We all know that person, who when asked how they are, their first response is “I’m so busy!” Then they launch into a list of all the things they have on their plate or complain about how they just can’t seem to get anything done simply because they are always so busy. It’s easy to assume that they must be very important to be that busy, however I’d like to challenge you to step back and look at what it truly means to be so busy that you are often overwhelmed.

Rarely have I found that being busy directly translates into productivity. More often than not, I have found that being overworked and busy are things that are self-inflicted and a reflection on a person’s ability (or lack thereof) to prioritize. Some of the most exceptional leaders I have worked with are ones that know how to prioritize their to-do list. They choose the activities, responsibilities and projects they dive into with care, and they know how to filter out unnecessary noise. In effect, they keep their to-do list manageable and don’t allow it to grow out of control.

That is not to say that people who know how to prioritize don’t have a full plate, on the contrary, they often have a number of different responsibilities, but they have made conscious choices on what they agree to take on and how they spend their time. They know that they don’t need to be in every meeting and they don’t need to be in charge of everything going on within the organization. They delegate to others on their team and focus their efforts on what they are really good at. Often outstanding leaders aren’t the ones regularly working long hours because they have learned how to be efficient within standard working hours. They prioritize their list and they know when it’s appropriate to say no.

The next time you hear someone complain about how busy they are, or maybe you catch yourself using the dreaded “B” word, stop and take an objective look at the situation. You may find that there is an opportunity to turn a frantic situation into an opportunity to become an efficient leader.