In this new regular column Lynn Scott shares ‘real-world’ solutions and tips to help managers and leaders use their coaching skills in everyday leadership life. This issue: coaching people who have ‘too much to do and not enough time’


Making a start

Most of us know, in theory, how to manage our time. We know about urgent vs important, about checking our emails only three times a day, about turning off notifications and about time blocking. We know the importance of ‘time to think’ and we’ve got plenty of apps to help us be more productive.

Yet, we’ve all coached people who struggle with ‘getting it all done’. You may well have struggled with that, too.

But why?

The answer is that busyness enables us to avoid things. To avoid the emotions and feelings we don’t want to feel. To avoid the real problems we don’t want to face. It gives us permission to be ‘always on’ rather than strategic, thoughtful and proactive.

We all say we’d love to be less busy and yet we self-sabotage and do everything in our power to stop ourselves from getting what we say we really want.

It happens because busyness is remarkably addictive. It’s the natural default state of our brain. Using our conscious brain takes conscious choice and effort, so when we’re coaching busy people we need to help them – literally – engage their brains.

If at the start of this New Year you’re coaching clients or direct reports (or even yourself) on this topic, here are four tips to help you make a good start.


Tip one: start with a simple question

Ask your client: ‘Why are you so busy?’ (This should be said with curiosity not judgement. Assumptions are unhelpful here.)

Listen to what’s said – and what’s not said. Look for beliefs presented as ‘the truth’. Really listen to the words and language your coaching client/direct report uses.

Are you hearing the ‘busy hero’ syndrome (‘I’m so important/valuable/indispensable and the organisation will fall apart without me’), or perhaps the ‘learned helplessness’ syndrome (‘It’s just the way it is and there’s nothing I can do’).

A sense of helplessness is attributable partly to chaotic organisational systems and cultural – albeit often unspoken – beliefs about work (for example, when leaders value presenteeism more than results).

When we’re part of that ‘busy being busy’ system ourselves, as internal coaches often are, it can feel like we’re wading through treacle to make any inroads at all. This is why tip two is fundamental to our success.


Tip two: learn this mantra

Focus on what YOU can influence and change

It’s where our personal power lies, and it will help us overcome learned helplessness. Both you and your coaching client need to repeat it, every single day.


Tip three: activate the RAS

Ask your coaching client to write down the answers to these two questions and put them somewhere they can see them every day:

First: ‘What do you want to achieve at the end of our work together?’

(No surprises there – a classic coaching question).

Second, and more importantly: ‘Who do you want to become to enable you to reach that goal?

For example:

‘I want to become someone with strong boundaries, someone who protects their time and has more gravitas and influence because I’m calmer, more considered and more present.’

Writing down the answers and seeing them every day is crucial because it activates your coaching client’s Reticular Activating System (RAS).

The RAS is the part of the brain that toggles between our conscious and subconscious minds and prioritises things for us.

It prioritises ‘survival’ first, then it’ll prioritise what you tell it to prioritise! Hence, the importance of making those answers visible every day.

Imagine you’re planning a walking holiday to Cornwall. Suddenly, there’s information about walking holidays in Cornwall everywhere you look. The information has always been there, but your RAS wasn’t asked to prioritise it.

So, encourage your client to get their RAS working in service of their goals.


Tip four: focus on where you’re going

Ask two questions every day

I recently ran a 28-day, Get It Done challenge for a group of clients from my Effortless Leader Facebook Group. We started with the three tips I’ve shared with you, and then, each day, I asked them the following two questions:

  • ‘What are you doing today to move you one step closer to achieving your desired outcome?’
  • ‘How are you going to show up today as the person you want to become?’


These are great questions for your busy coaching client/direct reports too, because they help them think, reflect, imagine and dream, rather than add more tasks to their to-do list. And they get the RAS doing its job.



These are my top four tips for making a good start when we’re coaching the client who is ‘too busy’.

Of course, there are many other ways we can help our busy clients.

Sometimes that involves practical solutions (how to lead more effective meetings, for example). But more commonly, our clients’ ‘busy being busy’ issues are caused by their beliefs, scripts, fears and stories.

Either way, I’ve found that helping them first focus on these areas over an agreed period of time, is a highly effective way of challenging and changing the ‘too much to do and not enough time’ conversation.


  • Lynn Scott is an ICF Master Certified Coach (MCC), director of Lynn Scott Coaching and founder of The Effortless Leader Revolution. She’s a leadership and team coach, coach supervisor and ICF Coach Mentor.
  • www.lynnscottcoaching.co.uk