Thought patterns

Three tips to challenge your ‘busy’ habit – if you’re not a bee that is!

January 5, 2023

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Understanding whether we have a tendency to be busy just to be busy, rather than examining how it actually affects our productivity, can be a challenge. In this blog I explore the potential negative effects on Quiet Leaders and suggest three things you can try to challenge your ‘busy’ habit.

As we step out of the holiday season, and I hope you have had a chance to at least take some time to slow down, launching ourselves back into work, school and life in January can feel a bit daunting. Like drawing breath before a big plunge…

‘Busyness’ beckons.

But when did busyness in and of itself become a measure of success? A badge? A rite of passage – ‘’yeah I’m good thanks, really, really busy’’.

If your calendar is full with back-to-back meetings and instant messages are pinging through every few minutes, you’re multitasking and not having time for breaks and lunch, it may feel like success. But in reality, how productive are Quiet Leaders in this ‘busy’? And for how long?

It can be quite a pull. A temptation. I am needed, I am productive, I am, well, busy. So I am important and influential. And who doesn’t want to feel valued as a leader? But in reality it might be overwhelm and burnout waiting to happen.

A quiet colleague once gave me some advice in the middle of an emergency response at work. He reckoned the only way to find any pause to think, overwhelmed by the sheer urgency and pace for weeks on end, was to either ‘hide in the loos for a bit’, or even better – walk about purposefully yet aimlessly from point to point in the building with a piece of paper in your hand. That way you weren’t ‘in the loo AWOL’, and looked busy, but you were actually just re-finding your wits.

As a quiet leader, as a rule, we don’t thrive in these environments, but ‘fitting in’, doing what others do, can feel like it’s the only way. As the perceived urgency increases, extroverts need things to happen faster, answers to come quicker, yet when you’re taking on more information as a quiet leader, you need more time to process it before making a decision. Not a win-win situation!

At times it’s important as leaders to work at pace, to deal with emergencies – decisions have to be made rapidly and a good one, not the best one, will do. But day in, day out trying to lead as someone else, who has an extrovert brain and a less naturally sensitive nervous system, is a different matter – trying to ‘get better at it’, drinking more coffee, ‘just keeping going’ only works for a time.

As Quiet Leaders our brains work differently, we need time alone to process what’s happening throughout the day, to link ideas together to find solutions, work things out. Fast decisions, on reflection, are often not the best. Undoing, backtracking, or rectifying mistakes that could have been foreseen with a little more thinking time, all cancel out the speed and perceived efficiency.

Plus the stimulation of the rapid fire communication and interactions can drain Quiet Leaders very quickly, without any pauses built in to think alone, and our stress levels increase. Which all detracts from the great strengths of a quiet leader – thinking deeply, pausing to make great decisions, listening, creativity, empathy and connection. And ultimately personally becoming exhausted, overwhelmed and burned out.

So how to find the balance?

Stepping down from this sort of busy when it feels like the only way to do things, when it feels like a measure of conscientiousness and commitment, is really, really, hard. So here’s a few things you could try.

3 tips to challenge the ‘busy’ habit…

1. Get real about your strengths.

As a quiet leader, it’s unlikely your strengths are sustained energy and spontaneity in relentless interactions and meetings – your energy is going to get drained pretty quickly. It’s just not who you are. So think about where your strengths in these interactions are – what are people asking from you, needing, wanting from you?

Is it your wisdom, ability to reflect and come up with great ideas, unique insights, customer empathy, to pull intangibles all together into a proposal? See all ends? If so, how can you give yourself the energy to utilise these strengths, so you can contribute and be at your best? What can you do between and beforehand?

Maybe less really is more.

2. Notice your energy

When are you most tired in the day? When do you find it hard to concentrate? When does your head feel like it’s so full of smoke and cat fur that you cannot have one sensible thought, and a decision whether to have tea or coffee feels like a life changing epic conundrum? Ask yourself – What happened beforehand that day or the day before? Did you have a run of 3 hours of back-to-back meetings? Were you travelling? In the open plan office all morning under bright lights and loads of noise? What time of day was it?

And most importantly when are you ‘on fire’? Enlivened, thoughts and innovative solutions flow effortlessly… Is it after time alone? A break? Time reflecting on your commute? A walk? When you’re working at home? An early night? Listening to a Podcast on the way to work?

Knowing this, how can you bring more energy into your day and your week?

3. Dare yourself to experiment

Use steps 1 and 2 to take one action this week to intersperse your busyness with pause, and see what happens. Thinking of it as an experiment might help – so you’re not thinking it’s forever, or
that it’s a big change which may change people’s perception of you. You’re just trying it out.

Block out breaks between meetings, turn instant messenger on silent or unavailable for when you need to concentrate (you might need to tell your team what you’re doing – another experiment!), even say you’ll be 10 mins late or need to leave 10 mins early if the meetings are already booked back-to-back. Take a walk at lunchtime, take your lunch. You can judge what’s best, best. See what happens. How do people react? How do you feel?

People may care less than you think – it may be the results they notice more.