Mindfulness in Medicine: Breaking the Busyness Cycle

Marlene Chism

Marlene Chism

Consultant, corporate speaker and author
Anne Bruce

Anne Bruce

Author and Leadership Consultant

Published November 05, 2014

Welcome to Mindfulness in Medicine, a monthly column by best-selling author Anne Bruce designed to cultivate leadership and collaborative relationships among hospital leaders, nurses, providers and ancillary staff. Mindfulness is a powerful leadership tool that enhances emotional intelligence in medicine. It is a tool that, when practiced, can help us develop and implement relational coaching skills and illuminate various ways to improve hospital operations and cross-departmental performance. Mindfulness also improves our capacity for decision-making and participatory medicine, all while enhancing our own health and well-being. Your comments and insights on these postings are greatly valued.

This month in Mindfulness in Medicine, I am honored to showcase my good friend Marlene Chism’s work. Marlene’s consultancy background includes numerous hospitals and professional healthcare associations, physician groups, nursing associations and others. The following piece regarding the myths and realities of being too busy seems extremely timely and topical when it comes to dealing with busy schedules facing everyone in healthcare today.

Healthcare Professionals: Myths and Realities of Being Too Busy

If you listen closely, almost every healthcare professional talks about being too busy.

Being busy is a great way to stunt your leadership growth. After all, if you are busy, you have an excuse that covers many mistakes, including "missing" on a core clinical measure or looking the other way when a team member shortcuts the agreed-upon process. You feel better about putting off large-scale changes that could reap big rewards for your patients.

We keep trying to solve the “too busy” problem with time-management courses or new technology, but the problem of being too busy still exists and results in decreased performance metrics, less satisfied patients and increased stress and anxiety for ourselves.

What I’ve discovered by mistake is that besides the inability (or unwillingness) to see the choices, being too busy is usually a result of the failure to delegate. So if delegation is the answer, why don’t we do it more often? We fail to delegate for these three reasons:

1. Process
2. Trust
3. Vacuum


When you are good at something, or you have done something yourself for years, you become unconsciously competent. In other words, you can do the job without thinking. The drawback is that you do not understand the step-by-step process needed to break the job down into “modules” so that you can effectively train someone else to do it for you.

On some level, you probably realize that you don't need to be personally writing the schedule every month, or that there's no compelling reason that your assistants can't represent your department on certain committees. Yet the act of training someone else to take over seems like more work than it's worth. And so you put off the hand off.

I can relate. For years, I handled all of my own social media posting and blogging, booked my own travel and formatted my own contracts. When I hired an executive assistant to do those things for me, it was difficult to know where to start and hard to believe someone could do what I’d been doing for years any better than I could.

Boy, was I wrong. I now realize that a lot of the problem was really about trust.


If you have mastered the process of training someone to do what you do, the next step is to actually allow someone else to take charge. This requires that you trust.

You must trust the other person to deliver. You must trust yourself to mentor, or to initiate difficult conversations around performance. You must learn to trust yourself to handle disappointment. You must trust yourself to stay out of the way while the other person learns.

Before I started trusting, I would make an assignment and then do it myself. I know it sounds crazy, but if you ask employees, this is not uncommon.

The inability to trust someone else to do something as efficiently or eloquently as you is often a disguise for a deeper need: the need to be important. If you listen closely to a leader, owner or entrepreneur, you will hear a variation of, “No one can do this as well as I can.” This may be about trust, or it may be a hidden agenda to prove your superiority.

In order to fully trust, you have to get rid of some beliefs about yourself and others that may be holding you back. Once you handle the trust issue, the vacuum awaits.


When you eliminate anything from your life, you create a vacuum. It doesn’t matter if you empty your office of furniture or you eliminate a dreaded task from your workday. Elimination creates a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum.

When you hand over some of your work to someone else, you immediately have extra time. Now that your mind is not preoccupied, there is time to think. The thoughts that come to you may not be pleasant. You may wonder what to do next. You may resent the fact that someone can do the job that you thought only you could do. This can create worry and anxiety.

In addition, there’s no excuse to drop balls. You have time to communicate with other departments, troubleshoot throughput issues and spot-check your staff to ensure they're following procedure. When you don’t make good use of your time, the best excuse again is to find a way to be too busy. Now you get distracted to fill the empty time. You start a new project without enough time to finish.

We must face the fact that most of us equate being busy with being important. If you don’t agree with me on this, do an experiment. The next time someone starts talking about how busy they are, say this in response: “Wow, I have so much extra time, I’m not even sure how to use it.” You’ll stop people dead in their tracks. Stop competing with others about how busy they are and see what happens.

Who are you without your deadlines, overwhelm and busy schedule? What do you really have to talk about if you can’t complain about all the work you have to do? It can feel a little strange. In order to fill the vacuum, you worry about things you never thought about. Being busy kept you from the awareness of these thoughts and feelings. It’s easy to be too busy. It takes leadership and personal growth to delegate.

Points to Ponder

1. How many times a day do you talk about being too busy?
2. What tasks could you cross train someone to do?
3. What are the reasons you do not delegate some of your tasks?

About the Authors

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and author of Stop Workplace Drama (Wiley 2011). Marlene’s passion is developing wise leaders and helping people to discover, develop and deliver their gifts to the world.

Marlene’s message for today’s healthcare professionals and others is spreading across the country at association meetings, corporate retreats, universities and other venues. If interested in exploring speaking or training opportunities, please call 888-434-9085.

Anne Bruce has provided training and performance coaching for Vituity. She also serves as MBSI's Employee Development Coach and Leadership Facilitator. Anne is a bestselling author with more than 20 books published by McGraw-Hill Publishing, New York. She considers her award-winning life-coaching book, Discover True North: A 4-Week Approach to Ignite Passion and Activate Potential (McGraw-Hill Publishing) to be one of her most "mindful" books to date. She also leads a popular Discover True North Expedition group on LinkedIn. Anne can be reached at 214-507-8242 or by writing to her at

[Image credit: "Doctor Hand" by Jared Rodriguez licenced under CC BY 2.0]

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