Please don’t take this the wrong way, but…
I don’t care how busy you are.
I’m busy, you’re busy, we’re all busybusybusy.
So why do we always feel it’s necessary to broadcast our busy-ness to the world?
(Time-out: Did you know this blog post is also in audio format? Scroll down to access the “blogcast” version!)
Let me back up. Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that many of us (including me!) have a conditioned response to the question “How are you?” or “How’s your day going?” It’s often “I’m so busy!” or a variation of that sentiment: “I’m swamped,” “I’m overwhelmed,” “I have too much to do,” and even, “I’m tired”… because I’m so busy.
Recently I had an email exchange with the assistant of an admittedly very busy entrepreneur. Even though she responded “yes” to my request (which was asking for this person’s time), every single email reiterated how busy/swamped/maxed out this person was.
After the fourth time, I actually started talking back to my email inbox: “I know, I get it, you’re important and busy!”
And at that moment, I promised myself I would try to never respond to anything with “I’m so busy.”
It was validating to read about this very point when I picked up a copy of Rory Vaden’s new book, “Procrastinate on Purpose: 5 Permissions to Multiple Your Time.” (Anything that gives me permission to procrastinate is my kind of book!) One of his first messages is that people who are “Multipliers” (high-achievers who focus on results, not urgency) never talk about how busy they are. Then he
invites implores us to stop talking about it, too.
Thank you, Rory!
Almost no one I know is immune from the conditioned “I’m so busy” response. I’ve done it, my husband does it, my friends and colleagues do it. Saying “I don’t care” isn’t meant to be rude. It’s that your busy-ness isn’t what I care about when it comes to you! I want to know what you’re excited about, challenged by, curious about. I want to be able to be supportive; without specifics, that’s hard to do.
When we say “I’m so busy,” we’re sending a range of possible messages. One is that, “I’m so important, look at how busy I am!” Another is “I can’t manage my time.” We might be giving ourselves an out, so that when we need to wiggle out of something later, we can always say “I mentioned how busy I was…” Rory says that it also means we don’t know how to say “no.” Maybe we keep telling ourselves and others that we’re busy as an avoidance technique, and it helps us to justify putting off things we don’t want to do.
For introverts, it’s a massive energy drain. Being busy is a drain, yes… but repeating the story and letting it become an ongoing part of our narrative is giving it more power than it deserves. It reinforces this idea that “I’m never going to get it all done oh I’m so tired I’ve been so busy I think it’s time for a nap.” When you say “I’m so busy” (and often it doesn’t stop there, it’s followed by a laundry list of everything you’re busy doing), it’s taking up time and energy that could be spent reinforcing what you want to create.
And if you’re an entrepreneur, it’s even MORE important. You owe it not only to yourself, but to your customers, clients, and colleagues to cultivate a mindset that reflects your ability to manage yourself, your time, and your priorities.
Even if you don’t feel in control, it’s good to practice looking and sounding like you’re in control!
If we swear off talking about how busy we are, we make space to share things that energize us – and the person we’re talking to. Instead of broadcasting an “I’m so busy” message, consider these alternatives:
“I’m doing well! Lots of great things are happening. I’m especially excited about…”
“I’m good – I’ve been working on some really interesting projects lately…”
“Things are great! I’m grateful for the different clients I’m working with right now…”
“It’s a bit challenging right now. There’s a product I’m trying to get to market and…”
“There’s a lot to juggle right now, but I’ve got it!”
“I’d love to help you, can we look at early next month?”
“The next time I have available to talk is in two weeks. Does that work for you?”
No complaining. No self-aggrandizing. No buzz kills.
I’ve found every time I’ve been tempted to say “I’m so busy!” and I’ve replaced it with a positive, specific response, I’ve felt lighter. Less stressed. It’s rewiring my brain away from “I’m so busy!” to “I’m in control.”
This is not about denying the reality of our busy lives. There may be times when we really need to process how busy we are, and that’s fine. We need to sort through the pile of priorities with a friend, coach, or partner. Even when you do that, approach it in the spirit of asking for and receiving support. Frame it in such a way that invites problem-solving, not just venting.
Here are some things you can do to make the shift:
- Accept that being “busy” – having more to do than there are hours in the day for – is a fact of life. For everyone. If you’re not asleep, you’re mentally or physically busy.
- Ask yourself – and be honest: what’s behind your “I’m so busy”? Is it venting? Habit? An expression of self-importance? An avoidance technique? It’s also useful to consider what kind of response you hope to get from the listener: sympathy, help, admiration, enabling, commiseration?
- Vow to stop saying “I’m so busy.”
- If you do say it (and you will), catch yourself: “Wait, what I meant to say was…” or something to that affect.
- Practice alternative responses that reflect options available, progress you’ve made, or areas in which you want support. If that isn’t appropriate or doesn’t feel natural yet, simply say “I’m doing well. How are you?” No need to elaborate; the main point is to say almost anything other than “I’m so busy.”
- When someone says it to you, ask her, “Well, how can I support you?” This introduces the idea of choice into the mix, without sounding sanctimonious or making assumptions about what the other person needs or wants.
Discussion of this topic – and all of the related issues of time management, prioritization, self-management, procrastination – could (and probably does) fill a room full of books. But rather than try to tackle the whole hairy beast at once, I invite you to start changing your story by doing this one, tiny, very controllable thing:
Stop saying “I’m so busy” and start saying “I’ve got this.” Because you do!
What’s been your experience? Do you find yourself saying “I’m so busy” a lot, or hearing it from others? How does it affect you? Please share in the comments!
PS: My interview with Rory Vaden was great fun, and as an introvert himself, he offered some fabulous information I know will resonate with you. That podcast will be posted in early March, so please, stay tuned (and subscribe, if you’ve not already!)