too-busyI used to joke (half-joke, actually—there was an element of truth in it!) that my consulting clients pay me to climb on a plane, read the latest IT management book, then tell them what I’ve learned. And they were thrilled because they never had time to read the book! This is a sad admission and reflects a sorry state of affairs.

Most of my clients are too busy to think about anything except how busy they are. I’ll ask them to review a document or model and they will take 15 minutes to tell me all the reasons they don’t have time to do the review—a review that would have taken them 5 minutes at most!

I was working with an IT Leadership team a while ago and I asked them to review some material prior to a workshop. When the workshop was held a couple of weeks later, I asked who had reviewed the material. One member of the team actually had and came to the workshop prepared with some thoughtful questions and comments. The other team members sheepishly admitted that they had not reviewed the material—they were “too busy!” By the way, there seemed to be little guilt or apology for the lack of preparation—it seemed to be culturally acceptable (almost expected) that preparation was a luxury, not a necessity!

What Happens When We Are Too Busy to Think?

This is what transpired.

  1. Much of the workshop time was wasted taking the team through the material they’d been asked to review. By the time we were ready for the substantial discussions I was hoping for, it was time to close the workshop. The 10 minutes review I’d asked them to make turned into 90 minutes of group time, with no time left to reach alignment and make decisions. Another 90 minute workshop had to be scheduled to achieve this.
  2. The one team member who did their homework felt cheated—their 10 minutes of review time had been wasted, and on top of that they had to sit through a 90 minute discussion that was not productive for them.
  3. All the team members subsequently had to sacrifice another 90 minutes that could have been avoided if they’d taken the 10 minutes to do the preparation asked of them.

I suppose this is somewhat like the late Dr. Stephen Covey’sno time to sharpen the saw” parable. The issue is common—too busy to think about anything except being too busy! My colleague and BRMI co-founder, Dr. Aleksandr Zhuk recently sent me a gift of a new book—“Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. This book is largely about the “too busy” issue, and provides some great methods for getting down to the critical few instead of being swamped by the trivial many. The book really resonates with me for a couple of reasons:

  1. When I declared myself “semi-retired” about 4 years ago, I forced myself to focus my reduced workweek on the “critical few”. My productivity soared, my stress level dissipated, and life started to look and feel much better than it had in years! I was in control, instead of being controlled by others.
  2. There is so much in what I teach about the Business Relationship Management role that is about proactive demand management based upon business value realization that incorporates the essence of Essentialism. I was actually getting more done in less time!

The sad part of all this is that I now have time to read and absorb books like Essentialism, while my clients continue to chase their tails trying to do more and more with less and less. I guess I need to climb on a plane and tell them what I’ve learned!