Don’t Tell People You’re Busy

Why do we constantly feel the need to tell people we’re busy?

How many times have you used “so busy” as an excuse for not getting something done or not emailing someone sooner? Go to your inbox and search for the phrase “so busy” or “totally swamped”. It might surprise you.

At least it surprised me. When I was freelancing with Plasticmind Design, this became my go to mea culpa. Sorry I didn’t respond sooner, I’ve been soooo busy. Sorry I didn’t finish rolling out that feature, I’ve been swamped.

Why do we tell people we’re busy?

I think sometimes we’re seeking empathy. We want people to understand just how much we’ve got on our plate at any given moment.

But often, we use the phrase “i’m so busy” to avoid responsibility. Saying you’re busy makes you out like a victim, like you had no choice in the matter and somehow all these things you’re doing fell into your lap. So when you miss deadlines or don’t respond to people, that’s why… I’m just soooo busy.

But what does busy actually mean?

It doesn’t mean important. Plenty of people are busy with trivial stuff. Busy really means nothing more than “I crammed my day full of stuff” — it really says nothing about the sum total of the tasks that you’ve prioritized. Were they meaningful? Were they meaningless? Busy tells us nothing about the quality of those choices.

But I think there’s something deeper at work: if people think we’re busy, they’re less likely to bother us with requests. And you don’t even have to say you’re busy: you can act so frenetic and flustered that you present yourself as unapproachable. Now, you might think that sounds pretty great, but, I’m telling you, be careful what you wish for.

Nothing is more sobering than discovering that you could have helped someone but didn’t because they never even came to you about it… you just seemed too busy and I didn’t want to put one more thing on your plate.

There’s a subtle kind of condescension—“what I’m doing is more important than what you’re asking me for”—that’s conveyed when we tell people we’re busy.

So don’t tell people you’re busy. It’s a cop-out. Fill your days with things that matter and then take ownership of those choices.