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“I’ve Just Been So Busy Lately”

toobusy

Sorry I was rude to you the other day, someone said. I’ve just been so busy.

Guess what: we’re all busy!

Every one of us. It’s not a very exclusive club.

And here’s another reality check: because we’re all busy, no one really cares about how busy someone else is. One way or another, we all make time for what’s important to us.

In a group project, a person who freaks out about being busy will stall, defer, and generally keep everyone else waiting on them. They use busyness as an excuse for poor performance. Sometimes it’s faster to put this person in a room by themselves and let them whine while you do their job for them.

A person in control of being busy will keep the project moving forward at all costs. They like deadlines, direct communication, and tough assignments. That’s the kind of person you want on your team. If you’re serving on someone else’s team, that’s the kind of person you should be.

The strategies for dealing with being “so busy” are pretty basic:

1) Be less busy. If being busy really prevents you from doing something you want, stop being so busy. It’s not that complicated.

2) Stop complaining and enjoy it. Personally, I like busy. I had fun visiting the islands last week, but islands can be sleepy little places. In Fiji I sat by the pool for an hour, but then I got bored and went back to working on my projects.

I wrote to Pam, my partner on the upcoming $100 Business Forum: “What do you think about starting three weeks early?”

Pam wrote back: “Bring it on!”

And thus we’re starting on February 1 instead of March 8. I already knew she was the right partner for this project, but that was good confirmation. Busy people tend to do more, not less — but either way, being “so busy” that you become overwhelmed doesn’t help anyone.

###

P.S. Wondering how to help with relief efforts in Haiti? Partners in Health has been one of the most well-regarded charities in the country for two decades, with a wide network of clinics and local staff. Join me in making a donation here.

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69 Comments

  • As usual, you’ve hit on a really good point…and a pet peeve of mine. The “really busy people” so often spend an awful lot of time whining (or bragging) about how busy they are. Kind of makes me wonder what they could do if they just got down to it.

    In my small town, many people hesitate to bother me (as an artist, this is good) not because I whine about how busy I am, but because word gets out that I get a lot accomplished. And I still (almost) always have time to talk to them and let them know they are important to me.

    A lot of what goes with the art business is stuff I don’t really want to do….most things that aren’t actually at my easel… but it’s like running sometimes. Just don’t think about it, put your running shoes on, and go do it. Sometimes that can make you look like a totally dedicated, out of your mind, overachiever.

  • Chris, thank you! This is my least favorite excuse. People say it to me all the time, and I feel like shouting: “You think you’re busy? I have four jobs, a husband, and a 22 month old.” I also completely agree that people do what they want to do. If you let something slide, it’s because it wasn’t a priority, not because you were busy.

  • Scott Webb says:

    If you want something done – ask the busy person! The truly busy person. Busy people get things done. I hope this year brings some type of partnership projects like you’re working on.

    I can’t wait to find out some more information on this forum. It sounds like something I could use as I build up my business. The sooner the better too as I took the jump and quit the day job.

    ***

    My heart goes out to Haiti.

  • KJ says:

    This is so spot-on — I’m working with just such a “busy person” right now, on a never-ending project that is driving everyone else on the team quite crazy.

    Thanks for the motivation to find the energy to enjoy being busy, and to learn how to manage it properly. If anything, this person is motivation enough — I now fully realize how horrible it looks to complain about your workload to others (and to use it as a constant excuse for not getting things done or meeting deadlines).

    I have to say, though, that I rather enjoy sleepy islands, and would love to take more than an hour doing nothing on one of them, at least once in a while. A retreat helps reboot me, refreshed and once again able to handle the busy-ness.

  • Bronwyn says:

    I completely agree, busy is great. We just have to remember to look after ourselves to keep up the pace – we all need to fit in that 1 hour by the pool metaphorically speaking. I think some people have a natural energy, intrigue and inner drive to keep going. It often comes down to truly loving what we do and surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people. It is is pretty obvious this happens with you Chris.

  • I agree. You make time for what is important to you.

    Of course I’m guilty of not doing this. Thanks for the reminder.

  • I was ranting about just this very subject on CBC TV last week.

    Busy? quit yer whining.

