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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Henze

What does "I'm busy" really mean?

For those who enjoy mildly competitive games, I have a fun one for you...


Count the number of times you hear or see the word "busy" in response to how someone is doing for the rest of today. It could be in an email, text, or verbally coming from you or others.


If you decide to play, you may be surprised at how often you hear this word. I played this game on a few separate occasions over the past 3 months, and I discovered that I hear the word "busy" an average of 47 times per day 😮


It came up most frequently in these situations:

  1. When asked "how are you?/how was your day?" - "I'm busy"

  2. "I apologize for the delayed response, I have been very busy"

  3. When asked "Do you have time to connect this week?" - "I'm really busy so it will need to wait".

Most of you have probably uttered an iteration of one of these phrases. Describing ourselves as "busy" has become a badge of honor in our society. We think "busy" means that we are important, valued, and have a purpose. We believe it is a sign of a hard worker, and it will help us accomplish our goals.


The problem is, this is FALSE! It is a word that I have intentionally eliminated from my vocabulary, and I encourage you to do the same for 3 specific reasons.


  1. "Busy" is not a feeling. If we tell someone we are "busy" when they ask how we are doing, it does not tell them anything about our emotional state. The connection stops because the "busy" response lacks vulnerability and authenticity. If you want to build a relationship with your coworkers, tell them how you really feel. Are you feeling stressed, overwhelmed, or depleted? Or do you feel invigorated, jazzed, and motivated? All of these feelings can come from being "busy".

  2. Doing more work and working longer hours does not equate to success. If we want to truly achieve our strategic objectives and grow our organization, we must work smarter, not harder. Rather than taking on more work in attempt to look "busy", think critically about what tradeoffs you can make to save more time and energy for the work that will really help you meet your goals.

3. "Busy-ness" will not cultivate a connected culture. At it's core an organization is a community of people that are aligned to a common purpose (the mission or vision of the Company). To fulfill this purpose, the culture needs to be more than just a group of people that accomplish lots of tasks. Employees need to devote time to build intimate relationships, establish trust, and have space to create new ideas. This happens when we pick our heads up from our work and spend time and energy truly getting to know the people in our community.






So how do we not only eliminate the word "busy" from our culture, and also become less "busy". I will leave you with 2 practical tips that come directly from my Focus and Prioritize Module.


Align your team's work to your strategic goals. If there is a project or task that does not directly align to one of your goals, ask yourself "can we eliminate this for 1 month and see if it makes a difference?"


Slow down. The majority of rework occurs because we are moving too quickly. Stop multitasking and trying to squeeze 7 emails into 5 minutes. Do less but do it more effectively. The most important work will rise to the top!


I'll leave you with a short practice from my Focus and Prioritize Digital Toolkit:


“To Do” List Redo

Time: 10 minutes

Purpose: This exercise helps you prioritize your work based on what matters most. Ultimately this creates a greater sense of meaning and balance in your workday.


  1. Rather than creating to do lists and going through each day trying to check off tasks, use mindfulness to determine your highest priorities.

  2. Ask yourself “How are each of these tasks connected to my vision and strategy?” or “What outcome am I hoping to gain from completing this task?”

  3. If you have a hard time answering these questions, consider whether you still need to complete the task!



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