Just How Busy Are You?

“Between the great things we cannot do and the small things we will not do, the danger is that we shall do nothing.

–Adolphe Monod

climbing_up_folders_400_clr_9727Lately I seem to be hearing a lot of people complaining about how busy they are. I’m probably guilty myself. I can whine with the best of them–I have plenty of opportunities to learn the skill from the kids at school.

When I was actively involved in human resource consulting, one of the phenomena we often discussed was something called “ritualistic complaining.” In short, ritualistic complaining happens when individuals complain somewhat automatically–without deliberate thought– because it’s an unstated expectation. To watch it happen, get ten people together and ask them about their job. The majority are not likely to announce their job is wonderful, fulfilling and pays great. The societal norm is quite the contrary and we are left rightfully wondering if the complaints we are hearing are, in fact, accurate. Managers need to learn to ignore ritualistic complaining.

Since I’ve yet to discover an objective scale for measuring busy, let’s set the question of how busy we are aside for a moment. A better question might be “what are we accomplishing and are we having fun?” See, I happen to think that “being busy” can be addictive–it’s easy to forget that we make choices. While a little ritualistic complaining about how busy we are is probably okay, unless we’ve totally given up control of our lives and schedule there’s no logic to complaining about the choices we make to do or not do things.

The concern always should be that it’s easy to substitute activity (being busy) with accomplishment. I know at least one person who tries to attend as many community meetings as possible. This allows her to report how busy she is in the hope people will assume she’s accomplishing great things for all the organizations she claims to be working with. I also chuckle over the number of people who apologize for failing to get things done because they haven’t had time. A quick check of Facebook reveals they’ve spent most of the morning posting inspirational messages and pictures of cute puppies and kittens. In what must be the ultimate irony, I recently had some frustration with some folks who were too busy to reply that they were too busy to help with a project!

But let’s not forget; that claiming “busy” is one’s right. I just wish we could be honest–if not with others, at least with ourselves. While I have difficulty feeling sympathy for someone who is busy, I do regret that he or she has given up control of time and purpose.

One person I often work with IS busy by my standard. If I email her at 5 AM I can pretty much guarantee I’ll get an immediate reply–we both start our days early. She always walks rapidly with purpose in her step, rarely complains about being busy and I do not ever recall asking her if she’s “got a minute?” and hearing her say no because she’s too busy. She is not the victim of her schedule; she makes choices and accepts that she has.

We may not like admitting it, but when all is said and done, we tend to become victims of ourselves and our choices. One thing that separates us from the lower life forms is our ability to rationalize, but it’s both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing when we use it to manage our time and purpose. It’s a curse when we use that ability to rationalize our choices and our failures because it diminishes the power we have available to us.

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