.

2. Decide Where Your Time is Over and Underutilized.

Your time audit will reveal much. Some of what you’ll find needs to remain. Or perhaps even increase. On the other hand, no doubt some of your time could be better utilized. We all spend time on things that don’t help us, those around us, or the organizations we lead.

You must also understand your unique contributions to the team and organization to evaluate your time well. The goal for time efficiency isn’t to rid yourself of things you don’t like but to better focus on where you add value and where you don’t. Or where others can.

In most cases, you’ll find an hour or two of time that could be utilized better.

3. Delegate Tasks and Responsibilities to Others.

Once you’ve determined the tasks, meetings, and other areas of your day that aren’t a good use of your time, decide if they are essential to the organization at large. It could be that you are spending time (and requiring others to spend time) on unnecessary tasks. More than likely, you will see things that need to be done but that can be done by others.

Healthy delegation is part art, part science. You can read more here about how to do it well.

4. Block Time in Your Calendar.

The tyranny of the urgent kills the important. You’ve done some hard work to open up your calendar, but like a house, it fills up with little effort.

You’ll need to block time for your Most Important Leadership Tasks (MILTs) to keep your calendar from ruling you. These MILTs are critical for you and the team you lead.

This may be somewhat personal to how and when you work best. I learned long ago that I need to block at least 2 hours for deep leadership thinking. I prefer a half day. If that sounds ridiculous, I get it. When I first began time-blocking for leadership, I wasn’t sure I could find 2 minutes, much less two hours. However, and this is critical to believe, you have the time. You’re just using the time poorly. Every leader can find time to do more MILTs when they discover their LIMTs (Least Important Management Tasks).

5. Set Leadership Goals.

Don’t stop at thinking. Do some doing. When you begin blocking your calendar for MILTs, set some goals for your time. I’d suggest daily, weekly, and monthly goals for this time. Even if the goal is “thinking time,” set it and block it.

If you don’t set a goal for your MILTs, you may accidentally block the time and have little to show. I’m not a huge goal-setter, but when I decide how this leadership time should be used in advance, I use it more effectively.

6. Reflect and Adjust

Finally, regularly reflect on your leadership to management balance and make adjustments. Life changes, and so does your team and organization. Therefore, your strategies for maintaining margin should remain flexible.

Leadership is Too Important NOT to Create Margin

The world is too complicated to only work in your organization. If you don’t intentionally find time to work on it, you’ll quickly fall behind and find yourself romanticizing the past. The only way forward is to lead, and that requires your time.