How many times have you asked a colleague how they're doing, and had them respond with "Things are just crazy busy," Pretty frequently, I bet--it happens to me every day. Lately, I've started to wonder when we all decided that being "busy" is a good thing, or something to be proud of. It's as if we feel people are judging our worth by the level of "busyness" we emote.
But truth be told, the glorification of busy, and the desire to one up each other in levels of busyness, leaves people frazzled, leads to a mis-use of time, and can actually cause burnout and lack of engagement at work.
So why do people take such pride in being busy? Personally, I'd react more amiably to a colleague who when asked, "How are you?" responded first with something positive about recent events in their life. Sharing something personal allows co-workers to become more familiar with each other outside of the office. These coworkers also implicitly refuse to be part of the workaholic culture that has become all too common in the Silicon Valley and beyond. If someone is always busy, it tells me they might not have the best time management skills or are not prioritizing correctly.
When I started my company over 10 years ago, I didn't want to become the kind of clich workaholic CEO who doesn't have a life outside of the office. Or worse yet, pretend to be that person who did. And this can take effort, because as many of you know, when you are passionate about something you can get tunnel vision. But I knew there were people at home who needed me even more than my company did. The success of my company was critical, but so was the success and well being of my family. As such, I made it a priority to not let "busy" become the gating factor between doing things that really mattered to me, such as coaching my son's little league teams or attending one of my daughter's volleyball games. And looking back, I can't think of a moment where I have ever regretted taking that time. In fact, I truly believe it made me a better, more focused and clearer thinking leader as I took those moments to take a "pause" and clear my mind.
So how can you avoid the dreaded b-word? You don't need to re-invent the wheel every five minutes; you just need to sit down and consider how to be more effective at work. Is Facebook taking up more of your day than you'd like to admit? Turn off notifications for given periods of time. Do you tend to jump between tasks before finishing one? Make a list of three important things you'd like to complete as soon as you sit down at your desk, and set small, attainable goals for yourself throughout the day. Do you find that ad-hoc requests are distracting you from completing these goals? Learn how to say "no" when you don't have the bandwidth to take on more projects.
People focused on how busy they are even lose sleep over their perceived overload. They might send and respond to emails at 2 am, or stay hours later than their colleagues just to prove a point, not necessarily to get more work done. You'll never see results in the gym just by being in the building longer; more efficient work and workouts can happen in a smaller window of time. Remember - butts in seats does not always equal work completed. Of course, there are times when an urgent project or deadline calls for long hours. That's the world we live in. But truly urgent situations should be few and far between. This "always on" work culture shouldn't be the norm, and this kind of attitude can even lead to health problems. According to Kaiser, "Insomnia can cause an average of 11.3 missed work days per employee each year, or $2,280 in lost productivity."
So, to avoid reacting to that 2 am work email, turn off notifications and take comfort in the fact that you've put in a solid day's work, managed your time as efficiently as possible, and never felt distracted or rushed. Moreover, the next time someone asks how you're doing, I urge you to find a more descriptive answer than "I'm so busy" so that we can all work together to end the glorification of a swamped calendar once and for all.