How Overloaded Executives Can Make Time for What Matters Most

The price of cutting ourselves short can be very high, but the good news is that we don’t have to live that way forever, even if that’s our usual habit.


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Recently I spoke with a smart, high-achieving, business executive who said he was very excited for me to coach him, but he wanted to postpone things for three months because he had too much going on right then. I let him know that that was no problem, and I also took a moment to point out one of the potential benefits of coaching – improving his capacity to prioritize and invest more in what he cares about the most. He hesitated for a split second then quickly assured me that he honestly was too busy to begin coaching.


This very talented executive had arrived at our phone call ten minutes late. He’d been delayed by, not too surprisingly, a previous meeting that had run long. His tone of voice made it obvious that he was anxious to deliver his message to me quickly and get on with his day. Apparently, it wasn’t a good time to ponder my pearls of wisdom.


After the call, I considered the paradox of our conversation. It was ironic to me that my new client didn’t have the time – or wasn’t ready or willing to make the time – for the very thing that could, in effect, create more time for him. As a matter of fact, many of my executive coaching clients report that our work together helps them set better priorities, say no when necessary, make more resonate choices, and focus on what's truly important to them.


I felt tons of empathy for this overloaded executive. After all, in today’s fast-paced world, who doesn’t struggle to find time to invest in themselves?! His dilemma reminded me of a famous quote by Abraham Lincoln, "If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours sharpening the ax."


I love the pragmatism behind this metaphor. When we make time to care for our tools – especially our minds, bodies, and souls – they reward us with efficient performance when we need them the most. They save us precious time, in effect creating more time. On the other hand, if we neglect them, they might not do their job very well when we do need them, thereby chewing up valuable time. Or they might even break down, causing, ugh, downtime, and who has time for that?!


It’s so easy to neglect caring for ourselves. In fact, neglect requires almost no effort at all! It’s not surprising, then, that we routinely choose to forego all kinds of important self-care, even when we know that our inattention leads to less productivity, less efficiency, or even a less fulfilling life.


The price of cutting ourselves short can be very high, but the good news is that we don’t have to live that way forever, even if that’s our usual habit today. It’s just a matter of getting started and taking some baby steps. Before you know it, a little bit of mindful effort here and there, one day after another, goes a long way toward leading a more values-based, productive, balanced, and fulfilling life.


So, I have few questions for you. In what ways are you neglecting yourself? What are the consequences of that negligence? What could be much better if you took a little time to care for and invest in yourself? When will you pause to sharpen your ax? What new habit will you commit to? What’s stopping you from doing it today?


Perhaps the answers to these questions are the real pearls worth pondering.