By Dr. Dan Reinhardt

This is a very common challenge for anyone in leadership. Life is full already, so adding in leadership – especially volunteer leadership – is difficult. The most common response to busyness is to increase your activity – just put your head down and plough through it. While this may well be appropriate for a short-term situation, it does not work in the long run. And I’ve noticed that most short-term situations turn out to be much longer than I anticipated.

So what’s one to do? We have to work against the intuitive “head-down-git-er-done” response, and actually stop our activity. That’s right, stop.

One of the differences between leaders and followers is that leaders think harder and clearer than others. Carving out think time is crucial for leadership; and yet there is such a pressure from all the things that have to be done. You must get a handle on the activities of life, or you will never think clearly.

Life will always have more for us to do than we can possibly accomplish; so choosing our activity is core to self leadership. This requires careful thought. Another word for this is planning – deciding in advance what is a priority and following through on that decision. It’s as simple as that, and as difficult as that.

The place where we have to begin is with self leadership. Until we can lead ourselves, we will not effectively lead others. Let’s break it down into workable steps. The first thing we have to do is carve out regular times to think. There needs to be a rhythm to this, a regularity that keeps thinking congruent with changing circumstances. If life would just stay still then you could plan once and be done with it.

Here’s a rhythm that really works:

  • Once a year, pre-plan the next 18 months (takes 1-2 days)
  • Each quarter, plan the next quarter (1 day)
  • Around the 20 th of each month, plan the next 40 days (4 hours)
  • Every weekend, plan the next week (1 hour)
  • Last thing each day, finalize details for the next day (15 minutes)

If you adopt this rhythm of planning, you will be surprised how much you can get done even in busy times. And that clears your mind of the anxiety of things not done yet, giving you head space to think clearly.