I hate the word “busy.” It’s right up there with other deplorable words like interesting, beige, moist or K. The thing about busy, is everybody is doing it these days. Busy is the new black. For the majority of people there are constant streaming deadlines and demands pulling at us from home, work, school community and social circles. We are all operating in a perpetual state of busy.
In this day and age, if you have any configuration of job, (or jobs), school, kids, pets, volunteering, hobbies, significant others or spouses… by definition you’re busy. It’s not an excuse it is a state of being. For me it looks like this: professional woman with a full-time job in an executive role that juggles multiple enterprise and localized projects. I also have two-part time jobs as a professor and soccer coach, am a board member with a 501(c)3. I am mother to two very active daughters and wife to a husband who operates on an opposite schedule. My kids are in sports and music, are in the midst of driver’s education classes and securing over 100 hours of volunteer time for high school clubs and summer camps.
Believe me, I’m not complaining and I’m certainly not alone. This reality exists for nearly every person I know. I cannot think of a single person in my life who is suffering from having too much time on their hands.
Disclaimer: I don’t want to glamorize busy either. I believe that there is something systemically wrong with the amount of busy going around these days, but I do want to level the playing field. It’s not an exclusive experience – it’s a shared one so I’ve had to become much better about not only managing and prioritizing my own time not to mention creating boundaries… but also appreciating and respecting the time of others when our paths cross – even when there is a time conflict.
So, we get it. Now what?
First rule of the new normal of busy… Assume everyone else is busy too. That isn’t an excuse not get work or commitments done, it’s simply the environment where the work and commitments exist. That means saying, “I’m sorry, I’m just too busy” is not actually a good reason alone.
Who is asking for your time? At the office, this goes for both your boss who you owe your best effort and your team if you manage people. While it is easy to fixate on what your boss needs, don’t forget that your team is your actual job. They need to have time priority. Ask yourself: What is the timeline that the ask is tied to? Can you adjust that timeline or not? What else do you have competing for that time?
At home, this means family, friends, volunteering, hobbies, pets, travel – arguably much more of a complex system. What are the things you cherish most and what do they need from you and what do you need from them?
Time Manage and set deadlines
Establish goals for yourself that your write down and revisit. Every year I come up with a bucket list that includes work aspirations, books I want to read, new skills I want to learn, activities I want to plan with my children and husband. I revisit that list each month to see how I’m doing and make sure I’m on track. Create task lists each evening for the next day and make sure your clock and calendar are up to date. There is nothing worse than losing track of time. It is far easier to invest some time in planning so that you know where you need to be and you maximize your time spent on each activity. I don’t mind when I’m busy, but I do mind when I feel unproductive.
Create a realistic new window of time.
If not now, when? Provide the next window of availability.
Communicate with honesty and transparency.
- I have a meeting at the same time of your request. That meeting is for a project that has a deadline that is due two weeks earlier. I know this is important to us both so once I get this done I have time the following week. Is that an okay timeline for you? Let’s put it on the calendar now.
- Drinks Thursday? I am actually having dinner with my husband since he’s been out-of-town a lot lately and I want to spend some time catching up, but the following Wednesday I’m free for coffee or drinks if you are.
- I’d love to take your call but I have a new request my manager has brought up only recently that I must address immediately can I please call you back this afternoon?
And if after all the prioritization, time management, and planning you still cannot accommodate the time request be honest, but say no quickly so that they can move on too. Set boundaries that are fair to your obligations but manageable and then don’t over schedule yourself. With clear boundaries, it makes it easier to say no without guilt or frustration.
- I wish I could help out with that volunteer committee and appreciate your asking, but I’m simply stretched too thin. I hope you find an excellent volunteer as I believe in what you’re doing.
What about when it all falls apart? Because it will and at the most inopportune time. You have to ask yourself… Is this temporary or is this forever? If it is temporary, muddle through it. Big project at work and the kids are sick – call in some favors or negotiate with your spouse to split time. Team soccer meeting the same night and the same time as violin lessons? Reschedule or split up into teams. These short-term bottlenecks will rise up, it is how you manage them that makes the difference.
If it is a chronic problem, you may want to reevaluate your circumstances or problem solve on how to improve the circumstances. Are you in a job where the demands are more than you can commit to? Perhaps you are in the wrong role or industry. If you don’t like sacrificing nights and weekends, working in a restaurant is probably the wrong career choice. If you don’t like talking to people I would not recommend going into retail.
Could some proactive intervention change the situation? Do you have an employee who constantly demands your time? Is there some coaching or ongoing dialogue you can use in your scheduled meetings to start tapering off the additional time? Can you listen to books on tape during your commute so that you don’t miss out on your favorite television show in the hour before you usually go to bed?
Remember that it won’t actually last forever.
Our time is our most precious resource. At most points in our life, it is moving at the speed of light. Meeting our obligations and honoring our commitments are a grind and someday much of that grind will be gone. Aging out of work, families growing up and diminishing physical health will someday force us to slow down. In the meantime, embrace the hustle but ensure the time is invested not wasted. Time is your most important currency. But when you see a fellow hustler out struggling on the journey, don’t be too busy to give them a knowing smile. We’re all in this together.