You’re Busy – Yes, We Know…

You’re Busy…Yes, We Know…

In an average week I have at least a dozen conversations with people about how frequently everyone must broadcast how busy they are. These are – often – leaders who have a responsibility to be available and accessible to their people to support them, engage with them, communicate strategy [and help them see their role in it], develop them, etc. Most of the time, as leaders, these are fundamental responsibilities to their role. So, why are we not making time for these things? What are we “so busy” doing instead of our jobs? Why do we insist on telling everyone we are “super busy” all the time?

Interestingly, in 1899, Thorstein Veblen, one of the biggest theorists on conspicuous consumption, along with conspicuous leisure, suggested that to demonstrate wealth or to mark social status,  that living a leisurely life and not working is the most powerful way to signal one’s status in the eyes of others. This makes sense: if you are very wealthy, you can afford as much leisure as you wish. Holy cow – have times changed!?!?

Fast forward to today and being “busy” has now become the sign of importance and status…or has it?!

Busy Is Not A State Of Being

In today’s culture, we have come to use this word and phrase as a badge of honor and wear it loud and proud, with pride. We say the words “I am so busy” to anyone who will listen. It is often the answer to the harmless platitude of “how are you?”. We’ve built rhetoric around our status as “busy” that we share with anyone who dares to ask us about ourselves. Busy is a state of mind, NOT a state of being…this means we are in control of our destiny and our ability to organize and prioritize our day to squeeze the most success out of every moment.

We’ve blurred and blended our sense of implicit value by blathering on about “busy”. We equate that being busy is the same as being important, desired after, or overwhelmed by committed in our ambitions.

Inflaming the use of this statement is the underlying fear that maybe we’re actually not as important or valuable as we believe ourselves to be.  I hear mid- and junior-level “managers” answer their phones frequently and tell the caller they are super busy and then ask the person to send them an email or “circle back around” with them. So in order to silence these terrifying thoughts of inadequacy, we give priority to the wrong things, thinking that by just doing a lot of stuff and slaving away, then we’ll be OK…because at least we’ll appear important to the outside world.

I would, conservatively, say that 80% of the time I answer my phone I am met with the opening statement, “I know you are probably crazy busy, but can I bug you for a couple minutes“. The fact is that speaking with people, listening to them, and supporting them is my job. When I say “no, I’m not busy…what’s up?”, they are audibly surprised. The unfortunate truth is that we exist in such an excuse driven culture that to extract ourselves from our basic responsibilities, we inflate our importance by saying we’re “so busy”. It’s nonsense and it’s hurting our productivity and impeding what we can truly accomplish during the day and the week.

The irony is that if you look at legitimately successful people, they aren’t running around proclaiming how busy and overwhelmed they are. Truly successful leaders are skilled at delegating, prioritizing, and focusing only on the most critical tasks to achieve their objectives. They are master communicators and can inspire others to share, and be excited by, their vision.

Every leader who defaults to saying they are “too busy” needs to have someone call them on their nonsense and force us to stop justifying time-wasting garbage. Stop justifying playing small in life. Stop justifying spending time with the wrong people on the wrong priorities. Stop doing business with and investing in the wrong people. Stop being a victim of your job and time.

5 Ways We Self-Inflict Busyness

Being Over-Prepared But Under-Informed: We tend to believe that success requires a herculean effort [while we announce how herculean it was] and burning the proverbial “midnight oil”. We make things more difficult to prove that our work has high-value and to earn recognition. However, making a time sacrifice and adding to the complexity of what is – generally – a pretty simple issue rarely equals better results.

We Use Self-Criticism As A Performance Catalyst: Many of us believe that we need to be hyper-critical of ourselves in order to get things done. Pushing ourselves is one thing; but there is a difference between healthy striving and unhealthy self-deprecation. In Kelly McGonigal’s book, “The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Do Can Do To Get More Of It“, researchers found that self-compassion actually increases accomplishment willpower. In one research study, participants who practiced self-appreciation were four times more likely to resist eating a piece of cake than those who used shame. And, the control group – who just got cake with no message — was twice as likely to resist versus the shame-triggered group. This means it is better to take no action than to criticize yourself. Self-criticism is an extremely poor motivator, as it turns out.