  • Thanks for the recommendation to Partners in Health. They have just received my donation for Haiti and I have given them a place on my Facebook profile.

  • Mirko Gosch says:

    Chris. Wow!

    For me your post feels like being right in the middle of the meaning of that old saying: “If the student is ready, the mentor will show up.” -(might not be the exact words, but something of that very meaning)

    Thank you so much for your post and bring it on.

    Awesome, that you and Pam are starting earlier than previously announced. Good for me 🙂

    Enrolled into your list and can´t wait to read your emails.

    Mirko

  • Tamara says:

    Fantastic post. I always have to fight myself from rolling my eyes when I hear this from people (and sometimes I don’t even bother fighting myself). We’re all busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest. It’s the times, it’s the pace of living today, and it’s the sort of people we surround ourselves with if we are busy people too.

    This is one of those built-in excuses that you’re not supposed to be able to argue with, like an automatic get out of jail free card. I don’t buy it either.

    Personally, I find I get more done the busier I am so I always tend to work this way…but I don’t complain about it or use it as an excuse.

  • Perhaps “we’re all busy” IS part of the problem, especially with American life. Creative, fulfilled, passionate are things I relate to, “busy” not so much. Europe has a much better quality of life in this realm.

    I don’t just want to live on a beach and vegetate, but life is short and “busy” sure can get in the way of being truly alive.

    The most important currency is time and having more freedom, leisure and just plain quantity of time (along with quality) with our child and together, was one of our main reasons for our open ended world tour.

    “stop being so busy” Great advice! “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”.

  • Betsy Talbot says:

    Too busy, always late – you may be able to get by with it for a while, but not with the people that really matter. If you want to connect – really connect – with the kind of people that will help you do great things in this life, you have to respect their time and needs as much as your own. Otherwise, you’re stuck hanging out with the kind of people who are fine with that low level of effort.

    I don’t know about you, but I’m just too busy for that. 🙂

  • Jim Sikora says:

    I feel I’m always too busy. I have a hard time cutting out things that can wait (errands and such) from time I need to spend creating artwork. I need a slap when Im off course. Volunteers?

  • Jeffrey Tang says:

    We ought to make a distinction between been busy because you’re interested, engaged, motivated, and loving it, and being “busy” because you want to feel like a martyr and impress people with how much work you have to do.

    Great stuff as always, Chris.

  • Natalie Ross says:

    Thrilled that your new project will be ready sooner than planned!

    I think your advice of being less busy is stellar. People like to act as though they are victims of the amount of commitments in their life. When you suggest they simply do less, they often look at you like you have two heads!

    I think the difference between those people and you, for example, is that you’re busy doing things you love vs. things you feel obligated to do. Maybe people should examine why they’re doing things and eliminate accordingly!

  • Meg says:

    Oh man, there goes my excuse…. I would LOVE to be a tad less busy, but between holding down a job and finishing my degree, I truly am one busy little bee. I know I have to finish school, but I also have to earn a bit of an income while I do so. It’s a horrible catch-22, and while I could eliminate one of those two, it’s certainly not in my best interest to do so.

    Which either: A) Leaves me with almost no time for what really interests me or B) Leaves me scrambling to fit everything into my life. Neither choice appeals to me. I’ve got five months to go, though, and I AM going to do something to make sure I’m not in this position again!! (Move will provide the great environment to do so!)

  • Karen says:

    Very true, Chris. You make time for what’s important.

    Perhaps we should keep in mind Thoreau when he says, “Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it”. 🙂

    __________

    It’s very sad to see what’s happening down in Haiti.

  • Michael says:

    I spent the last decade being busy, working long hours and hustling for team leaders. I don’t regret it because I knew I was learning important things, but I also knew that I was too busy to enjoy anything but the work. Some people juggle a bunch of balls very well, but I notice that I do my best work when I can juggle no more than three major items at a time.

    I made the “less busy” choice and accepted some sacrifices in the short term so I can focus solely on my core items. For some, “busy” just doesn’t bring out the best. In fact, it can detract from our best efforts and distract us from those parts of life that will always be as or more important than “accomplishing stuff”.

