“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”
–Henry David Thoreau
Have you noticed how busy everyone is lately?
(Or at least how much people like to talk about how busy they are?)
The signs are everywhere: unanswered emails, appointments cancelled or rescheduled at the last minute, showing up late to the first appointment of the day.
I’ve even noticed a bit of this creeping into my own life and language as well lately.
So, I’m gonna go out on a limb here, and call it for what it is:
Saying you’re too busy is a total excuse.
Yup, an excuse.
I’m not suggesting that saying you’re too busy isn’t in someway true: you probably do have a lot of important stuff going on.
Notice, too, how really great it sounds to talk about how busy you are: we get praise from others for being busy, productive and engaged.
But I find that when it becomes a constant habit to talk about how over busy we are, I notice that we are often trying to communicate something else.
When we say we’re too busy or express our over busy-ness in chronic lateness or delay, what we really mean is:
1) This meeting/appointment/conversation wasn’t really that important to me.
2) I have so many good things going on in my life!
3) I don’t really know what is important to me.
4) I don’t know how to organize my time effectively.
5) I’m overwhelmed, exhausted or distracted.
6) I need some help.
Do any of these ring a bell for you?
Rather than hiding behind a socially acceptable screen of busy-ness, you’ll make things clearer and easier for yourself and others by saying what is actually true (as well as probably saving time and energy you could use to better and more productive ends).
If you’ve bought into the cult of ‘too busy’ as well, try this:
1) If a meeting isn’t important enough to show up for on time, why are you having it? Is it really a priority for you right now? Saying “no” or “not now” may be a better use of everyone’s time and effort.
2) Get clear about your values and your priorities. Post them on your wall, in your wallet, on your phone. Refer to them often and use them as a guide to make decisions about how you spend your time.
3) Celebrate the fullness of your life and embrace what is great about it! What can you be grateful for – your health, stamina, good fortune, hard work, etc – in this time of bounty and goodness?
4) Block off time in your day for both the most important and the most typically time draining tasks. Spend your time like currency: the most time should be doing towards the most important, the least amount of time towards the most draining or less important tasks.
For example, turning off email and blocking specific times of the day to systematically deal with it is one way of eliminating a common time suck/distraction. Focus your energy on your most important activities and find ways to eliminate or delegate the others.
5) Learn how to ask for help. Asking for help is one of the most underutilized leadership skills but makes you stronger, rather than weaker or less effective.
6) Find ways to rest and restore yourself. In our society people are driving themselves to the point of exhaustion or illness before they will pause. I find that procrastination, overwhelm and distraction are often symptoms of the need for a real break. Exercise, sleep and meditation or other spiritual practices are non-negotiable and legitimate daily needs for leaders.
In the Comments section below, I’d love to hear from you. Tell me:
– How do you get caught up in the cult of busy-ness?
– What real and legitimate needs do you have underneath the excuses?
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