Too Busy

As I work on my DisruptHR talk about Busyness, I keep changing my mind on the direction I want to go. Is it best to talk about the busy vs productivity conundrum or the busy competition that is life right now? How about the busy perception: office time = actual work which means not allowing staff to work remotely or different hours. Do I talk about work-life balance, how to say no, or time management? What about the “strong work ethic” means you must work more than 40 hours each week? Or is there a good combination, a way to tie all these thoughts together?

When I picked this as a topic, I titled it “Busier Than Thou.” This references the competition part of the busy culture, but it touches a lot of those other topics. Putting in extra hours, being in the office, the appearance of working or actually producing something. The George Costanza effect (check out “The Caddy” episode, George is up for a promotion with the Yankees because he locked his keys in his car & his boss & George Steinbrenner think he’s working an 18 hour day). Just because I can see you doesn’t mean you are working!

In my last job, it was a true competition. Those putting in over 40 hours were praised for their strong work ethic & promoted. The humble-brag was prevalent — as you couldn’t been seen working after hours, you had to talk about it. And asking for help just wasn’t done. When it was offered, well, we were just too busy to train you to help. We don’t want you to help. Here’s what I heard: you aren’t important enough.

Every time management program tells you to schedule what is important so it gets done. You decide what’s important and make time for it. This is what gets me about the Busier-Than-Thou culture. We brag about how little time we have and attempt to guilt others for taking time, making time for what’s important.

When we tell someone we are too busy for them, we are telling them aren’t important to us. By that company saying they were to busy to train us, or encouraging others to say this, they were telling us we weren’t important. When we tell that volunteer group we are too busy, we are telling them they aren’t important.

I know that’s not always the message we really want to tell. We want an “easy” out. If we say we are “too busy,” other busy professionals will understand. But why do we have so little respect to not tell the truth. As much as I would love to be involved with the PTA at one of my daughter’s schools, which one do I choose? We all have to make choice and prioritize our day. Other people understand.

A couple of years ago, our Girl Scout service unit was looking to the leaders to take on roles within the Service Unit, like secretary, treasurer, etc. I wanted to do more, so I looked at the roles to determine what I was willing to take on. I made an effort to not say I was too busy. I could have – I work 40 hours/week and also volunteer with the local SHRM group and I value my home downtime. As we discussed these roles as a group, many leaders put up the “busy” excuse. We are all busy, but if we want a successful service unit able to offer fun, educational activities for girls at all levels, we need to decide our priorities.

So here’s my request: can we start with the assumption we are all busy? Can we stop competing with one another as to who is the busiest? I don’t want to win that contest.

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