    I vote for door one, a simpler, less busy life. As Thoreau said, “I would rather sit on a pumpkin and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion.” We can live very crowded lives these days in our attempts to stay busy. Sometimes it’s important to be busy doing nothing… except paying attention.

  • Stephanie R says:

    Preach IT! It’s so true – life is busy so let’s all grab the world by it’s Disco Balls and have as much fun doing what we do, whether that may be 🙂

  • I agree however a narcissist will never see this. They’re entitled to be busier than everyone else.

  • Karen Nardella says:

    Dude……Ok Chris. There is something very peculiar about your emails. I no sooner have a subject email or relevant day and your email topic arrives and low and behold, bingo, the answer appears or I realize I am not the only one thinking a thing, just like that. I just had this very conversation on Saturday, again on Monday and this very morning. Well of course I could not agree more and thanks. I am glad to have stumbled upon your site.

  • Michael Knouse says:

    Thanks for the reality check Chris! This just re-confirms to me that if you are passionately engaged in something compelling, that being busy is the sweet spot of life.

  • Lynne says:

    For the most part, I agree with your points, but I have also encountered extremely busy people who don’t necessarily do a good job—they have too many irons in the fire and so nothing gets the full attention needed–everything is so scattershot. If they cut out a few projects and focused on the really important ones, that would be great for anyone having to work with them!

  • Hansen says:

    Couldn’t have said it any better! The truly busy person is busy because they actually are getting things done, allowing them to take on more projects.

  • Amelia says:

    Chris, the comment about busyness being an excuse for poor performance was one I could really relate to. I’ve been working with one of these “busy” people for the past 18 months. Funnily enough, when the team stats come out at the end of the week, she’s the least productive person.

    Every time that stats are sent to us I can actually hear her telling herself why she didn’t do as much as the others… “I was doing blah, blah”, “I had blah blah on”. She knows she’s unproductive and has to create excuses to combat the possibility of being questioned by her managers.

    I find it a tad sad that she has to convince herself why she has been unproductive. What a waste of time and energy.

    It’s no surprise that this person receives very little respect and has not moved into other roles as others that have come and gone!

  • Angela says:

    It’s an easy trap to fall into, but the implication is that we value our own time over others’ when we complain, make excuses, or show up late – even if that’s not the intent! I’ve made a concerted effort to edit those words out of my vocabulary and to chose to be less busy and more focused on what matters. Great reminder!

  • I swear-it is like you have a hidden microphone in my home/office!!
    This is a huge issue for me for many reasons. I am super busy just like everyone else. The concept of busyness is truly subjective for each person and their life.. How can I sit there and project my busyness on to other people as if their busy lives have nothing to compare. But the flip side is the second I feel myself wanting to tell someone how busy and overwhelmed I am, I know it is time to stop- re-evaluate and prioritize. When I have this thought or feeling I literally stop talking and start planning what I need to reorganize.
    Reality Check 101!! Thanks again for slamming me back down to earth-
    love it!!

  • i always try and catch myself whenever i lamely use the “too busy” excuse. you hit the nail on the head with ‘we make time for what is important to us.’ not to “dr.phil” on your post, chris, but it’s considered a rather “passive aggressive” behavior, because we don’t just forget to do something–we actively choose to not do certain things.

    thanks for the “partners in health” link…i’ll also mention at my son’s cubscout meeting this evening.

  • Dan says:

    Love it! Instantly forwarded this one around. Bring it on, indeed.

  • Tippy says:

    I’m guilty of this and I know that in the end that if I want to accomplish something, I just need to allot time to it.

    Anyway, when I feel drained & tired, I always visit your website for inspiration and new insights. Keep them coming!

  • Brett says:

    Wow Chris. I needed this right now – I’ve been exceptionally busy in all areas of my life and my excuse for my lackluster performance has been “I’m too busy”. I just realized that’s not so – my problem may just be that I’m not focused enough while I’m being busy, so my performance is declining.

    Excellent reminder that happens to be in tune with my life at the moment.

  • jskipburns says:

    this post is money.

    I’m not a whiner, but I do sometimes get too busy and end up having to shrink my work pile and obligations. I always feel like a tool for doing that, but sometimes it has to get done.

