You're Not That Busy

Me:  “How are you?”
You:  “Oh my gosh.  I am so busy.”
Me:  “Really?  What are you avoiding by being so busy?”

Please do not tell me how busy you are.  It undermines your power.  It shows that you do not have control.  It shows me that you’re avoiding something.  We’re all pretty occupied with different things going on in our lives but when did busy become the means for people to communicate their value (I’m busy, therefore I must be pretty important)?  It’s a funny thing.  On one level “busy” connotes importance.  On another level, “busy” is the catch-all for complaining about the exact situation you don’t want to be in.  Which is it?  Both?  Neither?  What’s underneath busy? 

Here are 3 things that “Being Busy” might imply:

  1. Poor Time Management.  People that are busy tend to struggle with boundaries and have difficulty “time boxing” their day to specific periods to get specific things done.  There is a theory called the Parkinson’s Law where we will tend to fill up the time allocated.  Give me 10 hours and I’ll use it all for something that I could probably do in two.

  2.  Everything is Urgent and Important.  When everything is important and urgent, nothing is important and urgent.  People that are really busy tend to believe that everything is critical and time sensitive, hence they want to get it all done as soon as possible.  So things are always hectic and stressful.  Side note - these are really difficult people to work for

  3. You’re Avoiding Something, Usually Relationships.  Being busy (especially for work related items) can sometimes by symptomatic of avoiding relationships in your life.  They could be with your spouse, family or friends.  Work is solace and a great justification for why you are too busy to attend to the other areas of your life.

So consider these strategies to be a little less busy and a whole lot more interesting:

  1. Embrace Deep Work.  The idea of Deep Work is focusing, without distraction on a single targeted task.  When we get distracted by a buzz, a beep, a notification, it is estimated to take 23 minutes and 15 seconds after we get distracted to re-focus.  Without distraction, you will accomplish a task faster and with more clarity.

  2.  Take your Time Available and Cut it by 20%.  Back to the point above on Parkinson’s Law, force your time availability to be 20% less and I guarantee you will get the same amount of work done (or more) with greater efficiency and creativity.

  3.  Define Your Critical Success Factors.  I have written before about Critical Success Factors but the point is to get clear on the critical few at the expense of the trivial many.  Often times we are so busy because we are trying to do too many things, most of which don’t matter.  Stop doing them.

  4.  Start a Decision Log.  Kudos to my partner Eric Page for this idea but consider the idea of logging your decisions during the day and then assessing if those decisions and associated actions could have been accomplished by someone else on your team or a vendor.  I often find that I’ll do the work because I can get it done faster but that is not the highest and best use of my time.  Start writing it down and analyzing when you are busy on things you should not be doing.

  5. Be Honest About Your Avoidance.  If you’re working because you’re not willing to face a personal relationship challenge, then you are out of integrity.  Integrity, as defined by Conscious Leadership, entails emotional intelligence, doing what you say you will do, taking full responsibility for your actions, and conscious communication (where what I feel matches how I act).

Okay, so what if now you aren’t so busy?  Does that mean you’re less important?  NO!  What it means is that you have created more time to be more interesting, to be able to talk about things that will better connect you to friends, family, colleagues and new introductions.  Please don’t strive to be busy.  It’s not a power move. Strive to be less busy and more engaged in the things in your life that make you a whole person.

Russell Benaroya