• Ashley Fry

Nobody Cares How Busy You Are

We all have this friend, this boss, or this co worker. You ask them how they’re doing, how things are going and their never-fail answer is, ‘Oh man- things are insane’, ‘Things are crazy right now’, ‘I’ve literally been in back-to-back meetings all day’, ‘I’m way too busy to take lunches anymore’.

Constantly talking about how busy you are sends a few pretty strong messages to those around you and especially to those who may be reporting to you.

And we all do this to a certain extent, right? There are certainly days we tell our friends and coworkers how busy we are- because there certainly will be days where things are abnormally crazy. But, if everyday small talk is to instantly dive in to how many meetings you have, how little sleep you got, or how many nights this week you missed putting your kids to bed because of how much work you have to do, there’s a problem.

Below I outline five determinants of yelling from the rooftops how busy you are all the time- and the messages you’re inadvertently sending to those around you.

Look how important I am

One of the strongest and most clear messages you’re sending when constantly talking about your busy schedule is a sad desperation to let the receiver know just how important you are… or you think you are. Continuing to talk about how packed your days are comes off as braggadocios and boastful. It implies that you’re the busy one, not anyone else in the room, when in fact, everyone is likely just as busy as you are- or maybe they’re just better at managing their time... Either way, not a good look to wear.

My time is more important than your time

When leaders get really busy- too busy- they get selfish. Another strong message you send when you’re severely over scheduled is that your time is simply more important than your team's’ time. Always running around, scatter-brained and rushed from one meeting to the next makes it so your retention of the discussions and action items in meetings is severely compromised. Your employees and teammates notice when you can’t remember what you guys talked about only a couple days ago and will start to feel frustrated at the constant need to remind you. When leaders get this busy they tend to schedule meetings at really inconvenient times- through employees’ lunch hours, after they typically need to leave for the day to pick up their kid from school, or at a totally unrealistic working time due to a time difference for remote employees. When you do these things as a leader your team views you as someone who can’t get their s#*t together and who doesn’t value their time.

Only reach out or interrupt me if it’s really important

When someone is constantly talking about how insane their schedule is, it sends a strong message that what they might want to discuss with you better be pretty damn important to be able to be prioritized high enough to compete with all of the other undoubtedly super important things on your schedule. It makes people think twice about reaching out to you with questions, to seek advice, or to just chat with you about something, which is pretty much the last thing you want as a leader. It’s just not enough to say you have an ‘open door policy’ but then also have every minute of your schedule booked so someone would have to take out another co-worker to take their slot on your calendar. You’re going to miss out on key information going on with your team, you won’t be there for employees when they just need to vent or talk, and ultimately you’ll be akin to that parent who can never tear themselves away from their phone or laptop and misses pivotal moments in their child’s life- not a good place to be.

I’m prioritizing all these things over you

Definitely related to the point above- when your co workers look at your schedule to try to fit a meeting in, they ultimately see large swaths of time you’re choosing to spend on other things instead of with them. This is not to say you need to spend every waking moment with any given direct report- if you’re doing that, there are absolutely other problems. But if you haven’t been good about having regular 1 on 1’s or check ins with employees, a certain resentment will inevitably form when they look at your calendar and see all the things you’re choosing to do instead of meet with them. ‘But what if the titles of my meetings are set to private on my calendar so people don’t know what meetings I’m in?’ This kind of lack of transparency is dangerous. Rule of thumb: if you don’t provide a story to employees, they’ll make up their own story. And, spoiler alert- it’s human nature: their story is almost always more negative than the truth. Control your story whenever possible. More on that concept in a future post.

I expect this level of busyness from you too

One of the things you learn right quick about being a leader is that your employees will naturally model what they feel you expect of them off of your behavior. If you’re constantly skipping lunch, having to work late into the night to finish work, and always mentioning various meetings you’re getting ‘roped into’, they’ll 100% think that’s expected of them as well. Sending that email at 9:30 at night might feel good in the moment because you’re ‘catching up from the day’, but what it’s really doing is showing every recipient on that email that these are the working hours you expect; that this is what working hard looks like. You may preach having a ‘good work-life balance’ but be sending a completely different message to your employees, burning them out, and not even realizing it.

So a couple things to unpack here. First- The next time you catch yourself saying, ‘I’m too busy’, literally replace the phrase with, ‘It’s not a priority for me.’ Too busy to have regular 1 on 1’s with your employees? It’s not a priority for you. Too busy to complete your employees’ annual performance reviews on time? They’re not a priority for you. Too busy to work on career paths in your department to give your employees room for growth on your team? Retaining highly skilled employees is not something you prioritize highly.

So when you find yourself saying, ‘I’m booked solid for the next two weeks- what does three Wednesdays from now look like for you?’, remember that is translating to, ‘I am prioritizing every single meeting I have for the next two weeks over meeting with you, talking with you, and connecting with you’ to your friends, co workers and employees.

Lastly- make time for what is truly important. When we frame business in the above ways, many of us don’t realize the messages we’ve been broadcasting out to employees and friends. Once you’re aware of the messages you’re sending, you can start to really take a hard look at your busy schedule- and, arguably more importantly, the way you talk about your busy schedule- and start to make some meaningful changes.