Take a Second Look at the Busyness in Your Business

What is the #1 most frequent answer in the workplace to the question “How are you?” You’ve said it and heard it so often it probably doesn’t even register anymore. The answer is a single word: “Busy.”

As a leader, that answer needs to register. More than that, it needs to be looked at to find out what people are really saying. Here are four messages that often hide behind the word “busy.” 

  1. Alignment

The first message is one of alignment. People are busy, but what are they busy doing? For instance, are their energies and actions aligned with the goals and needs of the business? Are they prioritizing tasks to make the best use of their time and resources?

Let’s face it: people can – with the best of intentions and to the best of their ability – be busy all day but not perform optimally for the business. They might, for example, spend hours crafting the exact right words for a report when all that was needed was a quick-and-dirty synopsis. They could prioritize a low-value project over a high-value project simply because they do not know the relative importance of each. 

When one of your employees or team members says they are “busy,” be certain you know what that entails. If the busyness isn’t accomplishing the best for the business, take a time out to talk about alignment. 

  1. Attitude

The second message concerns attitude. Listen for tone of voice and other nonverbal cues when a person says they are “busy.” Do they sound excited and engaged or depressed and defeated? Are they resigned to their fate or anticipating the future? 

Being busy can be energizing or draining based on several factors, including whether the person likes or dislikes what they are doing, is under short-term or long-term pressure, or feels that things are going well or poorly. This means that a person can be in a job they love but be in a negative frame of mind because of circumstances such as the all-too-common “too much to do in too little time.” 

As a leader, pay attention to the attitude people convey in that single word “busy.” If you sense that something is off, probe further. At the very least, asking questions and actively listening lets the person know that their thoughts and feelings matter. And you may find, during the conversation, that actions can be taken to improve the situation. 

  1. Accountability

The third message involves accountability. Organizations and teams reflect the characteristics modeled by the leader. With that in mind, consider well what you are communicating when you answer “How are you?” with the word “Busy.” For example: 

  • Are you modeling constant busyness as a way of life and an expectation for the workplace? If so, you may be creating an unhealthy atmosphere.  
  • Are you explaining what you are busy doing so that people get a sense of direction and progress? If so, that can help encourage and motivate your people. 
  • Are you demonstrating self-care in the midst of your busyness? If so, you are promoting a positive work-life balance that supports a sustainable business. 

As a leader, you are a prime mover in building the culture of your organization. How you act and what you say affects everyone around you. Be careful in your busyness, because you are accountable to your business. 

  1. Adjustment

The final message is that of adjustment. This message has already come through in the above points, but it is so important that it warrants being called out on its own as well. Based on how busy people are, what they are busy doing, how that busyness is affecting them, and what type of busyness is being modeled for them, you may need to make some adjustments in your business. 

In particular, adjustments are essential if: 

  • Everyone is busy all of the time at an unsustainable and unhealthy level.
  • People’s time is consumed by complex or manual processes that could be streamlined or automated.  
  • You cannot take on new opportunities or handle unexpected obstacles because there is no “slack” in your business. 
  • People – including you – are working so hard and so fast that there is no time and space to strategize or innovate. 

Adjustments can and should be made on both the personal, team, and corporate levels if there is evidence of unhealthy busyness. 

A lot can hide behind the word “busy.” The next time you hear – or say – the word, take a second look. You very well might find messages of alignment, attitude, accountability, or adjustment lying just beneath the surface. If so, take the time to evaluate the busyness in your business.



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