What if “busy” is just another four-letter word?
By Pete Hall

The setting: Workplace parking lot, coffee shop, grocery store checkout line, family gathering, kids’ softball tournament…honestly, it happens everywhere.

You: “Hey, how’s it going?”

Someone else (honestly, just about everyone else): “Busy. You know, busy.”

Um, I don’t know. Help me.

What does that seemingly innocuous, glib response really mean, anyway?

I have a theory about our infatuation with the term “busy.” I think it’s meant to communicate up to three things very clearly and powerfully, and it’s something we do subconsciously. We use “busy” so off-handedly, so habitually, and so often that at this point, it’s become an involuntary response, non unlike laughing when being tickled or rolling our eyes upon hearing a dad-joke.

Anyway, here’s my theory. We use “busy” to share up to three big ideas with our companions:

  1. My life is so high-speed, so packed with tasks and projects, that I’m being tugged in many directions and it’s hard to be present. It’s hard work being this busy, and because of that, I want you to feel sympathy for me. I want you to feel for my plight, as engulfed in the merciless onslaught of work as I am. Just say, “Whoa, that’s rough. Must be a challenge.” You bet it is, thanks for noticing!
  2. I’m in such great demand that I must be very important. Notice that, will you? Unimportant people have time on their hands – by contrast, so many folks desire my presence, my efforts, my energy, and my skills that I am worthy of some adulation. Admire me. Tell me, “Wow, good for you! That’s great! Better than the alternative, right?” Cause darn right that’s right.
  3. I’ve got so much going on that there’s no possible way I could return that phone call, answer your request, complete that project, visit my friends, check-in on a relative, prepare a home-cooked meal, dedicate myself to an exercise regimen, tidy up my house or work-space, or plan proactively for retirement. Seriously, my life has a stranglehold on me! Forgive me. Say, “Holy smokes that’s rough, of course you didn’t text me back!”

We use “busy” so off-handedly, so habitually, and so often that at this point, it’s become an involuntary response.

What I’ve found is we wear “busy” on our sleeves like a badge. It simultaneously requests empathy (1) and respect (2), while excusing our inattentiveness or lack of follow-through (3). What’s more perfect than that, in a work setting? If we can get people to side with us emotionally (1) and admire us as professionals (2) while believing outside forces cause all our transgressions (3), we’re set, right?

Except it’s not authentic. So let’s get real, shall we? I’ve tried to swear off the term “busy” in my response to greetings and queries just for that simple reason. Perhaps some of these options might help open us up and offer honesty and connection with others when we’re asked, “Hey, how’s it going?”

  • I’m happy this morning. I played my favorite song on my way to work and it really cheered me up. You ever heard of Dropkick Murphys?
  • I’m great, thank you. I’m so appreciative for this day and all that I can accomplish if I put my mind to it. What are your goals for the day?
  • Honestly, I’m a little hungry. My protein shake didn’t really do it for me this morning, and I could use a Belgian waffle, you know?
  • I’m striving for a solid balance between work, play, rest, and my other responsibilities, which is tough on workdays, haha! I’m looking forward to going on a nice walk during my lunch break, though, want to join me?
  • I’m struggling a bit with some big decisions that are on my plate right now, actually. I could use a little grace and patience if I come across as snarky or distracted, cool?
  • I’m feeling appreciated. Got a nice compliment on my quarterly report and on my shoes already today. I tell you, my bucket’s filling faster than I thought it would. How are you?
  • I’m in the weeds today. I could use some help remembering why I’m doing what I’m doing. Got a few minutes to chat?
  • Fill-in-the-blanks. Be honest. Be real. Just don’t say “busy.”

Pete Hall is the President/CEO of Strive Success Solutions. You can reach him via email at Pete@StriveSS.com.

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