Ask anyone how things are going, and more often than not you’ll get the same harried response, “things are busy!”
Today’s culture, both in the workplace and in personal life, has created the idea that being busy is the same as being important. Many people wear their busyness as a badge of honour, as though it somehow shows just how much they are contributing in their role.
Unfortunately, the response “I’m busy” actually demonstrates the exact opposite. It tells people that you lack strategic focus, or that you are unable to prioritize your time effectively. It shuts down opportunities for meaningful conversation, and it perpetuates an environment where lots of tasks are being completed, but nothing is actually being done.
As an effective leader, it’s time to remove this response from your vocabulary. You’re better than that. You’re focused, creative, strategic, and you emphasize outcomes, not problems. But as soon as you say you’re busy, you discredit yourself and lose the opportunity to demonstrate your capabilities.
The problem with being busy
Busy leaders are reactive. They zero in on the tasks that are directly in front of them instead of taking the time to consider whether these tasks are truly moving the organization in the right direction.
Instead, you need to consider the strategic importance of what you are working on. This lets you focus on outcomes, and gives you a way to evaluate whether or not you’re taking the steps required to achieve these outcomes.
Of course, focusing on outcomes isn’t easy, especially if you’re frantically jumping from task to task. It requires careful and thoughtful consideration each time you’re faced with a decision.
Imagine you’ve just been invited to a last minute meeting. Unfocused leaders think “I don’t have time for this! I can’t take another meeting.” But this is problem based thinking, and it doesn’t do anything to advance your organization. Instead, ask yourself “Does this meeting move us closer to our desired outcomes?” If yes, then take the meeting enthusiastically! If not, you can remain focused on the initiatives that are a more valuable use of your time.
Overcoming busyness must be intentional
Many people fear downtime. Whether consciously or subconsciously, we’re often terrified that if we aren’t working on something, we’re wasting our time. Think of that feeling of anxiety when there is an open space in your calendar. This leads us to take on tasks that do little to achieve our desired outcomes, just so we feel we’re completing something.
However, it’s absolutely critical to recognize that taking time to be mindful, reflective, and thoughtful is not a waste of time. In fact, it’s a key attribute of being an effective leader. Making an intentional effort to be calm, focused, and strategic is good for a multitude of reasons. For one, it helps ensure you’re using your time effectively towards a clear outcome. But it also benefits your team. If you’re always flustered, hectic and running around without direction, your team will be as well, and their performance will suffer as a result.
Employees cannot be productive if things are always frantic, and maintaining this feeling will suck the life out of a project, no matter how exciting it is. Everyone needs to bring their A game, and this simply isn’t possible if the organization, or team, is constantly stressed.
My challenge to you: Stop saying you’re busy!
The next time you’re asked how things are going, take a moment to stop, think, and give an honest, interesting response. Don’t fall back on what’s easy. In doing so, you open up the conversation rather than shut it down, and you may be surprised to find out the person you’re talking to could be able to help in some way. Or, you may just learn something you didn’t know before. Either way, every interaction is an opportunity, so don’t waste it by being busy.
Instead of saying “I’m so busy” try these alternatives.
- Things are great! We just started on the XYZ project that’s in your area. Did you know..?
- Thanks for asking. I just joined a new project team to work on ABC. I heard you’ve started a new initiative as well?
- We’re working through an interesting challenge right now. We just learned about a new requirement and our team is coming up with the best solution.
Think of this as the first step to better conversations with your colleagues, and the first step to you becoming a better leader.
Jennifer Collins is CEO and Managing Director of Hazell and Collins Associates (HCA). Learn more about HCA’s leadership strategy services.