    It’s really important to remember that the universe does not revolve around you.

    skip “copernicus” burns

  • Well said Chris!! 🙂
    I’m trying to learn foreign languages and one of the (many) excuses people use to tell me that they could never do it is that they are “too busy”. It’s kind of implying that I don’t have a job or my own responsibilities.
    It’s easy to make time; we can improve our sleeping patterns, do work while taking public transport or waiting in lines, or of course be more efficient in how we work to make ourselves less busy.
    Great post!!

  • Tom says:

    THANK you for saying it, Chris! Nothing drives me crazier than people who want to tell you about how much busier they are and how much they are different from the rest of us! Seriously, people, we’re all going through the same crap. Deal with it. Well said!

  • “Nobody cares”…. so true. Nice post. I would write more but I’m really busy.

  • Robin Webster says:

    Thank you. I’ve just had a rough and tumble couple of busy days. I felt this way and I had to keep this thinking at the top of my mind.

  • Andrew says:

    Well said dude. I don’t think anyone’s as busy as they think they are. Instead of running around like a crazy chicken, I think it makes more sense to naturally allow what you MOST want to do displace what you want to do less. That way there’s nothing you’re doing that’s not awesome – it’s just good being replaced with great!

    I love my work 🙂

    Andrew

  • Ami says:

    I agree with the suggestion from Scott – if you want something done, ask the busy person. But I want to throw just a little bit of (refreshingly) cold water on this busy, efficient, productive pile – we all need our 30 minutes/1 hour/1 month(!) by the pool time. Because sometimes, becoming so good at getting things done gets in the way of connecting with our loved ones or giving ourselves time for reflection. So – add quiet time to the ‘to do’ list, all you busy ones. I know you can.

  • Alicia says:

    Ugghhh….I hate it when people complain about how busy they are!

    Embrace busy, because the only thing worse than being too busy is not being busy at all.

  • annie smidt says:

    Great reminder to us all. I actually just admitted to myself/realized, sometime around the new year, that I DO like being busy. More that not. Busy-ness (with the right kinds of stuff, especially) keeps me energized, enthused, and productive. It’s when things are vague and tenuous that I tend to sink into worries or depression. And I don’t mean that I keep myself busy with artificial busywork to avoid my feelings — I mean that when I’m actually doing real, good stuff, and lots of it, I feel great.

    There are people who us busy-tons can perceive to be not-busy. My mum, for example. Certain retirees, or couch-potato tv-watching types. But it’s all relative, and that’s worth remembering. People do what they can. Everyone’s limits are different, and different people need a different amount of “sitting by the pool” to feel ok. (Personally, I’d rather swim or go do something or compulsively reapply SPF 150).

  • Carolyn says:

    I’m sending this forthwith to a friend who constantly emails me to tell me she didn’t read my email because she’s too busy. Duh, if she didn’t spend so much time telling me how busy she was, she wouldn’t be so busy. Appreciate your straightforward take on it. Now I must get back to work, I am busy. But as you said, gosh, I sure prefer busy to bored.

  • Ole says:

    Oh, I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. (with thanks to Douglas Adams for the quote!)

    I don’t buy that it is always easy to find or make time. And yet, I agree that it is always possible to do so by rearranging and having a stern look at priorities. One sure thing is that running around in circles and uttering small “Oh, but I’m busy” will accomplish nothing but that 😉

    On another, but very important, matter – I very much liked the “join me in making a donation…” So much more powerful than “please consider donating”. And also true to form.

  • Candy Paull says:

    There are two kinds of busy. Productively busy with something you’re clear about and committed to. And crazy busy, which is more often a sign of confusion than productivity. I’m now finding a third option: time out for non-doing. It doesn’t take hours of sitting on a meditation cushion to allow clarifying thoughts to refresh the spirit and make room for new insight. A few minutes break in a busy day can take you from unfocused crazy busy to busy with clarity and purpose. I am also finding sitting on a meditation cushion for a long time can provide a greater perspective so there is less and less crazy busy, more and more sanity and clarity in whatever I am doing.

