“Are you busy?”

A few years into my career, I came to believe that there’s only one right answer to that question.

“Yes, of COURSE I’m busy!”

For me and my colleagues, being busy was a badge of honor. It even felt dangerous not to be fully occupied because people might conclude your services aren’t in demand and start wondering whether you’re worth keeping on the payroll.

Our version of comedian George Burns’ joke when asked about his age, “I can’t die now – I’m booked!” would have been “I can’t be fired now – I’m busy!”

And there’s the adrenalin rush of feeling like you’re in the thick of the action and so busy with the job at hand that you can’t think about anything or anyone else. Just like the elite marathon runner who grabs water from staff along the racecourse with no time to stop and chat.

The Problem with Being Busy

They say that “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”, so the people most capable of handling challenging assignments are given more of them.

At the start, it feels important and even satisfying to be that busy leader. The more you take on, the more you achieve and the more you are rewarded. 

But longer term, being that busy leader will ultimately hurt your career and relationships (and probably your health too).

When your calendar is packed with back-to-back meetings, there’s no time to think strategically. This puts you at risk of missing the subtle signals of when change is needed, and your status quo won’t work in the longer term.

Having a to-do list that keeps expanding makes it hard to prioritize what matters most, including taking care of yourself and building key relationships at work and at home. And leaving it too long leads to people giving up trying to talk to you because you’ve made it clear through your actions that you’re too busy doing more important things.

When the channels of communications close off, that’s where the real trouble begins. You’ll miss out on opportunities to tap into your team’s creativity, coach them to better performance, address issues before they become big problems, and advance important-but-not-urgent projects that set your group up for next level success.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Imagine what it would mean to your career and your relationships if you could build some flexibility into your schedule to think strategically about your business and career. Imagine being able to take advantage of spontaneous moments to connect with your team, or do something fun with friends and family?

How to Stop Being Busy

It starts with realizing that it’s not always good to be busy. Only if it’s the kind of busy that serves your bigger mission and purpose, and not the “busy work” that simply keeps you looking like you’re gainfully occupied.

Then figuring out what’s causing your busy-ness so you can do something about it.

To what extent is it driven by external factors like having too many projects or not enough staffing? To what degree is it due to internally motivated reasons like enjoying the adrenaline rush of achieving results and being that marathon runner who’s at the center of attention?

Whatever is fueling your busy-ness, there’s some kind of pay-off or benefit you’re getting from it – like feeling needed, being important, getting kudos for doing the job of three people, or believing you’re more likely to stay employed.

Once you understand the cause and benefits of your being so busy, the range of possible solutions will become clearer.

You may even find that making one or two small changes are all that’s needed to set you on course for letting go of the “busy work” and living the life you want.

What Will You Do?

Whether you decide to delegate more, say “no” to non-essential meetings, let go of perfection as your standard, or something completely different, it’s in your interest to take action to address your “busy-ness”.

Left unchecked, being “so busy” will ultimately stand in the way of advancing in your career and having trusted relationships with the people who matter most in your life.

Wherever you stand in your career, know that busy-ness is overrated. The upside is open to debate and the downside is the potential to damage your career, your relationships and your health.

It’s time to give yourself permission to create some flexibility in your schedule so you can stop being so busy and start focusing on what matters most.

How could you create some flexibility in your schedule so you can stop being so busy and start living the life you truly want?

Leave a comment and let me know.