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Genuinely busy or disorganised? Which are you?

We often see the new year as an opportunity for a fresh start or to try something new. Our new year gift to you for 2020, is to consider how you use the word ‘busy’.

Being busy is a seemingly routine expression, part of everyday organisational life. We’ve probably all told colleagues that we are busy or even ‘too busy’ and we’ve certainly heard others say the same. However, as we’ll explain, being vocal about being busy could be a barrier to opportunities and hinder communication.

Whether you are a leader or a team member, how you use the word ‘busy’ sends a signal to others - and they might not interpret being busy the same way as you do.


What do we mean by being busy?

The Cambridge definition of busy has two distinctions

  1. If you are busy, you are working hard or giving your attention to a particular thing
  2. To make time pass by doing something

Consider these distinctions; being busy could be giving focused attention to something productive, or you could just be passing time. To a lot of people the word ‘busy’ has become a badge of honour, but as everyone has only 24 hours in a day could it also be a sign of disorganisation?

Let’s explore some of the deep rooted reasons why people wear ‘busy’ as a badge. It seems to be a way of saying I’m important, in demand, needed, special - without actually saying it. It understandably fits with many of our ego needs, if you are busy you must be valuable right?


The darker side to being busy

In accepting being busy as a response from other people (usually to your ‘how are you doing?’ enquiry), you could be adding fuel to a very unhelpful way of thinking for that person. If their ego is hedged on being busy and valuable, you are validating that if you say ‘oh brilliant good for you’.

Alternatively ‘busy’ can be a bit like the word ‘fine’, it’s an acceptable thing to say but can hide what’s really going on for that person. This is not really a problem in general conversation, but if you hear this from a team member you might want to stop and ask them more about it. They could be having trouble managing their time, or they could be swamped, and you risk ignoring that by letting it go.


Sowing the seeds of burnout

We find that generally, early career people are less likely to admit to having a time management problem. Most of the Time Mastery programmes we run are attended by seasoned managers and senior leaders, when it is, apparently, ok to admit you’re finding it hard to manage your time.

But as a courageous early career analyst said to us recently ‘early career people feel they have to be seen as coping, sucking it all up. It’s not ok to admit you’re finding it hard to prioritise, organise yourself and communicate your time boundaries’. Arguably though, that stage in your career is exactly when you need to start thinking about these issues, to avoid problems later. Being busy, and not addressing it, could be the start of a slippery slope that leads to burnout. 


Why you should re-frame how you use ‘busy’

If you are not overwhelmed, consider using busy in your language mindfully. Using busy as a verbal crutch can get you left out of important meetings and projects because people think you don’t have time and also stop from people raising problems to you early for the same reason.

People we work with are replacing ‘busy’ with ‘working on some really interesting projects’ ‘enjoying all I’m working on’ or even ‘we are taking time to think things through at the moment, it’s great’.

This sets a more healthily bar for those looking to you for guidance, it’s a more accurate account of what’s going on and you don’t risk people thinking that you are probably just disorganised.


In conclusion

There is a lot going on beneath the surface of ‘busy’. We use it often and probably intend others to get the impression that we are in demand and valuable. However, what they might really be thinking is that we may have a time management problem or, even worse, that don’t have the time for them. As a consequence, others might hold back on what could be important conversations. However, some re-framing of the language we use to describe being busy can send out much more positive signals.

There is also a danger in not dealing with the problems behind being busy, particularly in the earlier stages of a career. Left unaddressed, being busy can become the norm. That’s why it’s good to ask team members to tell you more when you hear them say they are busy.


For further information

We’ve mentioned that we all have the same 24 hours in a day to use. Rather than being busy, how much more effective would it be to be able to master the time we have? That’s why we’ve developed our Time Mastery programmes.

Time Mastery is about understanding your time challenges and taking back control by making simple changes to your day to day activity. It’s also about helping others see how they use their time - so they then become more efficient and productive.

Find out more about Time Mastery here.

You may also like to read a recent article written by John McLachlan for People Management. From working quickly to celebrating busyness, we misunderstand the best ways to organise our workloads. Read ‘Our time management misconceptions need to be debunked’.

How Can We help?

How else can we help?

If you’d like our support in making these ideas work for you and your business, please get in touch.

Click here to contact us

Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

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