Like other four-letter words, “busy” is often bantered about with bravado, as if a sign of strength in this time-frenzied world. A simple, “Fine, thank you” will suffice when asked, “How are you?” Instead, we often bark out, “Busy!” – then proudly catalog our responsibilities and to-do lists.
Yet busy isn’t always good. In fact it can be a symptom of out-of-control timelines, driven by short-sighted work habits and skewed values. Busy becomes an addiction, a false friend that continually demands more, yet never satisfies.
Recognizing that we all must guard against aimless busyness – vs. productive business – a coworker shared with staff an article: “Busy isn’t respectable anymore.” Written by Tyler Ward, a business consultant and lifestyle author, the article details why Mr. Ward avoided using “busy” as a response for an entire year.
Intrigued, I reached out to the Experienced Professionals shared interest group of the Indiana Society of Association Executives, and invited fellow members to join me in a 30-day mini challenge. For one month, we’d lead by example and avoid using the word “busy,” then report back on our findings. The results:
Susie Etienne, VP sales, Schahet Hotels: “Okay, I didn’t make it 30 days … but on the second day of the challenge, I gleefully started a conversation with a line-level employee in the hotel elevator. He asked me, ‘How are you?’ I told him, ‘busy,’ then told him that I was excited to embark on the challenge to quit saying, ‘Oh, soooo busy’ when asked ‘How are you?’ I told him I’m finding ways to have more meaningful conversations with those I’m in contact with. He loved the idea and, since that day, our interactions have all been friendly, positive conversations about the good things going on at work, and even menial things like yard work at home. And that is soooo important in the hospitality business! Happy employees = happy guests.”
Dave Stevens, managing partner, Stevens & Stevens LLC: “I was able to do it. I did find myself referring to others’ busyness however, which I found to be interesting, as if I was giving them their own excuse opportunity. It was a crazy month, so I don’t know if it impacted my ability to manage my busyness. But at least I didn’t burden others with my mentioning of it.”
Cassandra Seaman, senior sales manager, Conrad Indianapolis: “I stopped myself from saying ‘I’m busy’ on several occasions. I also realized I was noticing when those around me were telling others of their being busy! I don’t know if it helped me manage my busyness … but I did take a wonderful vacation recently and did not worry about work one time! :)”
Sherrill Rude, CAE, vice president-advocacy, Indiana CPA Society” “I did try to stop using the ‘b’ word, and the challenge certainly made me more conscious of how I was using my time and the message I was communicating. I think the idea of ‘What impression am I giving to others?’ about my personal brand by being too busy is worth examining. Part of being a professional is the impression we give, which reflects on our workplaces. If we give less than our best by being too busy, then we are failing ourselves and our colleagues.”
Personal perspective: During my hiatus, I caught myself using the word three times. Overall, though, I managed to maneuver around “busy” conversational roadblocks – where normally I would have used the word – by either substituting “occupied” or “full schedule,” or instead by changing the subject. At the end of the 30-day challenge, I felt I was more aware of: (1) how often I use the word “busy” and (2) how often I misuse it to secretly brag or complain. I am now trying to use the word far less often than before taking the challenge.
Trade association perspective: Certainly, productivity remains the goal for trade association professionals. As we gain insight about the consequences of “busy” and seek ways to make our lives run more strategically and less tactically, let us carry forward these concepts to our associations as a whole. For example, underlying each product or service offering, we need to be asking whether our associations are engaging in hectic busyness – a flurry of time-draining activity – or in purposeful business, fueled with efficient operations. Let us keep our sights on our ultimate corporate goal, which is to achieve our missions, while helping our members to succeed in theirs.