As I have interacted with my clients and other leaders over the last eight years, one topic has emerged above all others as a primary, ongoing frustration – not enough time. So let’s examine that feeling of not having enough time.


Photo Courtesy of Workspace Creative and Danielle Trista Photography

As a busy and successful leader you are not unfamiliar with the state of being overwhelmed. The input and demands are constantly coming at you through email, text messages, phone calls, knocks on the door and notifications from your calendar, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter …and ESPN. It can be paralyzing. We all know the emptiness of “I didn’t have time” as an excuse.

People are looking to you for leadership. You need figure out how to get out of the fog and back into the game. Whenever I find myself in this situation, there are five simple things I do to get my head back on straight and moving forward again.

1. Acknowledge that “not enough time” is not the real issue. Unfortunately, if we are brutally honest with ourselves, we know that is not the real issue. We all get twenty-four hours in a day, seven days in a week and 365 days in a year. The real issue/challenge is not the lack of time, but a lack of clarity about what needs our attention most.

When someone says, “I didn’t have enough time,” we intuitively know that what they really should be saying is, “I didn’t make the time.” People make time for what it truly important to them. That applies to all of us, especially leaders, because we have a greater measure of control over our destiny.

It is critical that we re-frame how we are thinking about the situation. Once we get beyond the lie we’ve believed and begin dealing with the actual problem (i.e. lack of clarity about what to do), our confidence will grow. There will be a noticeable shift from a feeling of helplessness to one of control.

2. Re-orient yourself around your priorities. Most of the feelings of being overwhelmed come from the volume of input. To reduce these feelings we need to narrow our focus. Limit the field of vision. In my ebook, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose,” I recommend that at the beginning of each week to figure out your top six priorities, the things that must get done.

Now is the time to look back at that list. Leverage the intellectual work you have already invested in deciding what is most important. Your top six should function like a compass or map to guide you through the week. Stay the course.

Even if you haven’t already created the list, now is a critical time to do it. Although easier to do in the calm before the storm, the task will not be impossible.

An arrival of new and pertinent information could possibly influence you to change your “top six.” However, I would urge caution at this point. Be rigorous about whether or not your priorities should shift. This is especially dangerous for those who have a hard time initially deciding upon those six priorities. A change should not happen lightly.

3. Be realistic and re-negotiate with yourself and others. Even if your “top six” have remained the same, it is possible that the landscape of your week has changed enough that it is no longer realistic to think that you will complete all six items.

Look at the time you have remaining, any calendared appointments you have, and estimate how much time you need to accomplish each of your “top six.” Will it all fit? Now is the time to be ruthlessly realistic. It is easy to try to convince yourself that you have the time, but your brain is a powerful machine. It knows. If you are playing games with it, trying to convince yourself there is time when there isn’t, your brain knows better. You know that feeling. However, being realistic will allow your brain to relax, get on board with the plan and give you the focus and energy you need to succeed.

In this process you may need to re-negotiate some things with yourself or others. This may include changing some of your own plans that appear on your calendar, such as deciding to work through a lunch you had scheduled with a friend, or rescheduling business appointments with colleagues or team members. I say re-negotiate because some of these appointments relate to meetings that are serving the purposes of someone else. You need to be responsible and considerate and work through a new arrangement, not just cancel the meeting and let the impact trickle down on others.

4. Figure out the next right action. One of the strongest emotional enemies we have in these situations is the feeling of being paralyzed. When we are in its grip it is critical that we do something…anything. Intentional, forward movement and the ensuing sense of momentum has the uncanny ability to cause the feeling of paralysis to lose its grip, even disappear.

Since you have your priority list, the next key is to be as specific as possible about the very next action you should take. Too often our to-do lists consist of ambiguous items that leave our brains wondering exactly what needs to be done.

In my ebook I give the following example. You might put on your list, “Put together proposal for ABC Company.” However, if you really think about it, there is more to it than that. First, you might need to review the measurements or scope of the project. Then you might need to discuss pricing with your manager. Then you will need to think through a few different options for what would meet your customer’s needs and decide what you are going to offer. Finally, you will need to write the proposal.

So, what exactly are you going to do next? It is important to be as specific as you possibly can. Specificity contributes to productivity. Continue determining and doing the next right action.
5. Put away unnecessary distractions. Trust me. Social media can live without you, and you can definitely live without it. You can catch up with those baseball scores later and I am sure that Donald Trump will still be in the news next week.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Turn off your phone or put it on Do Not Disturb
  • Go to a place where you have consistently been very productive
  • Close your office door
  • Turn off your email (unless that is one of your priorities)
  • Inform your team that you will be unavailable for a period of time

What other distractions do you regularly experience that will challenge your ability to stay focused? Identify them and quarantine them like a computer virus.


Final thoughts

Be encouraged. You are not alone in this battle. And, it is not a one-time battle. However, those who create a successful habit of breaking free from “the grip” will will find themselves accomplishing their own goals and outpacing their competition.

Let me encourage you to do two other things. First, (if you have not already) subscribe to my blog and receive my ebook, “10 Ways to Live on Purpose” as my thank you gift. Second, listen in to our podcast that will be releasing on Wednesday, October 7th where we will talk more about this subject.

Question: Which of the five steps do you find most helpful and why? Share your answer on FacebookLinkedIn or Twitter.