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During personal leadership conversations with managers they often mention that their leader is just too busy and struggles to make time for them. Yet, the essence of leadership is to be with one’s people; to inspire them; to give direction; to understand their needs; to hold them accountable; to teach them; to be an example; to lead them.

When a leadership position ties a leader down with excessive meetings, tasks and activities that draw him away from his people, something is wrong.

Though there could be many reasons why a leader falls into such a ‘busy task driven trap’, one common reason is often the leader’s inability to lead himself, to plan and be more in control. A friend of mine, Sean Donnelly, from whom I have learned so much, wrote the following practical piece that addresses this very issue:

In the many years of interviewing great leaders, a golden thread that always comes out is the principle – “lead thyself.”  In other words, before you can govern another you must first learn to govern yourself.

We use too many excuses today for not sticking to the basics of governing ones self.  Most of the time people simply cop-out.  For example only 7% of the people who are managers will plan their day; this is less than one in 10.  The other 93% when asked why not, state –“I didn’t have time!”  While those working with the managers will state that 25% – 50% of their time is spent on urgent but not important ‘stuff’ – up to half their time often wasted on irrelevant activity.

We are suffering from a new disease called ‘urgent addiction’.  Yes, we are busier than ever, the pace is almost vicious, but as always, if you diagnose the problem correctly, the solution becomes obvious.

In fact, the solution lies in the problem. The very basic weekly and daily disciplines that take a few minutes and help us in busy times get thrown out when we’re so busy.  They get pooh-poohed in our out of control frenzy.

In short, we have to re-learn the skill called “event control”; we first have to unlearn then re-learn. It is not as difficult as you may think.  Why? Because we all know the feelings associated with being out of control.  How do you feel when your day, your week is out of control?  Frightening! 

On the other hand, what is it like to be in control – it’s powerful, energizing, proactive, and positive, we can conquer.  We seem to be able to get more done, the more we do.  So the gap is evident, when the pain is evident, the change is easy.

The art of gaining control of the events in your life and overcoming is so simple and makes common sense; it begs the question why don’t we do it?  Common sense is not always common practice.  Perhaps, we are addicted to urgency; we are so busy focusing on feeling important, instead of feeling that importance should be the focus, playing the hero one minute and the victim the next, and essentially crisis management is our accepted norm.  It’s simply not sustainable or enough. 

Urgent and important activities are vital, but we can’t always tell the difference between urgent /important urgent/not important.  Consequently, we live very reactively; the ‘world’ around us drives us instead of us driving the world.  We are not in control over events in our lives and therefore, the events in our lives are in control of us.

How do we do it?  How do you gain control again, and ultimately have greater peace, health and balance?  First, realize that if your time management is a mess and your life is stressed and unbalanced then it is your fault!  Secondly, go back to the following basics:


  1. ‘Ground’ yourself every day by planning for 15-20 minutes each day in solitude, uninterrupted so that you don’t get into ‘urgent’ mode straight away.
  2. Use a diary, day book, tablet, cell phone, or PC (Outlook) to list all the tasks for today.
  3. Don’t number the tasks, but being very strict with yourself, give ‘A’ symbols to the tasks that must, emphasis must, be done today.  Now your list of 30 becomes a list of 12-15.
  4. Number the ‘A’s – A1, A2, A3 being the tasks you least like to do.
  5. Manage your list, tick those done, delete those that are irrelevant, delegate those you can and develop a system of symbols and methods to manage you list.
  6. Write everything down in one place, a day-book (A4 black/red type book) is perfect.  Capture everything, notes, contact info etc in one place. Additional tasks can be added and done too.
  7. Do this for 3-4 weeks constantly – it will become a habit.
  8. Once a week take 10 minutes extra in your daily planning and solitude session.  This is what I call your compass.  Here separately, you list 5 activities that are real value – add activities that are important but not urgent.  These are linked to your personal values, such as health, family, personal affairs, education, recreation, planning, relationships, problem solving, and spiritual well-being.
  9. During the week, because the prior disciplines in steps 1-7 are habitual and ‘A’ tasks get done, you filter these into your task list and you give them an ‘A’.
  10. At the start of each day, or end, go back to the prior day’s list, carry forward incomplete tasks, clean out unnecessary ones and add them to your existing tasks to then be re-prioritized.

This activity or process uses less than 1% of your day, each day – a small hinge upon which a big gate will swing.  Keep work and personal tasks on one list and only have one diary.  One of your ‘compass’ actions each month or each quarter is to plan your calendar for your next 1-3 months dates, appointments, fixed items etc.

With these fundamentals in place you gradually see your lists reducing, not at first, and what’s more than that your productivity goes up, your confidence goes up, you plan into your life elements that bring balance and which reduce the amount of urgency.  You can say ‘no’ better, you save time and energy.  In most cases, people report to me that they have created up to one hour extra per day just for them.

Finally, your system links what you value most to your daily habits.  Well worth working for. In the end, you control events in your life, and the events in your life don’t control you.

This article was featured in the:

The Workplace

Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.




Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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