Being Busy is no Longer Admirable

“Busy is a decision” ~ Debbie Millman

The Gift of Reading


During the most recent holiday season — Christmas 2017 — I decided to share some of my favorite books with a few of my colleagues. Books have change my life — through the escape they provide from the demands of my professional life, to how they enhance my vocabulary or even the way they facilitate learning about the lives of others as a way to improve my own.

In return, one of my colleagues gave me a book written by Tim Ferris entitled Tribe of Mentors — Short Life Advice from the Best in the World. In Ferris’s book, he shares interviews he conducted with various people — fashion gurus, actors, scientists, etc. He poses certain questions; the answers to which are illustrated in his book. Ferris also elevates some of the interviewees’ quotes as well as some of his own. Both answers and quotes provide a thought-proving experience with the turn of each page. The personality that inspired me to write this post, Debbie Millman, offered “busy is a decision.” As soon as I read her quote, I knew exactly what she meant.

Guilty as Charged – My Misusing the Too Busy Defense


Claiming being busy for the sake of convincing yourself its respectable to cancel commitments on a moment’s notice or to avoid uttering a straightforward no under the guise of sparing someone’s feelings fails the clever-scheme smell test. Crying too busy in avoiding management of a project that is not a good fit or as a way to shorten the blow of clicking decline — do not send response to a Outlook meeting (asinine or otherwise) request does not a decisive leader make. There are times at work where the assignment of particular project is out of our control, this post is not referring to those situations.

I am speaking of situations in which we have a say, yet choose the easy answer of being too busy and not a firmer stance of no because of insert constructive reason. Having been on the receiving end of being too busy retorts, especially when I have more information that points to a more contextualized situation, I learned to interpret being too busy differently. In some — not all instances — it connotes more about one’s life being a disorganized catastrophe, a bonanza of over-commitments, or a pattern of decision making and drawing conclusions that is intellectually lazy. The self-aggrandizing goal of using too busy to convey being super important while managing several fantastic and cutting edge projects through exclusive partnerships comprising hard-to-access subject matter experts within your field is rarely achieved.

Dropping Too Busy When I Don’t Know You Like That Works Better


Yes, that is a harsh take on why some people have used being too busy as a reason to refrain for saying what we really mean, I would rather not do x or commit to y while also foregoing the urge to provide any explanation. As I have been on the receiving end of such responses; I too have given them. Since recognizing this less than ideal behavior, I have made progress in holding myself to account. There are many people in our lives who have earned the right to an explanation of why we say no — our significant other, select colleagues, friends and relatives — this post is not about them. I am referring to those individuals vying for your time yet have not earned access to it.

Given that we all have limited time and should do everything in our power to give ourselves as much more of it as possible, we cannot dole it out to everyone who requests it. Admittedly, it is less likely to create hard feelings — initially that is — if you rely on your demanding career or having to tend to your sick dog or simply being too busy to avoid telling someone a flat-out no. If used enough times, being too busy can tell a story about how you prioritize whom and what are important to you — a position I share with Millman. In doing so, we risk inadvertently telling someone they do not matter when that is not our true intent. We may also postponing ridding ourselves of people who simply are not a right fit for our lives.

Keith, Damn Dude Sometimes People Are Truly Busy!


Wait, wait, wait! People are genuinely busy. Sure, there are instances where no passive aggressive, hidden agendas grounded in flaking-out on people exist. Giving ourselves and others space to get through temporarily demanding stretches of our careers or other commitments is a fair request. The difference in Millman’s point of “busy is a decision” is the misleading tone on which it is based. However, this provides an opportunity for all of us who have used being busy as a way to avoid straightforwardly saying no.

We can start being more deliberate in expressing ourselves by having Crucial Conversations with those we rather not engage, situations we prefer to ignore, and people we fear disappointing. This is hard yet necessary. It also provides us a chance to self reflect, to take a hard look at how we should invest our time and with whom we should spend it. Either way, honestly and fairly saying no without equivocating can be a freeing experience. Everyone involved deserves it.

Everyday Storytelling

Keith View All →

I am committed to a person who loves me for who I am. He and I have two dogs. Cascadia is home for us. I know for sure no one makes it alone; bootstrapping is a cliched dog whistle. I surround myself with truth tellers. I am healthy and grateful for what I have (on most days). I wholeheartedly believe reading gives us super powers. Vote. Exercise. Eat Healthily. Sleep Soundly.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: