“Going on about how busy you are isn’t conversation and doesn’t lead anywhere,” writes iDoneThis CCO Janet Choi on her company blog, “except making your conversation partner bored, or worse, peeved.”
No one wants to be peeved.
So why do we keep doing all this humblebragging about how busy we are? It’s a question Choi investigates thoughtfully: She observes that people who are “legitimately occupied” with work or family rarely play the “too busy” card (clearly, we don’t know the same people)–or, may even go out of their way to make a connection because they’ve been so swamped.
To Choi, when we say “busy,” we’re really trying to say something else–although what exactly that might be depends on the harried soul that’s complaining. She supplies some translations:
I’m busy = I’m important.
Being busy gives people a sense they’re needed and significant, Choi says. It’s also a sign saying that you’re about to be on-ramped into somebody’s misguided ego trip.
I’m busy = I’m giving you an excuse.
Saying that you’re busy is a handy way to outsource your responsibility to your irresponsibility. Since you’re always distracted, you don’t have to do anything for anybody.
I’m busy = I’m afraid.
Look above at the “I’m important” part. Whether the speaker knows it or not, complaining of busyness is a subtle cry for help, one that reassures us that yes, we are in demand.
As Choi says, we’ve begun to regard busyness as a virtue. It’s maybe second to exhaustion when it comes to being cool at work. All this shows a major error in perspective, she says, one that takes us away from meaningful work:
It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time. We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.
In this way, busyness functions as a kind of laziness. When we fill our schedules with appointments and hands with phones, we divest ourselves of downtime. When we’re endlessly doing, it’s hard to be mindful of what we’re doing.
Of course, it’s a interdependent issue. It’s hard to have downtime if your bosses subscribe to what Anne Marie Slaughter calls our time macho culture, “a relentless competition to work harder, stay later, pull more all-nighters, travel around the world and bill the extra hours that the international date line affords you.”
But don’t let that excuse suffice. You can convince your bosses–if you know how to approach the conversation.