Busy: A story we tell ourselves

Two executives bump into each other in a lift. One asks the other how she is going. She replies “Busy”. It is almost an instinctive answer that we give when asked the question. But we are all busy. I reckon that busy is the story we tell ourselves when we have not prioritised our time effectively.

Henry David Thoreau once said “It is not enough to be busy; so are ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” 

If you are always so busy that it becomes the badge of honour that you display when asked how you are, maybe you have let too much low value work into your schedule, or failed to prioritise what you have on your plate effectively. Now I can hear some of you say “But we have no other option – this all needs to get done and I am expected to do it”. I hear you, but respectfully suggest that you always have options. You just need to get creative and go beyond your initial reaction of OK, I will do it.

Here are some thought starters:

  1. Say no more often. It is a small but powerful word
  2. Push back on urgent deadlines. They are rarely as urgent as people make out
  3. Plan your meetings and priorities for the week ahead, and make them both visible in your schedule
  4. Be clear about your most important priorities for the month ahead, and fight for the time to work on those things
  5. See workload negotiation as a positive and necessary skill. I bet your line manager is good at it!
  6. Delegate more. And remember, you don’t have to be the boss to delegate to others
  7. Negotiate how much time you will spend on activities. For instance, agree to attend 15 minutes of a meeting to deliver your action, rather than attend the whole meeting
  8. Don’t look at gaps in your schedule as ‘free time’. See these gaps as time to get your priorities done, and protect them well
  9. Be ruthless in controlling your schedule. If you don’t, they will

Change your mindset and automatic response. Next time you are asked how you are, don’t just say ‘busy’ - say ‘productive’

Which actions can you take today to reduce your “busyness”?