“Busy is the new stupid” – Is the culture of productivity affecting your leadership?

Is the value we place on productivity and ticking off the to do list resulting in overwork, burnout and ineffective leaders?

I believe it is and I have a simple message... it’s time to stop working so hard and look at a new way to approach leadership.

Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of Warren Buffet’s empty diary. One of the most successful businessmen in the world prioritises space in his workday and lives by the idea that busy is the new stupid.

The current way work is designed promotes a culture of productivity and teaches us to value ourselves based on how much work we can get done. Our to do lists have taken on a life of their own!

I work with female leaders who come to me close to burnout because of the pressure, overtime and overinvestment they feel that is an unavoidable part of their role.

This week on my podcast, I explored whether we have an addiction to productivity and revisited the idea that working harder is not that answer. You can listen to the full episode here


Reimagining Work

As a coach, I teach these leaders how to thrive in their work as it is now but now I’m also encouraging leaders to question the structure and culture they work in and ask whether it needs to be the way it is.

The question I’m personally considering is, how can we reimagine our work?

These are three ideas that could help us do that:

  1. Instead of focusing on the what, focus on the why. Are there tasks that are being created for the sake of it? Are you constantly doing busy work? As a leader, you can step back and decide what matters. What is adding the most value? What is the purpose of each task for you and your team and how you can spend your time doing the ones that make the most impact?

  2. Allow people in your team to bring their unique strengths to the workplace. Using these strengths means higher quality work they enjoy and they can do effectively. Neurodiversity is an emerging topic that leaders should consider – you can find out more about it on this past podcast – Neurodiversity at Work with Professor Amanda Kirby

  3. Organisations preparing their leaders for their roles through professional development and leadership training. Often leaders are promoted into their roles without the training they need. Many of the women I work with join my courses under their own initiative and are self-funding because they are not getting what they need internally. How can you start the conversation for leadership training at your organisation?


Your leadership beliefs

It’s not just the culture and structure. We can also question our personal beliefs about what being a leader means.

You might have a belief like:

“Being a manager and a leader is about getting things done”

Let’s challenge this belief!

When I moved from permanent full-time roles at Director level to interim Director or Chief Executive part-time roles I had to adjust how I worked with the hours I had.

I discovered that being a great leader wasn't about what you're doing. It's about who you're being. You as the manager or leader are at the centre of your team so how you’re being impacts everyone in your team.

If you improve the way that you think, feel and act - if you start to think like a leader, feel like a leader, act like a leader - that will have a ripple effect that will make your job easier, make you much more effective, protect your energy and have the same impact on the people in your team.

Here are some questions for you to consider:

  • Who do I need to be to be to be a great leader?
  • Who do I need to be for my team?
  • Who do I need to be to get the best out of them, support them and help them to not get burnt out or overloaded?

To be a great leader, you need to prioritise your own development. Consider your current to do list (which I’m sure is long!). Is your own leadership development on that list? If it is, does it constantly get bumped for more urgent tasks?

I work with a lot of people who are motivated and want to develop themselves as a leader but still really struggle to find the time to do it.


Three ways you can prioritise your leadership development

If you’re reading this and have realised you’re caught in the productivity trap and never have the time to step back and develop your leadership skills, here’s three practical tips that can help.

1: Schedule some time in your working day or working week for your development

Whether that’s attending a webinar, reading an article, having a coffee with someone else in your field or learning a new skill, start to schedule that time in. You can set yourself a challenge of scheduling that time every week that’s immovable. Call it something else if you want to but get it in your diary and make sure it happens.

2: Change the way you approach your emails

Do you feel a bit like Pavlov’s dog with your emails? One comes in and you feel like you need to respond straight away. When we do that, our agenda and our priorities for the day go out the window and someone else's agenda or needs takes over.

Put your own needs and to do list first by allocating time each day for emails. It could be three times a day or five – whatever is appropriate for your role. Help yourself to break the addiction to your emails and give yourself more time in the day to be the leader you want to be.

3: Consider how you can you be less busy and create more space

Take a step back and ask yourself how you can be less busy. How can you create more space to be a great leader for your team and prevent your own overwork and burnout?

My challenge for you this week is instead of focusing on your tasks and your to do list, think about how you can think, feel and act like more of a leader.

Ask yourself how you can reimagine the way that you work and what environment and culture you need to support you as a leader and your team.



If you’d like to hear the full podcast episode, you can access it here: https://www.carlamillertraining.com/podcast

I’d love to hear your experiences or your thoughts in the comments.


Listen to the Influence & Impact podcast on Carla’s website, Apple, Spotify or Stitcher 

For more articles on the issues that impact women leaders at work follow Carla Miller on LinkedIn

Find out about the various ways Carla works with women leaders and organisations on her website www.carlamillertarining.com



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