"Too busy." How many times do I hear that each day? I'm guilty of uttering those words more regularly than I'd like to admit.
It's a catchphrase that we all immediately get, but it's indicative of a bigger problem, an unconscious relationship to our work, or an inauthentic excuse for not participating. It's also interwoven with the very fabric of our society, a notion I'd like to challenge.
Let's start with work. "Too busy," on its own, conveys the following:
- My work life is chaotic, and I can't easily explain to you what I'm working on right now.
- I'm not sure what I'm working on; otherwise, I'd say it.
- I don't have the time or feel a priority to explain what I'm working on at the moment.
- Don't question me, move on.
In personal relationships, "too busy" is a fantastic brush-off statement. It's the go-to decline for social invites. In a Harvard Business School study, 300 students were asked to invite a friend to dinner and then log the excuses. "Too busy" as a low-trust excuse. It unloads the locus of the conversation between two people onto a third party; work.
In American society, "too busy" is also a perverse badge of honor. Since our inception, our Puritan work-ethic values sought to eradicate laziness and etch that lie in our social fabric. A hard worker was worthy of God's salvation, but those who couldn't self-motivate were damned.
In another Harvard study, "Conspicuous Consumption of Time: When Busyness and Lack of Leisure Time Become a Status Symbol," the researchers concluded that "a busy and overworked lifestyle, rather than a leisurely lifestyle, has become an aspirational status symbol." Please give me another espresso; I've got work to do.
It seems "too busy" is "too easy" and "too accepted" by this culture of ours. When I survey my peers, I see a smoldering heap of burnt-out, over-worked, frayed, and unfocused individuals who do their best to provide for their families, let alone the so-called American Dream. We're sacrificing our relationships with ourselves and one another: our collective physical and mental health care is at the bottom of the list of developed countries. We don't even rank in the top 25 healthiest in the World.
Spain sits in the number one seat, which doesn't surprise me. When I was there in 2017, I remember a local saying, "We love Americans, you live to work, and we work to live. You make our economy work better." Well, ain't that the truth? I could feel it; the people of Spain did not feel stressed. They enjoyed late-day family meals with friends and extended family. During the day, they would sit outside and enjoy a drink with a friend or co-working; their mobile phones were nowhere in sight. Oh, and most employees get 30 days of paid vacation, which they entirely use.
Yes, that seems like a deviation from the topic of "too busy," but it's important to give context if we're going to start clearly saying what we mean.
To eliminate "too busy," a few things have to happen:
- We need to slow down. Take the time to think about what you are about to say and what we're trying to convey. Are you trying to communicate clearly? Impress? Avoid? All are acceptable options; be clear! For me, it's usually to impress, "look at me so busy and important that I can't even begin to share how important I am. I'm an entrepreneur; that's what we do, duh. " Damn that Ego.
- Take inventory. What is taking up your time, energy, and focus? Can you share that without using "busy"? Perhaps if you take the time to share the uniqueness of what you are busy with, you might find support or commonality with others. Imagine that, building a relationship!
- Be ok with downtime. For well over 18 years I always FELT that I couldn't stop keeping busy. Mostly my busyness was around work, and I could always manufacture something to work on at any moment. I sprinted from the word "bored," in fact I told my children it was the worst word they could speak (bad Dad). Downtime, what the hell would I do with that? That's idol productivity right there. Yet I later learned that in downtime I was growing exponentially more than from keeping busy.
So how does this challenge look, and why would you take it?
Time and the attention we give it is the only thing we truly own. When we're caught in the whirlwind of the day-to-day without stopping for even a brief moment, life slowly passes us. It's not with a woosh, but more a slow drip over time. It wears patterns in our behaviors and relationships that make our lives automatic.
Elimating the unconscious response of "too busy," forces us to take conscious control of what we say and do, and that effects how we relate to everyone around us, including ourselves. It allows us to regain control of our lives by simply eliminating a phrase that has become far to commonplace and acceptable.
I'm curious what will happen for you if you stop saying you are "too busy."