  • “Busy” is really an interpretation, not a state. As you say, we’re all doing lots of things, too many usually. But we don’t have to define it as a negative “busy” – instead it can be “full” or “energized” or anything to put a positive spin on it. If we’re doing all these things, they should be things that are making us happy, feeding us. And therefore they’re not “busy” things getting in the way of what we want to do; they are what we want to do, they’re the stuff of life.

  • Daphne says:

    I was going to link you to Danielle LaPorte’s posts about this, but it seems she already did. My favorite of hers on this subject is “we know you’re busy. now shut up about it.”

    Both of you connect to the fact that we all need to take responsibility for the fact that we are busy. Everyone has control over what they choose to do with their time. Own it.

    Now when something doesn’t get done, I say “I chose not to make time for that.” It has some interesting consequences/implications.

  • travelmystic says:

    Sometimes the phrase “I am too busy” is a semi polite way to refuse to do even one more task, this includes reading e-mails when you don’t want to turn on your computer. On a personal level since I am a self employed artist (and have been for 35 years) I am often asked to “just do this one thing” by family & friends and I have sadly learned a polite NO often does not work.

    Unfortunately, I have caught myself using this lame excuse with people I really want to spend time with or assist so I usually issue a sheepish “I’m Sorry” and set aside the time for that person. If everyone you know tells you they are “too busy” it is time to look at yourself, the same is true in reverse. This column has made me aware a new “excuse” is needed. Perhaps, I will be/am traveling, so I am not available sounds better and more upbeat. By the way, I love not being busy.

  • Steven says:

    Haha – great advice, very simple but to the point! I just read your feature in the latest Psychology Today, congratulations!

  • LisaNewton says:

    Busy just doesn’t cut it anymore, especially for bloggers. It’s a dog eat dog world out there, and no one can afford to be “busy” even though everyone is.

    Hell, I work a full time job plus do my writing, and a few other things on the side. And I love it. Well, I’d love writing full time, but it’s coming. 🙂

    No excuses here!!

  • This is a tough one – sometimes I really and truly am busy and I do try and prioritize some time for myself when I’m not. Always a difficult balance, but I do think your perspective is valuable, as always!

  • Jill says:

    As many commenters have suggested, “busy” means different things to different people at different times. Chris’s year-end review and annual action plan, with the focus on a few over-arching goals (and one big theme), suggest busy-with-a-purpose. (See also Cal Newport’s Study Hacks — great philosophy: “do less, do better, know why.”)

    Quite different from the typical “I’m-so-busy” crowd … lots o’ “look at me” revving of engines, but very little ground covered at the end of the day. Great post, Chris.

  • I am too busy is just a different way of saying – you are not important to me. That is all.

    People always have and will find time for things matter. Think about it? If it really mattered, then you would find to no matter what to get things done or talk to people.

    If you hear one of those responses, then you can just assume that the person does not have you high on the priority list or just does not care enough about you.

    If you are giving the same excuse, then it is time to reevaluate what you are doing and why.

    Best,
    Tomas

  • Brad Edgar says:

    You can keep yourself busy doing anything. Everybody uses the complaint including myself. Usually if I tell somebody that I’m too busy all it really means, at the least at a subconscious level, is that I choose to not have time for them. If it’s really important to you, you’ll make the time.

    Do things that are productive, and not things that are done for the sake of being busy.

  • Hugh says:

    I can’t stand this excuse. It seems like the older I get (29 now), the more I hear it. Like you said, people make time for what’s important to them. If you’re too busy to call me back for 2 weeks, I guess I’m not that important to you. No offense taken, but don’t give me that lame excuse! I feel like telling these people, “How long does it take to send a text or quick email? 10 seconds?” Unfortunately, as we get older, people get “busier” and our circle of close friends gets smaller and tighter. I hate to think that people lose friends because they don’t know how to manage their time, but I guess that’s reality, huh?

  • ian anderson says:

    I can vouch for the work that Partners in Health do Chris.
    I spent a day at their hospital in Rwinkwavu, Rwanda. Their organisational setup was strong and they were literally saving lives every day.

