3 Reasons Why You Should Never Say You’re Busy


When I was in business school years ago, I had a friend, Mike, who was a newspaper reporter.  This was before there was a 24-hour news cycle and people bought printed papers.  That meant Mike had to hit an afternoon story deadline in order to get published in the morning paper. Mike would spend his day talking to people to uncover story leads and gain insights into the topics he covered.  He lived with the constant pressure to both network with people for information and write something compelling before 3:00 P.M.  Mike said his routine felt like living in a world with a perpetual “final exam” looming over his head.

However, I never heard Mike say he was busy.  Not once.

In fact, Mike was one of the most laid-back, relaxed guys I’ve ever met.  He didn’t seem to rush for anything.

One day I asked him about his demeanor and how he could live under a constant deadline and still avoid being crazed.

“Oh, I feel crazed,” he said, “but I never SAY that I’m busy.” Thoroughly confused, I had to ask, “Why not?”

The answer Mike gave  forever changed my vocabulary and, more important, my approach to my schedule.

“Joy, the whole world is busy.  There’s no ‘news’ there.  I assume everyone’s busy, and, if they give it any thought, they’ll realize I’m busy too.  So what?  No one cares about my schedule.  I assume you don’t need to hear about my busyness.  Besides, nothing shuts a ‘source’ down quicker than if they think you don’t have time to talk.  I always have time to talk.”

A few things stuck with me from this conversation.

1. Saying “I’m busy” isn’t newsworthy.

If, indeed, “the whole world is busy,” why does my schedule merit airtime?

My boss doesn’t care if I’m over-booked; he just wants me to get my work done.  My friends aren’t interested in my crazy routine; they’d appreciate engagement in our conversations.  My kids don’t need to know I’m busy; they want me to be available to “parent.”  My husband doesn’t need to know the extent of my “to-do” list; he’d rather have me open to relaxing with the family.

Think about this in your world.  By talking about your calendar, are you articulating truly relevant information?  Or are you complaining? (For the record, people are even less interested in complaints than they are in schedules!)

2.  Relationships happen in open, un-busy, spaces.

Mike made a living cultivating relationships with people so they would feel comfortable talking to him. He saw a direct link between his availability and the quality of the conversation.

So much of the time I want to fit a chat in according to little blocks on my Outlook calendar.  However, real relationships are messier than that.  Friends need a kind word, or a piece of advice right before a big work meeting.  Work discussions often need more depth and attention than the 15 minutes you’ve booked.

If I want my relationships to be deep and meaningful, I can’t communicate (verbally or non-verbally) that I’m “busy.”

Availability always enhances relationships.

3.  When you say, “I’m busy,” you communicate poor management skills.

Ultimately, you are in charge of your calendar.  If you complain that you're too busy, you're saying that your calendar runs you, instead of the other way around.

You communicate the same message when you can no longer get to events on time,  show up to meetings ill-prepared, or are harried wherever you go.  If this is your life,  it’s time to beat your schedule into submission!  Remember, all calendar victories start with a “no.”

Don’t beat yourself up for declining meetings.  You’ll never be free from schedule madness until you get comfortable taking responsibility for your time.  Saying “no” because you don’t want to be busy is ALWAYS a legitimate reason for declining a task.

Mike’s words bothered and challenged me for years.  However, by purging that four-letter word from my vocabulary, I’ve found a healthier blend between what I really value (relationships) and my schedule.