Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Stop Saying You're Busy

I know exactly zero adults who aren't busy. I'm busy. You're busy. We're all busy. Since we're all busy, do we really need to walk around saying how busy we are?

Busy Signals

While busy can legitimately mean we have a lot going on, it's also a word we use to send other signals - whether intentional or not.
  • Busy is a way of signaling we are no-nonsense and have important work to do. 
  • Busy is a way of signaling we don't have room on our plate for anything else so
    don't ask.   
  • Busy is a way of signaling we don't want to have a prolonged conversation with
    someone.  
  • Busy is a way of signaling we don't have our work organized and prioritized. 
  • Busy is a way of signaling we are avoiding something. 
  • Busy is a way of signaling we are overwhelmed and stressed.

Sending a New Signal

Several years ago I made a concerted effort to avoid using "busy" as my default answer to "how are you?" at work. Almost instantly I witnessed a shift in my mindset that allowed me to take a tiny but meaningful step out of the busy trap which changed the messages I was subconsciously sending to myself.

You see, I was unconsciously devoting substantial mental energy to perpetuating the story of how busy I was. When I stopped saying I was busy, I was able to take a step back and be conscious of my own underlying reasons for using busy as a signaling mechanism. I realized it's possible to be busy (which we all are) without feeling the extra weight of incorporating busyness into my persona.  

Try an Experiment

For one week refrain from using the word busy, especially when answering the question "how are you?" Notice:
  • how often you catch yourself wanting to say you are busy 
  • how often the people around you use the word busy  
  • when you are using busy as a signaling mechanism  
  • whether busyness appears to be a badge of honor in your social and professional
    circles.

So How Are You?

How will you actually answer this question if you omit busy from your vocabulary?
  1. You could answer with how you are literally feeling (e.g., happy, tired, etc) and why.
     
  2. You could answer with what you are doing with your time that makes you want to
    say you are busy.  For example:
    • My mind is on how to untangle issue [X]. 
    • Today I wish I had a clone so I could simultaneously write my presentation while handling the project planning for the new performance review cycle.  
    • I have three competing priorities this week and I haven't made peace with them yet.

I won't pretend that I don't slip up use busy as an answer to "how are you?" - but I definitely use it with far less frequency and am happier for it.