Ask yourself this: the last time you asked someone how they were doing, was the word “busy” part of the answer? Maybe it was even the first thing they said?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Why is it that we feel that it’s important for people to know how busy we are? Is it a genuine answer to the question “how are you”? If so, what message does it send?
“I’m so busy I couldn’t possibly deal with the thing you’re about to ask me to do."
“I'm putting work ahead of every other part of my life. Therefore I’m an important contributor."
“I’m struggling. Help."
Obviously, tone and intention play a big role in interpretation. But I’m intrigued, not just by what it means to have this as a parked response to "how are you", but also how it lands with the recipient. Thanks to all who commented on Twitter when I asked this earlier:
I recently stumbled across a blog on HBR: “Why some men pretend to work 80-hour weeks”. It makes for scary reading. I meet a lot of management consultants in my line of work - and see an ingrained culture of martyrdom built-up around travelling/working hours vs sleeping/resting hours. Just last week I met someone who shared that they’d been working 14-hour days for 3 months straight - I had to stop jumping straight into a coaching conversation in order to ask myself- what was their intention behind sharing this with me? One thing I do know is that type of lifestyle (or 'workstyle') is not sustainable, regardless of whether it is the reality of what is happening, or the version of reality that an individual chooses to share with the world.
It's so tempting to be caught-up in the idea that 'being busy' is an achievement in itself, or (worse still) that it should in some way represent varying levels of struggle/torture. Maybe we need only look as far as the language we use - for many, 'business' has become synonymous with 'busyness'.
For me, 'busy' is about reactionary, lively, bursts of activity that seek to make things travel from A to B. All too often, the really important, mindful, innovative activity usually fits into the spaces in-between, when we can stop, consider, and give ourselves permission to just think.
....with an occasional blog thrown in for good measure.