Stop Saying You’re Busy

Stop Saying You're Busy

How are you doing?

If you’re like a lot of people, your response to that question is problem some form of faux-exasperated “busy.”

In western culture, “how are you doing?” is basically just a rhetorical greeting—a form of “hello.” But despite this, more and more people are responding back not with another pleasantry but with a humble brag of “busy.”

You might even think it’s the truest response to a question about your current status. But the truth is that a quick “busy” response likely harms you (and your conversation) much more than you think.

A response of “busy” and its accompanying tired-sounding vocal tone, really just communicates that you’ve lost control of your ability to prioritize. You’re telling people you haven’t figured out how to work with the time you’ve been given. And we are all given the same amount of time. As my friend and fellow author Laura Vanderkam has made a career pointing out that we all get 168 hours in a week and what we do with them is a matter of priorities.

We all have more tasks to do than time allotted. Between work, family, friends, personal time, all of us could find ways to fill a full week. But we only feel “busy” when we start to notice that tasks we really wanted to get down aren’t getting done. When the week ends with top priorities unfinished, that’s when we throw up an exhausted “busy.”

But if our priorities are in order, if the first things really do come first. Then we don’t feel anywhere near as busy.

And you can see it in the data. At work, one study found that people who take 11 or more vacation days are 30% more likely to receive a raise. Think about that. People whose priorities are in order enough to get their work done and take time off are more likely to get a raise at the end of the year because of their great performance. Those higher performers may still leave tasks undone when they head out for vacation, but they’ve got enough of a handle on their priorities to make sure those tasks don’t affect their performance.

Now, I have no data for whether or not saying you’re “busy” when responding to greetings makes you less likely to get a raise. But I’m not sure I recommend promoting the idea that you can’t get your priorities in order.

So, I suspect that those higher paid, better rested, people in your organization likely don’t run around promoting their busyness. They probably respond a little more politely and engage the other person more.

Afterall, they have more time for conversation.

This article originally appeared as an episode of the DailyBurk, which you can follow on YouTubeFacebook, LinkedIn,or Instagram.

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About the author

David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

6 thoughts on “Stop Saying You’re Busy”

  1. Hi David, you make a great point noting that people who say they are busy are in fact affirming they do not have control over all of their affairs. I particular agree that all of us have more to do in a day, week and month than we can handle. Your final point that one’s individual ability to prioritize their business is the differentiator between an efficient or inefficient worker.
    I would add that it is our personal responsibility to know how to navigate through all of our responsibilities and take ownership of where we stand regarding each of our matters. Blaming on being busy is in my view an easy way out!
    Cheers!

  2. Hi David, thanks for this. I particular resonate with the tone of disgruntlement (not sure if that’s a real word or not) the phrase “I’m busy” comes with. It doesn’t often come with an expression of joy. Hmmm!

Comments are closed.

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