When someone asks how you are, do you launch into a litany of reasons that you’re crazy busy or overwhelmed? Do you tick off the many competing priorities that keep you from catching your breath or relaxing?  Is there talk of being jealous of people who find time to exercise, entertain or garden?  Or how you’d do things differently if only you had the time?  If this sounds familiar, it may be time to stop and ask yourself if your busyness is based on real demands.  Or is your ego driving you to show off to others that you’re an important person with important things to do?

According to researchers at Harvard and Columbia Universities, social status based on how busy you are appears to be culturally driven and, perhaps, generationally driven. They looked at U.S. and Italian studies and found that busyness at work is associated with high status for Americans.  While in Italy, the opposite is true.  Italian’s love of leisurely living continues to represent high status.

If you get genuine pleasure out of working hard and juggling a lot, your busyness is likely rooted in an internal need to be super productive.  That’s great.  It’s consistent with your value system and a healthy approach to self-actualization.  But if you only derive pleasure from being busy when you’re boasting or complaining about it to others, the real question to ask yourself is whether your busyness is taking you where you want to go.

When I hear people list all the things that are taking up their time, I wonder if they really need to be as busy as they say they are.  Sometimes, we use being overwhelmed as an excuse for not getting certain things done.  We use being soooo busy to justify why we didn’t deliver on something we promised.  It deflects questions about why a deadline was missed or work was not up to standard.  Or we use being too busy as a force field designed to stop others from asking something of US, like taking on extra work, volunteering or for a favor we’d rather not perform. Even in these cases, there is an indirect attempt to communicate status.

Whenever I, or my clients, are in the “I’m so busy trap,” I acknowledge that this is a moment of being stuck in a story – which is one of the LIES that limit.  LIES are labels, illusions, excuses and stories.  This particular story about being too busy to take on anything new can result in missing out on opportunities to grow, to connect more deeply with ourselves and others. We even miss out on pleasure.

If you’re too busy or overwhelmed, you’re closing yourself off to new challenges and experiences.  The status you think you’re communicating is really a barrier to change and to being your best.  It’s your internal Border Patrol keeping you in place, holding you back from experiencing what’s on the other side of the fear that lurks behind the mask of “busy and important.”

We live in a world where everyone is busy.  Everyone is adding more and more to the finite hours in a day.  Being busy isn’t a valid way to cover up the choices we make — or don’t make — about how we spend our time.  That choice is ours alone.  Yes, there are consequences to weigh, but ultimately, we still choose how we spend the precious resource of time.

As we define and redefine work-life balance, perhaps more accurately termed work/life integration, we create the necessary space and awareness to choose how we spend our time and expend our physical and emotional energy.  Reframe your Border Patrol’s old story about how busy you are and get on with the life for which you yearn — a life in which there is time and space for you and what’s really most important to your success and satisfaction.

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