It seems that whenever you ask anyone how their work is these days you get the same response; 'it's busy'. We've kind of taken the word busy and used it to describe an almost constant state of work. I had someone in my team say they were too busy for planning at one point, which does make me scratch my head. How can you be too busy to take stock and plan your day? Surely that in itself means, as it did in this case, that the person risks wasting time working on stuff that's been overtaken by events? The problem isn't the fact that we're busy as such - it's more that we're so petrified of being classed as lazy or inactive that we feel there's a certain expectation that busy is the right state to be in. Let's straighten this one out and dig a bit deeper.
Most people might class me as busy. I work a lot, hold down a full-time job with leadership and management responsibilities, run a company, have a wife and kids, got a dog that needs walking, always got projects on and need to decorate the house etc etc. I don't consider any of this to be a negative fact. I very rarely miss lunch (food in general is high on my priority list), I don't work ridiculously long hours in the traditional sense, I've been known to waste time looking at crap on the internet and I'm not immune to a bit of 'Facebooking' either. I've got a team of ten here and I like to think that on pretty much any day one of them can bring issues to me and I've got capacity to help them with that or at least talk through the options.
I'm not scared either to have a team meeting and let the team know I have capacity this week if they need any help with what they're working on. In fact I'd go further and say that this is not a luxury for leadership, it's a necessity. Being too busy to make time for people that work for you sends out lots of messages about what's the most important part of your job - surely it should be them?
Okay okay, so what if you're not in a management position? What if you're a worker bee, diligently pushing through an ever-expanding over-crowded inbox? Firstly it's great to be able to have an understanding of what you can and can't achieve. If the amount of work you can do in your allotted hours is less than the tasks you have then you can just work away blindly or you can take some action. You can reflect on your own practice and see if there's ways to do things more efficiently, you can ask for help, you can prioritise and most importantly you must communicate the struggles.
The real problem with busy though is when it's entirely self-induced and not linked to outputs. How many people are busy but don't seem to actually be doing anything? I 'waste' time during my day. I don't take formal breaks as such, but if I want to look at Fb or read the news that's what I do. I take time to drink a cuppa or walk over and see others some times. Some times I listen to music and sometimes I blog, answer personal emails and even watch the odd video. I think this is fine and here's why. When I'm at home, I check my work emails and have a work phone. If someone calls me when I'm busy with my other stuff, I speak to them if I can, I might take some action or make notes to follow up depending on what I have on. Work has leaked into home life, so it's only fair to some extent that home life leaks into work. In fact work and home are just a part of my life and in order to do the best at that I need to be myself.
One thing's for sure is that you need to spend some time during the day doing what gives you pleasure - be that reading a newspaper or blogging or reading last night's results. Busy is not an excuse for missing out on the human interactions though, these are the fun parts too and the bits that we need. If your calendar is over flowing with 'crap' then you need to find a way to free yourself from it, look at how you spend your time and how effective you are.
So yes, I'm busy if you like, but not too busy, never too busy to talk with people and enjoy my work life just like my home life :)