Telling Everyone You’re ‘Busy’ Could Be Backfiring

In these fast spaced, high tech, socially savvy times, being busy is just a resting state for us all. Why do you think there are so many websites, this one included, waxing lyrical about the benefits of a more stress free, off the grid existence? Even though every one of us is busy, we love to remind each other of just how busy we are at any chance we can get.

Some classic lines we’ve all heard in the workplace include: “I can’t right now, I’m absolutely swamped”, “I’m slammed at the moment” and, my personal favourite, “Ahhh! I’m sooo sooo busy and so so important, everybody! I’m a big strong person! What a stressful, important life I do lead!”

Give it a rest. These cries of busyness are  commonplace at work and home, encouraging a culture of martyrdom for our effort. But what kind of message is this sending to people?

No one’s impressed by your busyness

Lennox Morrison in the BBC recently wrote about the ways in which telling everyone we’re busy is actually doing damage to our reputation rather than benefiting it, “It’s a common misconception that appearing to be busy — even if you’re not — is a signal that you’re valuable, whether it’s to your boss, your colleagues, your family or your friends.” He argues, “Rather than making a positive impression, you’re more likely to be seen as inefficient and rude.” Basically, people are now using busyness as a status symbol, rather than having it translate into productivity.


Morrison cites Human Resources Consultant Ed Baldwin who explains that the real message “I’m busy” sends is “I don’t know how to prioritise my time.” Hardly the marker of prestige and importance we all think. In fact, this idea of “busy” as “impressive” is a very recent phenomenon. Before the mid 20th century, having leisure time was considered prestigious. Its a curious shift. Now, even if we see someone with a bluetooth headset we’re instantly impressed. And not just because they look like Gwen Stefani.

If we can’t say we’re busy, what do we say?

These days we are all busy, especially because our attention is split in fifteen different directions at all times. The usual prestige of importance is just translating into an inability to cope. It also dismisses those that need to share our time which could cause frustrations within our relationships. As in, if I’m pretty busy too but I’m still able to make time, what’s holding you back?


Instead, Morrison explains that communicating our workload to others should be more specific and open to negotiation so it doesn’t lead to misunderstanding. Rather than shooing people away with an “I’m too busy right now”, try explaining exactly what you have to do and offer a time that would better suit. Pay attention to organising tasks in order of priority rather than juggling them all at once and make sure you take breaks when you need to. We all know that being busy leads to being stressed but it goes the other way, too.

Last of all, just stop using your busyness as a crutch. Consistently telling others that you’re under the pump doesn’t make your workload disappear. You might find that if you’re open and strategic about communicating it, you’ll be offered some help.

There needs to be a bit more transparency behind the “busy” tag so that people don’t think you’re hiding behind it.

There you have it. “Busy” is out. But of course, not this kind.

h/t BBC