Are You Busy, Or Overloaded?
Thomas Thompson
April 12, 2022
min read

I lead leaders and teams towards FOCUS.  Making sure they are Chasing the Antelope, investing their time and energy into high-caloric activities.

To do this, we work through tools to help them get unstuck.  Tools of focus, of delegation, of developing systems and people to free them up to do what they–and their organization–most need them to do.

But some people seem to STAY stuck in busy.  Leading reactively instead of proactively.  Letting the urgent engulf the important.

And I began to realize that we were trying to solve a BUSY problem, when we should have been solving an OVERLOAD problem.

They were not too busy.  They were overloaded.

How can you tell the difference?

Busy people always make time for what is important.  Overloaded people never have time.

Busy is okay.  Busy can help you focus.  There is a  reason my worst semester in college was the one where I had the lightest workload.  Busy forces us to prioritize.

But overload?  Overload overwhelms.  Overlord makes us frantic, unfocused, reactive. 

Peaking under the hood of the overloaded engine,  I found there were factors at play that tools of focus, development, and delegation could’t tackle.

Factors that didn’t show up at work, but were impacting work.  Hidden factors.  Factors that began to affect the normal circuit load.  Left unaddressed, these circuit overloads will overwhelm your best systems, and make a busy day become an overloaded one.


Five Hidden Circuit Overloads.

#1 Lack of SLEEP

My wife once watched a documentary about captured POWs who were woken up every 3 hours so they never got a full night’s sleep.  The lack of rest wore them down and sapped their will to fight.  We had two kids under two at the time and she told me, “I can totally relate!”

When your sleep is substandard, your capacity is diminished.  And no amount of caffeine can compensate for a good night of rest. 

A few years ago, I started to take sleep seriously.  I studied it, I practiced sleep habits.  Because I began to understand that my day of productive work began the night before.

#2 Lack of WHITE SPACE

Great websites, magazines, and resumes have one thing in common.  They know how to use white space to draw your attention towards what is most important.  

Great leaders also use white space–margins–to draw their attention towards what is most important.

It sounds counter-intuitive that one answer to overload is to introduce intentional time in your day where you are NOT getting things done.  But our lives were made for profit.  Find out some ways to recover margin HERE.

#3 Poor DIET.

The grab and gulp.  Days powered by Diet Cokes and Home Depot Hot Dogs.  The cranium-sized cinnamon rollin the break room.  These feel like sensible options for the leader on the go. 

But these fuels give away your  energy and alertness when you need them most.

What you fuel your day with finds you either chasing the rush, or powered for productivity.  Take stock of your daily diet.  It does impact your day.  BTW, check out intermittent fasting for a surprising tool for morning focus.

#4 Skipping EXERCISE

A used car dealer in my East Texas town had a TV commercial with the line, “I’ll meet you at 4 am if I know you’re coming.”  I adopted that motto in my leadership.  I scheduled early morning coffees and  pre-dawn work sessions.  My goal was to be the first car in the parking lot.  Once, I even set off the alarm system at our church with a 5 am arrival!

These early endeavors pushed out of my life the energy gain of exercise.

Exercise is an “important” thing that never feels “urgent.”  But while it does take time, it actually increases your energy.  It is a key part of extending your productivity, not just into your work day, but your work career over the long haul.  

One of my mentors is in his mid-eighties and maintains an active pursuit of exercise (handball) that is a critical key to his maintaining a high level of output.

#5 Ignoring TRIAGE.

Triage is the assessment of casualties to determine the of their need for treatment.  Good leaders practice triage with their workloads.  They identify what is most critical, and say no or not now to the rest.  

Learning to say no is difficult.  So many leaders don’t do it. 

One of the most powerful tactics in your overload-avoiding arsenal is the ability to say NO.

In my twenties, saying yes was a strategic key for me to gain wisdom, experience, and opportunity.  But now in my fifties, saying no–when it lines up with my values, my calling, my goals–allows me to focus on who and what matters most.

That meeting you don’t need to attend, that invitation you can decline, that request that you already know will be a waste of your time, that problem someone tries to move off their plate and onto yours–these deserve your (respectful) firm NO.

These hidden circuit overloads will impede your productivity.  They will turn your busy into overloaded.  

Which one of these circuits do you need to begin to close today?


Thomas helps leaders navigate what’s next in their lives, leadership, and teams.  If he can serve you in this, reach out to him HERE.

Photo by Luis Villasmil on Unsplash

I founded Thompson Leadership to come alongside leaders like you. Together, we will unpack your unique leadership, unearth your biggest challenge, and create an action plan to close the gap between where you are and where you want to be.
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