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Being 'Busy' Is a Lame Excuse

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Co-worker A: "How are things going?" 

Co-worker B: "Things are busy."

That…right there. How many times have you had that exact same interaction--playing the role of either co-worker A or B? Too many.

That dynamic, Oscar-worthy dialogue accounts for way too much of what we say in a typical workday. "I'm busy" is the new "Fine," “Swell” or “Not bad”—an easy way to suppress emotions and gloss over how things are actually going (if they were terrible, would you actually share?). 

I'm not saying we need to take every passing nicety as an excuse to share our life story, but it's time to stop pretending that saying "I’m busy" actually means anything. Being busy is a tool we use to glide through a conversation while simultaneously trying to win the office pool for "most busy."

Have you ever seen a group of colleagues at the water cooler remark, “Hey, did you guys hear how busy Larry is? Impressive!” No. Neither have I. As one of my bosses used to repeatedly say, "I'm not impressed by people who are busy."

A recent post on Time's Moneyland blog looked at a few recent articles that tackle the busy phenomenon:

Forget about being perfect. In a Q&A with the Washington Post, Brené Brown, a University of Houston professor and the author of the new book Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead, talks about how people use the idea of being “crazy busy” as a sort of armor—a justification for not bothering to pause, evaluate what’s going on in your life, and reconsider decisions regarding lifestyle, work, family, and perhaps whether it’s really necessary to be “crazy busy.”

Focus on productivity, not face time. Robert C. Pozen, senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School and author of Extreme Productivity: Boost Your Results, Reduce Your Hours, also advises against pursuing perfectionism on the job in a New York Times column. For instance, when setting out to write a long memo, some people “insist on perfecting each sentence before moving to the next one.” Instead, Pozen suggests that it’s better to write fast, then revise and polish as necessary—and a lot of polish is probably not necessary.

Workaholism is not a virtue—it’s a problem. There aren’t many addictions one would readily admit to during a job interview. So it seems rather odd, The Fix notes, that it’s commonplace in society to brag about being a workaholic. In the short run, overworking is likely to boost your career, and help whatever company or organization you work for. Down the line, however, there’s often a price to be paid for workaholism:

Have you ever won an award for “most busy” in your office? What should we say instead of “I’m busy”?

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(Image via Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com)

Mark Micheli is Special Projects Editor for Government Executive Media Group. He's the editor of Excellence in Government Online and contributes to GovExec, NextGov and Defense One. Previously, he worked on national security and emergency management issues with the US Treasury Department and the Department of Homeland Security. He's a graduate of the Coro Fellows Program in Public Affairs and studied at Drake University.

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