    I am sure that supporting them to aid Haiti will have similar good effects.
    Thanks for giving them a push up on here!
    Stay well,
    Ian

  • Bessie says:

    great line: “because we’re all busy, no one really cares about how busy someone else is. “

  • Tim says:

    Recently procured employment for myself, started my own blog (which I don’t want to link to for the time being; now isn’t the right time to be advertising on other blogs), and have been trying to keep up with being healthy in exercise and sociality. I feel more busy than I have in months, and it’s great!

    But I falter and fail in one aspect or another fairly often, but I have a natural ability (I’m so damn lucky) to keep on doing what I set out to do despite disappointment and discouragement. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t feel bad. On the contrary, I feel bad a lot of the time, but I have the perspective to deal with it. And you know what? I’ve discovered that most everyone else has practically all of the same base problems that I do. How I love to be part of that group.

  • Either we are busy with life, or we are stuck on the sidelines watching! Put me in it; fill my plate up and be busy with me.

  • Natasha says:

    I’ve been on both sides of the busy conversation, and while I agree wholeheartedly that we are all working hard, I just thought I’d chime in and say that at least this person had the decency to apologize. I think we all get overwhelmed sometimes, and as much as it is awesome to say YES to everything, a little understanding can go a long way when you’re burning out.

  • Marion of Texas says:

    I am late in reading this post (been out of town). I just want to join in supporting Partners in Health. If you haven’t read Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, I urge you to do so. It tells the story of the man behind Partners in Health.

    And talk about busy, Dr. Farmer takes the cake! Yet he always has time to be where the need is greatest.

  • Lain Ehmann says:

    I am so glad you wrote about this. The “I’m so busy” excuse holds no water for me. You’re right — we have 24 hours a day and we fill it with what we choose to. Someone who doesn’t have the “time” to be polite needs a priority re-adjustment.

    I have been thinking about the concept of overwhelm, too — why do we consider it a bad thing? The more successful you get, the more opportunities you’ll have, and the more “overwhelmed” you’ll be. I think it’s a good sign. It’s how you respond to it that makes the difference!

  • lara dunston says:

    One of the reasons it was so easy for me to leave Australia (in 1998!) and move to the Middle East was that all my friends were always “too busy” (myself included!) – working hard and working long hours was the norm, so that we were always too exhausted to go out and see each other anymore. I found living in Dubai and Abu Dhabi that people were still busy but they made time for family and friends – in fact they came first, work second. It’s simply a matter of priorities.

    But now I’m a full-time freelancer (and have been for the last 4 years) I feel like I did all those years ago in Sydney… always too busy. Sadly the work has taken priority again. But for very different reasons – it’s the price freelancers pay. And then whose going to listen to a travel writer complain? While travel is a priority for many, for me it’s ‘work’.

  • Lots of people I know, especially at work, say they’re busy. That’s all they are. They can’t tell me why they’re busy, they just are.

    I believe that the reason they are, is that we should be sorry for them and not give them any more work. Because they’re busy.

    and.

    When everybody are busy, we all need to be busy, or else, we’ll stand out from the crowd. Most people don’t want that.

  • Kay says:

    This hits at a good time. I just chewed my own mom out I’m so tired and worn down. Might be a sign that things desperately need to change. My friend Marlene has a saying that if you’re not the captain of your ship you’re the one shoveling coal. I think most of my “busyness” comes from shoveling coal and trying to keep up. Need to slow down, finish projects and apologize to my mom.

  • Marco-Antonio Delgado says:

    I believe at the end of the day, it bears down to what is most important in life, with respect to what we do with our time. However in the process of doing so, like KAY mentioned, we do tend to distance ourselves from people on an, on and off basis. Because let’s face, not every single loved one (i.e. family member, friends, girlfriend, wife etc) in our lives (and in my case there’s a huge list), will receive the time to visit nor set arrangements to meet frequently, if at all. Sometimes being aware of others, outside your daily BUSY schedule is all that’s necessary, through something as simple as a phone call or text message, e-mail etc, will suffice. Maintaining that balanced life is essential to being able to sustain or efficiently complete projects on time without the worry of having possibly missed out on something or someone. This will also strengthen business relationships when that acknowledgement is frequently reinforced.

    In other words, the little things go a long way.

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