We have a problem when we equate busyness with productivity (or, worse yet, success). We have a problem when we let people know we’re fitting them in to our schedules. We’re all busy people, and some of us might be considered productive, but none of us have the right to make others feel less important. A productive person is one who gets a lot done but doesn’t feel busy (or make others feel that they are).
I was talking with one of my employees about how much I had to do and when I would be able to get him some feedback. A few minutes after our conversation I cringed–I may have leeway with when I get him the feedback, but he didn’t deserve my listing out my to do list. He has just as much to do, if not at work then in other places, and I should never let my “busy life” be more important.
I got a phone call last week and the client exclaimed, “I’m so lucky I got you on the phone…I know how busy you are.” Maybe he meant it as a compliment, but it sort of irked me. Here I am trying to feel on top of my life/schedule…and I’m making an important client feel like I don’t have time for him. No, that’s not quite what he said, but it bugged me. It’s not that I’m not busy, but I want it to be clear to people (especially friends and, well, prospects/clients) that I have time for them.
It’s all about the approach: when scheduling, working on a project, or running into someone in the street there are ways to move quickly without making other obligations seem more important. We may have good reasons for scheduling things well in advance, but people don’t need to know the details. If we do opt to share the details, we have to be careful with the tone–and this is where we can fail . Some examples:
- I really don’t have time for this today, sorry.
- I’m a little overwhelmed by a deadline, could we talk about this tomorrow?
- Could we talk about this tomorrow, I want you to have my full attention when we talk?
In the first case it’s all about you; it’s like saying “I have more important things right now.” In the second case you have a legitimate problem, but you’re still interested in the other person. In the third case it’s all about the other person; regardless of your responsibilities.
We need to pay attention to how we talk about our time because it translates to how we value the other person.
The easiest way to make people feel like we’re not busy is, of course, to not be busy. We may have a busy day, but we shouldn’t be busy people. Perhaps this seems like semantics, but hear me out: we want to be productive not busy. The purpose of systems like Getting Things Done and The 4-Hour Workweek is not just to cram more into a day, but to get control of it. Once we’re in control we can give our tasks and the people in our lives our full attention.
Whether or not we’re at that stage now, we can at least be a little more cognizant of how we talk about our time. Better yet, I’ve found that when I don’t make others think I’m so busy that I feel less busy myself.