I hear this lament a lot these days, and I suspect you do as well. This dismissive comment can be the response you get whenever you ask a work colleague to; 1) reply to a question, 2) help out with a project you're working on, 3) carve out some time to help an intern or trainee, 4) attend an off-site networking event, or 5) even to grab lunch sometime to chat about life in general.
Sometimes you don't even get a response at all, as voice mail and emails may go unanswered.
These people are just too busy to pick their nose up from the grindstone they're pressed against to give you the time of day. Or to smell the roses, for that matter.
Now what does that say to you when the door seems to be shut in your face? How does it make you feel? That perhaps you should be busy too? That you wish you were as dedicated a worker as your colleague? Or perhaps you have a less positive reaction in mind.
Go Away (nicely)
I read an article the other day by Ed Baldwin, who used the tagline Busy Is The New Stupid. In it he said that the real message that you're likely sending when you say you're too busy is that:
- Your time is more important than theirs
- You're not very good at prioritizing your time
- You want to be judged based on how busy you are, not how productive you are
- You aren't a priority (to me), or at least what you want to speak with me about isn't a priority
A bit harsh perhaps, but at the same time the author is presuming that busy people are productive and successful people. So you're really interrupting them. More about that in a bit.
What Mr. Baldwin is focused on in his article is suggesting a better way for that busy employee to get rid of the irritant (you) without appearing insensitive. He opines that by instead using the phrase, "It (what you're asking or suggesting) isn't a priority for me" you won't be using a lame excuse of being so busy, but still honestly responding in a way that doesn't glorify one's own "busyness" and imply that your time is more important than theirs.
I'm not so sure about that, though, as labeling the questioner's needs as low priority in your world isn't likely to win friends or influence people in their world or your own, never mind see that they receive Christmas cards this year. People remember being blown off, no matter how nicely done.
And that doesn't even touch the negative social aspects (avoiding lunch) or helping one's own career (active networking).
Busy or Productive?
There is another way to look at this busyness though, and that is with the view that, "As long as I'm busy I'm being productive and a good employee."
Another fallacy. If you can divide your goals into importance rankings (say, A or B or C), then you can be very busy all day long working on "C" tasks and never accomplish anything of import. In this case, being labeled as "busy" doesn't necessarily connote worthwhile productivity, but literally - being very active. As they're so caught up in whatever they are doing they are unable or unwilling to help someone else. But that doesn't mean whatever they are doing is all that meaningful.
Are productive and successful people busy? I suspect so, but I don't think that the determinant criteria is simply being busy. Because time and again we've seen that the Joe Averages out there can be quite busy as well.
Let's hope you can find your own balance of being productively engaged in impactful work without being a rude idiot about it when someone stops by your office space.
And while you're at it, go ahead and take that lunch, and take the time to polish off your networking skills. It's all good.
Chuck Csizmar CCP is founder and Principal of CMC Compensation Group, providing global compensation consulting services to a wide variety of industries and non-profit organizations. He is also associated with several HR Consulting firms as a contributing consultant. Chuck is a broad based subject matter expert with a specialty in international and expatriate compensation. He lives in Central Florida (near The Mouse) and enjoys growing fruit and managing (?) a clowder of cats.
Creative Commons image,"Employee," by Southern Christian University