Let’s Talk … About The Modern Day Malaise of Being Busy

Whenever I meet people and ask what they have been up to, 9 times out of 10 their answer is “I’m so busy!”. This usually comes with an over-exaggerated eye roll and shoulder shrugs.

To be honest, this response is so common that it’s tempting to ignore it and turn the conversation to something else. I wonder if it’s a bit like when someone asks how you are and your unconscious answer is “yeah good”. Then you remember that actually you’re “not good” because you’ve had gastro all week!

This got me thinking … what is “I’m so busy” actually code for in today’s corporate world?

  • Is being “so busy” a modern day badge of honour? A sign of importance? Does it mean that your contribution is so valuable that no-one else can be you, replace you and do what you do? Are you in fact, that “legend in your own lunch box” that we occasionally hear about in lunchrooms around the country?
  • Is it actually a socially acceptable excuse for bad manners? Is it code for “sorry I didn’t respond to your meeting invite, email or request and now that you’re standing in front of me, I actually feel quite awkward?”.
  • Is it a self-justification? Is it code for “please don’t retrench me; I’ve just bought a caravan on higher purchase, the kids need braces and … well … I actually like working here?”.
  • Is it a sign of self-flatulation? Is it a red flag for an office narcissist or ego maniac that requires continual affirmation of their own greatness through being needed?
  • Is it a sign of someone who lacks trust in their team and can’t delegate or empower them?
  • Is it a sign of a universal lack of quality planning and organizing skills? Don’t people time manage, prioritise or play the Pareto (80/20) rule? Or …
  • Are people everywhere just genuinely busy? After all, organisations are downsizing – people are being laid-off through en-mass redundancies. There is no doubt staff are being asked to do more.

Whilst the above explanations seem “tongue in cheek,” as an executive coach I actually see some truth in all of them.

What concerns me, however, is how little people seem to do to take control of their own “busyness.” It is perhaps symptomatic of being on a mouse wheel – it isn’t until we step off, that we realise our busyness is unsustainable long term. As human beings, we can break down, get ill, and suffer other negative consequences. As an executive coach, I have experienced a definite trend of people falling ill in the first week of their holidays/annual leave.

Is busyness a drug of addiction? Do people actually want to slow down? Do they want to “un-busy” themselves but feel that they can’t, shouldn’t or daren’t? Given the impact busyness can have on one’s quality of life, stress levels and health, I would have thought there would be a genuine desire to pare things back a little.

There is, in fact, a whole “slow” movement which has been borne out of the need people feel to slow down, smell the roses and enjoy life. Carl Honore has written books including In Praise of Slow and Under Pressure. In Australia, Slow Magazine has sprung up and articles abound in other alternative and new age magazines. Interestingly, very few of these solutions seem to apply to the corporate world. Perhaps suggesting slowing down can only occur by stepping out of corporate life altogether.

Surely there are other solutions? Smart ones. Planned ones. Ones that don’t require giving up your corporate career and your career goals.

Perhaps these solutions involve:

– Stopping and reflecting on what “code” is really making you busy. Conducting a cold, hard reality check of what is driving you and your behaviour.

– Better utilising all the time-saving productivity apps that are available for next-to-nothing. Your “to do list” and time can be so much more effectively managed and tailored nowadays.

– Better identifying where the most valuable time to achieve your goals and objectives lies. Reviewing KPI’S. Reviewing actions. Reconciling these with your “to do list” (assuming you have one).

– Removing the transactional and non-value-add contributions of your role.

– Taking control of your calendar and structuring a better pace to your day, based on your own natural bio-rhythms and interests.

– Learning to say “no” to more work and survive corporately.

– Taking the time to reflect on what is working for you and what isn’t.

– Understanding the Pareto (80/20) rule and applying it to your work.

– Better delegation to (and empowerment of) your direct reports.

By working with an Executive Coach, you can explore why you are busy and what you can do to better manage this. We can help you develop strategies and tactics that will maintain your career momentum and allow you to slow down! Work smarter in your corporate job. It is possible! All it takes is the desire and a smart plan to get there.

If you are interested in discussing your situation, contact us today to book an appointment.

Let’s Talk Career has over 30 executive coaches and career coaches throughout Australia who can coach you through your interview preparation. Call us on 1800 284 255 to learn more.

We would be delighted for you to reproduce our articles, as long as they remain intact and contain the author’s details as follows: ‘Kris Reynolds is Managing Partner at Let’s Talk Career (www.letstalkcareer.com) in Australia. Kris can be contacted on 1800 284 255 or kris@letstalkcareer

Kris has over 20 years executive HR and executive coaching experience in Australian corporates. With a Masters Degree in Leadership, she works with senior executives to both improve their leadership performance and achieve greater career satisfaction.

Author: Kris

Kris has over 20 years executive HR and executive coaching experience in Australian corporates. With a Masters Degree in Leadership, she works with senior executives to both improve their leadership performance and achieve greater career satisfaction.