Too busy being busy? Take time out to focus on what’s important

Like most people, I think of the New Year as a perfect opportunity to step back and pause for a moment to think about things differently – to regroup, reassess, get things back into perspective. Time I rarely seem to have once I get caught up in the many varied demands that flood in from all sides as the year progresses. So I've been reflecting on why that is and what I can do about it. Am I just too busy being busy to achieve my goals – and is everyone else doing the same?

There's no doubt we're living through an era of immense change and digital upheaval that's having a massive impact on all our lives and on organisations across the world. As a result we can feel both excited and daunted in equal measures.

The plethora of technology platforms in our lives, at work and at home (if the two can be distinguished clearly any more) and the demands to 'be on' 24/7, 365 days a year, has driven a highly fragmented, multi-tasking approach to business and to life – the job is never done. We are so busy being busy, we can't find the time needed to step outside of multiple small concerns and make meaningful progress towards our important longer terms goals.

A host of articles from the likes of Harvard Business Review, The New York Times, The Guardian and Mashable have recently focussed on this issue from a range of different perspectives. We read of apps developed to limit the time people can spend online, some organisations outlawing inter-company emails for those working in the same building and email curfews being imposed outside office hours.

Writing for The Harvard Business Review, Anthony Tjan, CEO, managing partner and founder of venture capital firm Cue Balland makes a plea for business people "to make time for time." He raises some great questions - Are we working towards a purpose? Are we multi-tasking our way to lower productivity? Are we running hard, but not getting ahead?

I was also interested to come across another stimulating piece from The Harvard Business Review on "Developing Mindful Leaders," from Polly Labarre editorial director of the Management Innovation eXchange.

Providing an ability to focus on the 'here and now' and control the temptation to constantly multi-task is one key element of 'mindfulness'. Mindfulness is now leaving behind any associations with spirituality or 'hippydom' and is being positioned by the Mental Health Foundation amongst others as a practical strategy for coping with the sort of attention deficit and stress that our fast paced life is causing.

Polly Labarre's piece particularly challenges the 'tick box' approach to leadership development with its extreme focus on inputs and outputs. Instead she recommends an approach to leadership development that "focuses on deepening employees' sense of purpose, expanding their capability to navigate difficulty and complexity, and enriching their emotional resilience."

As we argue in our book, The Growth Drivers: however challenging all these developments are, as in many earlier periods of revolution, they are creating enormous growth opportunities for organisations to seize the moment and actively shape their future. "Because, at their core, whatever the availability of technology, organisations are still financed and led by people, managed by people, staffed by people and they serve to deliver products, goods and services to other people. And people are not mechanical beings – they have physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual needs. And when set free to make choices, people balance up competing offers and choose what best meets their needs at any point in time." This fact is critical for marketers to remember; but it's also important for organisations to remember: people need ways of working that enable them to balance all their needs – and they do need to be able to carve out at least some time to think, to act and to interact - not just to communicate, or be communicated at, remotely.

In building the capabilities of individuals, teams and organisations as a whole perhaps a more patient and explorative mind-set is overdue, with focus on the achievement of longer term goals not just short-term objectives; one that is not side-tracked by the 'low hanging fruit', the 'quick fixes' and the 'easy options'. So, our mantra is not just "make time for time" but "take time out to focus on what's important."

As part of taking time out to think, you might like to reflect on how good your organisation is at building its capabilities and how you could help it focus on what's important – creating better value for customers, not just communicating to them.

For more information about how Brand Learning can help you lift your organisation’s customer-centred leadership capabilities, please get in touch or contact me directly @MhairiMcEwan. You may also like these films, perspectives and resources on Customer-Centred Leadership.

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