Please stop telling me how busy you are

I’m guilty of this. And I apologize. This post is for me as well as you.

We are both overworked. We say “yes” to things when we should say “no”. Our to-do lists never end. We are distracted during dinner, and check our email or twitter feed obsessively. We want to slow down, but it’s easier said than done.

Here’s a proposal: if you and I stopped complaining to each other about how busy we were, I think we could start to wrestle back some control.

As Barbara Frei stated in a tweet yesterday, there seems to be some cultural context to this complaint: it’s some kind of badge of honour – bragging rights – self-importance:

“I’m busier than you are, look how important I am”. 

How very troubling.

Stop. Please stop. You are not busier than I am. I am not busier than you are. We are in this together. We need to stop comparing ourselves to others: it is unfair, makes us question what we are doing, and whether we are ‘busy enough’.

Complaining about how busy we are adds fuel to an already out-of-control fire. It adds to frenetic behaviour. It makes me feel bad and anxious, and I make you feel bad and anxious when I complain.

Fine, then. We agree? Good. Let’s shake on it.

But what do we do about our out-of-control lives?

Here are some ideas (and, by the way, I do all of these very, very poorly. Maybe by writing them down, it will help?):

1. Small things: Let’s take some moments to enjoy the little things that make us happy, be it strumming a mandolin, going for a run, or watching a sitcom.

 2. Priorities: I think we can prioritize more carefully, and think about what’s really important and deal with those things. Let’s stop using ‘I’m too busy’ as an excuse and be more honest about why we have or have not followed through on a commitment.

 3. Say no. If we don’t start saying no, it will never get better. Let’s say yes to things that are either required as part of our job, or things that bring us much personal satisfaction and joy.

4. Deflate that self-importance.  Um, sorry, but we are not *that* important. The world won’t stop if we stop or slow down. We are fortunate to be busy. Many people need a job, can’t find food for their family, or are sick. Let’s keep things in perspective.

 5. Lower expectations: time is the most limiting of resources, and the current state of instantaneous communication, and rapid access to everything is creating unreasonable expectations on time.  Let’s work to lower expectations on how quickly things ought to be done, by us and by others.

This post was inspired by recent writings about time, by Terry McGlynn and David Maddison. And by discussions I have with colleagues (and my wife), almost every day.



16 thoughts on “Please stop telling me how busy you are

    • Yes, I have read that productivity book, and tried to model some things after it. It’s really about finding a system that works for you. And, most importantly, sticking to that system. Thanks for the comment & thoughts. Awesome. (oh, I I like flow charts)

  1. Yes–the biggest use was giving me a framework I could use to get my “stuff” organized. And stop hanging on to things just in case, which built up a big pile of things that I could stress out about ;p

  2. This is important to advertise this idea. Thanks, Chris. The one-upsmanship about how busy people are is tiresome.

    Always having something to do is not a bad thing. The key is to be the master over what that ‘something’ is, and to do it in a way that is positive for everybody. We all have the same amount of time, and being conscious about its allocation on a minute-to-minute basis doesn’t just communicate our priorities, but structures our happiness.

    • Thanks for the comment, Terry! Indeed – I personally love being busy. I’m happier when I’m busy. I say yes to a lot of things because it’s part of who I am. However…as you state: the KEY is balance.

  3. Great post. I’ve often wondered at this attitude, especially among those that I know have voluntarily taken on much of what is making them busy. I have yet to understand if it’s a reluctance to say ‘no’, a desire to be in on the action (what ever that may be), or a pathology where they decide they’re the only one that can do a job. Regardless, I often struggle to feel sorry for someone who’s put themselves in the situation.

    I too am busy, maybe to much so sometimes, but that’s the way I like it. It would seem strange to complain about being in a place I want to be,.

    • Chris – thanks for the comment and great point: It’s baffling to me, also, that some folks complain about stuff they volunteered to do! Sheesh. Now… if only I could follow my own advice…

  4. I find “I am busy” comments to be low information statements. Some people say it because they are truly busy and really cannot attend to something new. Others say it because they think they are truly busy but that’s only because they are trying to fit 40 hours of work into a 30 hour work week. Others say it just to fend you off. I’m not sure what my point is, but I’m with you – not a fan when I hear people say it.

    • Thanks for the comment Andrew – yes, I agree -the reasons for the statements are varied, but the end result is the same. I should say, however, that sometimes a ‘how busy’ discussion is about shared misery. I think there is certainly a time and place to laugh and commiserate about frantic lives.

  5. Pingback: The art of delegation: Perspectives from Academia | Arthropod Ecology

  6. I love the first 3 paragraphs of this post (and the rest of it, but especially the first three). I wish I’d known about it before I wrote the post at Tenure, She Wrote so I could have linked to it, because it is a spot on assessment of academic culture. I also like the idea in the post and comment thread that being busy is, in some ways, a privilege because it means that we have interesting work to do that provides well for us. That’s why I don’t want to be “un-busy”, I just want to keep it manageable and focus less on what needs to be done at the expense of what has been done.

  7. Pingback: The statistics of busy, or the management of approachability | Small Pond Science

  8. Pingback: On busyness and striving for balance | Dynamic Ecology

  9. Pingback: The Challenges and Opportunities of University Administration: reflections from a Deanlet | Arthropod Ecology

  10. Pingback: It’s Mercer Award time! What’s the best ecology paper by a young author in 2014-15? | Dynamic Ecology

  11. Pingback: The Gift of Ordinary, and Zaza in PICU: Day 2 – DSM Fitz Fam

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s