Why Being Busy is Overrated
“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.
May, you have said it so well!! I think women fall into a trap sometimes of thinking that being busy is always good. You have pointed out some excellent points on the trap of being too busy all the time. Well said!! I have certainly been there.
Thanks, Marty. So much is about how we’re socialized, isn’t it?
I agree. It really is somewhat dependent on how we are socialized through schooling, work culture or simply how we grew up. The first 20+ years of my work life was spent “doing” vs “planning” my career. I was so wrapped up in proving myself I lost sight of the long game until I had a mentor once tell me you should really only plan work during 60% of your work day, and the rest goes to emergencies (that really are rare), and other activities to take care of those similar things discussed in the article.
This was a very informative article and good advice.
Thank you for sharing your experiences and this sage advice from your mentor. I love it!
I first step in getting control of your life (work and personal) is to say NO to non-essential anything (meetings, tasks, requests, etc.)! People are busy for two reasons; either they have too much work to do or if they do not seem to be doing anything they become expendable (Not enough work to justify to expense of having the extra employee).
In the first case, with too much work the approach should be to examine the work, tasks, and/or projects and delegate those items that you are not the best person for the task or someone can do a better job than you can. Then go through some process like the Eisenhower Matrix to see where you should focus your energy (yes, there is probably more items you should delegate than you first thought).
If you are busy because you have completed all of your tasks and you do not want to be classified as expendable; then work on the skills to either improve your current position or need for your promotion which you richly deserve.
Thank you Dennis – great suggestions here to be busy with the right things (especially working on the skills to improve)!