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Busy Bodies

If I wasn’t so busy, this column would be a whole lot better.

I am super-busy, you know. Or maybe you don’t know, so let me tell you. I am busy. In fact, I am so busy being busy that I really don’t have time to tell you that I’m busy.

Get the idea?
These days, being busy is not a problem. It’s a badge. Or, maybe, a shield. At a time when getting a job is hard and keeping a job is even harder, being un-busy is the sin nobody wants to confess.

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The need to be busy has led to what Janet Choi, the CCO of IDoneThis.com, calls “the cult of busy.”

I learned that Ms. Choi was getting busy over the idea of being busy in an article by Drake Baer on fastcompany.com. Baer’s article sent me to Choi’s blog — I told you I was busy — where I learned that “when you go on to other people, or to yourself, about being so busy, you’re often engaging in doublespeak.”

It’s Ms. Choi’s idea that when you say, “I’m busy,” what you are really saying is “I matter.” Because people are reluctant to say, “I’m needed and significant in this great big universe,” she believes, they say, “I’m busy,” instead.

Really? If there is a workplace or a universe full of people who don’t tell you how needed and significant they are, I want to move there.

I do agree that “I’m busy” can also be interpreted as an excuse for avoiding assignments. And a darn good excuse it is! Your manager expects you to attend a weekend retreat, where the HR department will instruct you on safe and sane rules for using office supplies. You’d love to attend, really, but you simply can’t. You’re just too busy.

Another way Ms. Choi translates “I’m busy” is “I’m guilty.” You’re guilty because you use your ersatz business to avoid accomplishing “fulfilling, meaningful stuff.” In other words, instead of confronting the existential isolation of the human condition, you keep yourself overbooked with unfulfilling meaningless stuff like detailing your manager’s Porsche.

“I’m busy” can also represent a “mini-ego trip.” This is a painful analysis, but one which would certainly fit someone with a maxi-ego like yourself. To Choi, “I’m busy” can mean “going beyond “I matter” to “I matter … more than you.”

Your friends and co-workers do not want to hear this kind of disguised boast, she believes. Not me. Whenever people on my team tells me that they’re crazy busy, I immediately figure I can slack off.

A final translation of “I’m busy” is “I’m afraid.” As in “I’m scared that I don’t matter, that I’m not important, that I’m not needed, so I’m going to spend my time on distracting stuff that doesn’t really matter.”

Personally, I’m not sure that what filling your workday with is “busy work” means that what you are doing “doesn’t really matter.” Someone has to watch re-runs of “The Living Dead,” or the rest of us will be totally unprepared when zombies attack.

So, how do you escape the “Cult of Busy?” Choi suggests you slow down. Unfortunately, this technique may not work for you. You do so little now, reducing your work flow from a trickle to a drip is likely to keep you very, very busy.

Nor do you want to take her advice and start to “track yo’ self,” a solution Choi suggests might be implemented with her own baby, “IDoneThis.com,” which you use to record and broadcast your accomplished of the previous day.

I’m not sure your co-workers need to know that you spent four hours at lunch, and nobody noticed because you left your jacket on your chair. It is an accomplishment, but you probably should think twice before you tell the world “IDoneIt.”

If you can’t change the way you work, you could change your language. This is a tip from author Laura Vanderkam, who suggests that instead of responding to a proposed project by saying, “I’m too busy,” you instead say, “It’s not a priority.”

This is pure brilliance, and I’m sure when you explain to your boss that you can’t possibly deliver that critical project on time, the sheer candor of explaining, “It’s not a priority,” will surely smooth over any residual management rage. In fact, your candor will probably result in a huge raise.

Is this technique guaranteed to work out so well? I could research it for you, but frankly, I’m just too busy.

Bob Goldman was an advertising executive at a Fortune 500 company, but he finally wised up and opened Bob Goldman Financial Planning in Sausalito, California. He offers a virtual shoulder to cry on at bob@bgplanning.com.

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