by Steve Adubato, PhD
A lot of professionals confuse being busy with being an effective leader. People with a lot of responsibility at work often say things like: "I'm so busy, I don't even have time to think straight" or "I have a million things to do, I don't know which way to turn." Dr. Richard Carlson, author of the popular series, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff" says that we all need to be aware of what he calls the "burden of the busy mind."
The busy mind syndrome can get started slowly until we have created a gigantic to-do list in our heads. Again, we confuse activity with effectiveness. Add to that our hopes, dreams, goals and worst of all, the worries about what is or isn't going to happen, and we have created an avalanche of stuff that has the potential to paralyze us as we attempt to lead and manage not only ourselves, but those around us. Granted, today's managers are required to perform more tasks than ever before. Downsizing has put big-time pressure on those who are left in an organization. However, no matter how many items you have on your plate, being a real leader is also about prioritizing. It's about deciding what needs to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. It's about having a clear head that allows you to make smart, strategic decisions.
All of these leadership activities become virtually impossible to perform if we are consumed with our "busy minds." Instead of being responsive, we are unnecessarily reactive. Instead of making good, smart decisions, we tend to be irrational. And instead of having a clear vision and listening the way we should, we are easily distracted and unfocused.
The key to dealing with the busy mind syndrome is becoming aware of its potential to consume us. As Carlson says, "all that's necessary is to gently drop the thoughts that aren't needed at a given time. That's it. Just notice them and let them go." Some of you are thinking, yeah, easier said than done. But Carlson has it right. This column could be filled with another bullet-point list of things to do in order to deal with the busy mind, but that's not going to get the job done. None of those actions are going to help if you can't become more aware of your mind playing tricks on you and deciding that you are not going to let the mental snowball grow out of control.
Here's the deal. If you are in a meeting, a conversation, a conference call or any business situation that requires real concentration, understand that you will pay a heavy price for allowing your busy mind to take you out of the moment. Instead, the key is to be present. The key is to decide that it's worth giving of yourself and concentrating so that you can fully appreciate and understand what is being said. If you let these other thoughts, worries and fears (as well as your mental to-do list) get in the way of what you are doing, you virtually guarantee that the experience will be a dissatisfying one. Your effectiveness as a leader/manager will be reduced. Those around you will know that you are not really present. And those same people will begin sharing less with you knowing that you are largely faking it. You will lose out on getting the benefit of their ideas and suggestions. None of this is good for you or for your team and sooner or later your busy mind will affect your bottom line and then you'll have lot more to worry about.