The art of being busy

How was your day? Susani, my wife,  asked when I came home from work yesterday. I heard myself saying, “it was a busy day.” before I could stop it.

A busy day? that doesn’t mean anything. It reminds me of the old advertising “that man deserves a DB”. Being busy can mean a lot of things. Although, when we have an all hands meeting and  people report what they do and what their challenges are, there’s always one (at least) who starts with “I’m busy”. And I repeat that doesn’t mean anything. It doesn’t tell your audience or the other person what you have been doing.

What are your tasks, your issues, your accomplishments, your set backs, or your break throughs? Give your audience a chance to engage, to provide feedback, assistance, missing information, or clap on the back.


Some people get it, all things they do fit together somehow and as a whole flow in the same direction. I like that. It feels right. It’s like a puzzle where the pieces all fit together nicely. Others start at all four corners of the jigsaw simultaneously. Then someone throws a random part at them and it becomes the center of their attention immediately. That piece doesn’t necessarily belong to the problem at hand at all and simply distract from their task at hand. Create a flow, that can be planned. Set priorities and deadlines that are achievable. See how the items fit together to form a whole. Now you can talk about what keeps you busy, you know what’s coming up and what you have completed.

Saying No

Busy people have a hard time of saying No. They like being busy, they like being asked, they like when they solve a problem, and they totally forget that that issue is not what they had set out to do today. It is hard dealing with distraction. I hate it when you are in a conversation, the phone rings and one party picks it up. Is our conversation not important to you? I admit, I fall at times into that trap too. So let’s face it, distractions are always there. It depends on us how we deal with them. Saying no can simply mean to ignore the phone (most of us have voicemail and caller id) – we can ring back, or being proactive put the phone to voicemail or vibrate.


Isn’t email fantastic (or Twitter and facebook for that matter), we get updates and feedback and requests at our fingertips and can act on it immediately. Hold on, how often do you check your email? What’s your habit of getting notifications? Yes, a constant source of distraction and little or big things that keeps you busy. Stop that. Look at your email at times that you want to and how it fits into your schedule. Don’t let email drive your day. You are in control – behave like that! Your day job may actually include to checking emails constantly because you are a front line support person, or your main communication and documentation medium is email. Still, take control of your schedule and make sure email fits into your flow of objectives.


Many people like check lists or action lists. They feel good ticking things of that they have achieved. Lists have another great advantage, they make you think what you have and need to do in the next day or week to achieve a certain goal. They help you to keep on track. Project Management processes are full of checklists. SOPs (standard operating procedures) are nothing else than glorified check lists. Just imagine your GP (General Practitioner), how many symptoms he needs to know and what they can imply. He will consult a checklist if he’s unsure. A life may depend on it. The same goes for the pilot of a 747, there’s a check list before the plane leaves the airport. So, why not make a check list for yourself? For example, the functional outcomes you are responsible for or more specific tasks you regularly do. You have a better understanding where you are at and what comes next.

Coming back to me, home yesterday. After finishing “I had a busy day”, I added what happened what I achieved and what roadblocks came up. Much better.

One comment on “The art of being busy

  1. […] remotely. I’m one of them. This proved to be an amazing opportunity. Instead of having the usual ‘busy’ day with scheduled meetings and interruptions I could concentrate on a number of things and got them […]

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