I’ve noticed an disturbing trend lately, the number of people I know feeling they need to share how “busy” they are with me. I’m not sure what reaction they expect from me, but I’m willing to bet it’s not the one I find myself biting my tongue about. What is “busy”? If you tell someone you’re “too busy” or “so busy”, what are you really telling them?
Webster has quite a few definitions: “1. engaged in action; 2. full of activity; 3. foolishly or intrusively active; 4. full of intrusive design.” Conspicuously absent is anything describing what you’ve accomplished; which, in my opinion, is much more important. I have no interest in working unless there I accomplish something. I’ve felt like this since my time in the Navy, when we would be told we had to stay “just in case”, or were given busy work to occupy our time.
Nowadays it’s not uncommon for me to have a 4 or 6 hour work day, because if I’ve completed what I set out to accomplish for the day and I don’t have anything else pressing I’ll often just call it quits. By the same token, there will be times when I may put in 12 or 14 hours because I really want to finish what I’ve started. But at no point will I say I’m “too busy” to do something. I will either give a reason for why I will do whatever it is I’m asked to do, or I will propose a time frame I think is reasonable taking into account whatever else I need to accomplish. If it’s a high priority, then I will either move other items or put in the longer day, as required.
When someone tells me “I’m too busy”, what I hear is “I don’t know how to manage my time”. Harsh? Perhaps, but I know many successful people who enjoy a fantastic work-life balance, and do not say they were “too busy”. In my opinion, based upon my personal experience, those who accomplish a lot are the same ones who are able to find the time to take on even more.
The trick, as I see it, is to limit activities to those which add value. For example, how much time do you (the reader) spend on Facebook, checking e-mails and/or shooting the breeze? Unless these are part of your job description, they’re probably not adding value to the work you’re paid to do. Another reason people feel busy, in my experience, is multi-tasking – trying to do several things at once. I’m not saying categorically it’s impossible to be a successful multi-tasker, because I haven’t done any research to back a claim like this up. What I am saying is it’s easy to understand why you would feel like you’re busy or overwhelmed if you have multiple projects open and you’re trying to determine (1) which one to tackle first and (2) how you’re going to get everything you think you need to get done, done.
So next time you feel like telling anyone how busy you are, ask yourself what you’re trying to accomplish. Do you want the other person to understand how much you’re doing? Are you trying to justify why you “can’t” do something? Take a moment to explore this internally, and weigh your options. What do you really need to get done, and what are you doing because it makes you feel good? What must be done during the work day to accomplish the goals and tasks set for you, and what can you put off until a break or the end of the day? In my opinion, when you stop being “busy” you’ll be amazed at how productive you can be.