We Have Been Conditioned To Believe That Multi-Tasking Is Effective: Research shows that multi-tasking lowers productivity by up to 40% and increases errors and stress. Sometimes it’s more efficient to take tasks one step at a time. De-cluttering or at least managing and controlling your digital life [as opposed to it managing and controlling yours] can also help with productivity. Organize your smartphone, consider turning off notifications during certain times of the day and at night. Spending time to cleanse or manage your online presence can help you achieve the organization goals and objectives you’ve set for yourself.

Convincing Yourself You Work Better Under Pressure: Okay – I have to admit, this used to be my M.O., seriously. I overcame this in 2016 and have never looked back except to reflect on how silly it was that I actually believed this. We create a self-imposed time crunch by procrastinating, poorly prioritizing, leaving late so we’re rushing everywhere, and waiting until the last minute to do something. Through effective time-management, focus, and prioritization you create more space for yourself in the workplace. Articulating and having a system to let people know that you are immersed in a pocket of productivity will help you create time for you to be highly-productive.

We Avoid Asking Others For Help: It’s counter-intuitive to our need to be super busy to ask for help – but, other people want to help you. They want to be your partner. They want a challenge to help overcome. Smart and driven people are problem solvers. You can shift the pattern of being too busy to being a collaborative partner to people you work with. “But what will people think if I ask for help?” – they will think you are a normal human being. Only the yentas will speculate about you – let them.  The fact is, the best of the best delegate. They do not worry about what others think; they use resources and surround themselves with enthusiastic and supportive talent. Always consider whether you are using your time in the best possible way.

3 Ways To Stop With The “I’m Too Busy”

Stop It With The Constant Email Checking & Social Media Check-Ins: According to Annabelle Action at Forbes, on average, office workers receive at least 200 messages a day and spend about two-and-a-half hours reading and replying to emails. Ugh! That’s a lot of time spent staring at a screen, a lot of it unproductive. Here are some other statistics worth noting:

  • On average, we check email 15 times a day;
  • 144 out of the 200 emails an office worker receives each day are irrelevant to them;
  • The average office employee is spending about five hours a week on their cellphone on things that have nothing to do with the job, such as answering personal email, [according to the study for the staffing firm OfficeTeam];
  • Besides using the cellphone to answer emails and sometimes visit social media sites, the employees also said they spent about 42 minutes a day on other personal tasks.

Wasted time quickly adds up  [to the tune of about eight hours per week] when you consider the time it takes to refocus and restart actual work after each stop.15 email trips each day can cost you one completed product each week. Unless you are expecting an important project-related message, each day you should schedule the 3 specific time slots for checking and responding to email.

Stop Letting The Day Control You: Most people start their days without a plan of action and end up being controlled by what others deem important or urgent, wasting critical time along the way. Sadly, those who choose to skip planning mistakenly believe they are saving time, a mistake that quickly becomes very evident to your everyone; colleagues, clients, and the team of people you are leading. A simple few minutes is all it takes to establish a short list of tasks, create a daily schedule, and prioritize your activities in the order of importance. By creating a plan each morning you’ll have much more success in follow-through on what matters most and can allocate time to each project.

Counter Workplace Interruptions With A Strategy: Studies have shown that in the workplace we generally cannot go for longer than 11 minutes without being needed or interrupted by a coworker. That being said, I have actually experienced colleagues who invite distraction into their workday and then find themselves overwhelmed with urgent work and quickly approaching deadlines.

  • Each day, choose two separate “productivity hours” where you can signal to your colleagues that you are fully immersed in a project;
  • Identify the important tasks where undivided attention is a priority;
  • Communicate your limited availability to your co-workers by having a signal that you are unavailable and provide specific alternatives for connecting with you over urgent matters;
  • Silence your cellphone: shut off your ringer and notifications – give your productivity its best shot;
  • Resisting check email outside the designated hours;
  • Disconnect from your personal social media during this period as well.

Learning the self-discipline to stay on task doesn’t always come naturally for most of us. However, once you find consistency, it will become habit and when you prioritize a task or project as highly important, you’re giving yourself permission and a strategy to say no to interruptions and get work done.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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