Do a test today, for real.
Ask at least 10 people you know how they are. Just simply say, “How are you?”
I can almost guarantee that most of the answers you will get back have something to do with the word BUSY.
“Summer is great and it’s so nice to have the kids home but MAN is it busy!”
“I don’t even know how I’m so busy and it never lets up—have to run and finish that report!“
“Busy! I was at work until 10pm last night just trying to plug through!“
Busy has become the new normal. It’s replaced the old version of, “Fine, how are you?” And we’re all guilty of it. I myself am super aware of not wanting to constantly say I’m busy and I catch myself doing it all the time anyways. In a world that won’t quit, it’s become the default.
As a society we’ve come to pride ourselves on being busy. People admire us when we have lots going on: we seem more competent, productive, and even special. Our lives seem more fulfilling simply because they’re full. Despite being exhausted, we’re actually proud of our busyness and don’t know how to be another way.
In short, we wear busyness as a badge of honour.
But part of this badge of honour actually involves complaining: we whine about it, repeat it over and over, groan about it and wish there was another way. We feel stress and anxiety because of it but hold onto it because we feel it just has to be this way.
And—secretly—we love it just the way it is. That is, until it ruins our marriages and our health and takes us from being present with our kids and our lives to witnesses of them instead.
I’ve been studying this phenomenon of busyness for years. I’m fascinated by it, both in my own life and the lives of the thousands I work with. We seem to have a love-hate relationship with it—it’s a paradox, really.
The funny part about it all is that there is such a vast difference between productivity and busyness. You can be super busy while also being super unproductive (which is the case for many people). Often the most productive leaders I have come across are the ones who complain the least about being busy, as they’re highly effective and efficient in the way they manage their work and energy and get their stuff done well ahead of everyone else!
As a leader who managed direct reports for many years, I can personally attest to the fact that I was never impressed with those who had to stay late often. I would personally be thinking I guess you’re not great at being effective the hours you should be here or at least coming to me and asking for help on prioritizing or simplifying your workload!
I was much more impressed by their equally busy colleagues who would be very efficient and effective during normal work hours and only have to exceptionally and occasionally bring their work home with them. These were the superstars in my mind and very often the people who would move up the corporate ladder most quickly.
Why? They managed to have control over their time and their energy and had learnt very wisely how to manage distraction and be deliberate in how they used their 168 hrs each week.
They were masters of weighing and understanding what was urgent, what was important, and what they needed to drastically simplify or let go of completely. They ended up cutting out ALOT of the noise they previously had in their work and lives and really honed in on what mattered most to them in both their personal and professional lives.
These are the people who feel accomplished at the end of the day and peaceful and ready to take on the next one. From what I’ve seen they like have more to do than many of their colleagues but manage it in a way that seems seamless to the outside world.
Busyness is both a mindset and a way of life. Our to-do lists will always be endless, but once you get a grip of what is on those lists and what you should be letting go of or laser focusing in on, life becomes a whole lot simpler.
Once these busy bees realize that busyness is not what they want to aim for in life—that productivity and efficiency are far better goals in addition to mastering what specifically matters to them most—they become much more productive and far happier people. This I know for sure.
Let’s all aim for that, shall we? So, the next time people ask, “How are you?” let’s answer:
“Summer is great and it’s so nice to have the kids home. We’re enjoying a lot of fun times together and when I need some alone time I turn on the TV for them and a break for me!”
“I can’t chat now as finishing up a big report for a deadline but man oh man will I feel good and accomplished when it’s done! If you’re free at 6pm, how about a catch up over a coffee?”
“I’m great! Last night I stayed a little later at the office to wrap things up and feel good and in control of my desk before the big audit today. Tomorrow I’ll be sure to leave early and catch my daughter’s soccer game since I missed her practice this week. “
Here’s to a whole new way of seeing busy!
For the next week, when someone asks you how you are, try answering with a response that has nothing to do with being busy. Leave it out of your vocabulary for a week and see what happens.
Reflect on the other answers you come up with. How do they make you feel?
What impact do they have on the person asking them?