Earlier this week I spoke with a credit union leader about how to develop the leadership skills of her team.

One of her core concerns revolved around the lack of progress she is seeing from members of her team who constantly seem to be “operating in a state of perpetual overload.”

The conversation struck a chord with me as I have seen the problem with many of the leaders and business owners whom I have had the privilege of coaching.

From time to time they all seem to sometimes end up in a place where it feels like there is just too much to do, where too many things are competing for their attention, and where their commitment to action takes a back seat to trying to figure out which fire needs water first.

Here’s a quick solution that you may find useful that I shared with her:  Give them permission to kick the can down the road a bit.

Think about it.

Overwhelm and the associated action paralysis typically occurs because there are so many things that need to be done that the ability to prioritize them gets in the way.  The result is that deadlines are missed and suddenly every little pebble-sized problem looks and feels like a big-rock problem.

It always reminds me of the plate-spinner guy who used to appear on the Ed Sullivan show when I was growing up.  He ran back and forth across the stage keeping plates spinning at the top of poles and doing everything he could to not allow any of the plates to drop.

Sound familiar?

That’s what happens when there are so many tasks, so little time, and so little clarity.

The solution?

Take stock of the situation and look carefully at all of the items that are demanding attention.  Focus on tackling the ‘absolutely must be done now,’ items and extend the deadlines on the other items, i.e., kick the can down the road a bit.  And don’t forget to drop the things that no longer need to be done because they no longer justify the time and energy required.

It’s a simple approach, that works wonders.  It provides clarity about what matters now and allows the developing leader to focus their efforts.  It recognizes the reality and the need for something to be removed from the must do pile in order for any of the work to get done.  It frees the mind to address the critical actions and make progress, alleviating the overwhelm that was getting in the way.

ACTION ADVICE: Try this approach today.  Look at the items you are currently responsible for and identify the ones that absolutely must be done now.  Next, review the other items and see which ones you can kick down the road a bit.  Use the time and energy that you free up to help those you lead apply the same concept.  You will quickly see results from the effort, and your leadership development efforts will become more effective.  You will also find yourself being more focused and more effective in doing those must do things because you won’t be thinking so much about all the other things.

RECOMMENDED RESOURCE: David Allens’ great book Getting Things Done is a valuable resource that might help you with this issue.  His core idea of getting all the things you need to do out of your mind and into some other storage device so that your mind can be clear to focus on doing what matters, is a powerful approach for personal leadership.