On Being Busy: Fix It or Keep It Quiet but Stop Using It as Badge of Honor


What it means to be busy

It’s common for higher ed. leaders to take pride in how busy they are. Being busy could mean (to them) that they are important, they are dedicated to their role, and they work hard. I fully appreciate the importance of professionalism and dedication but being busy is not a good metric.

People who wear their “busyness” as a badge of honor are often scattered, disorganized, and not nearly as effective as they could be. Please stop glorifying being busy! Being over-committed and not finding time  for strategic planning, or for improvement, or to train and motivate teams, is nothing to brag about. Managers who spend their days putting out fires and who are reactive rather than proactive need to realize they are not acting as leaders.

Being too busy leaves no time for reflection and self-awareness. When I hear “busy” I hear “out of control” or “over-committed” or “not clear on priorities and goals”. And don’t even get me started on the negative effects on one’s personal life, personal relationships, health, wellness, and emotional state…

Choose to be effective instead

What if instead of valuing “busy” you valued “effective”? Isn’t that what matters, anyway? You can be busy answering emails or checking social media or going to countless meetings, but what are you really accomplishing? Please schedule some time to clarify your priorities, set goals, and create metrics to keep yourself accountable.

You will become aware of blocks of time wasted on activities that don’t bring any value. You will soon realize that there are many things you can stop doing or do less often or delegate. You will open your eyes to what you’ve neglected that urgently needs your attention. It will also be a great opportunity to create healthy boundaries with people who consume too much of your time.

Change in mindset

If you want to make a shift from valuing being busy to valuing being effective, you need to understand what has caused you to glorify being busy and change it. For example, here are some false beliefs and unconscious habits that hold people back.

  • Thinking that being less busy means being less dedicated to your work, or even lazy.

  • Thinking that being busy is what makes you important as a person and determines your worth.

  • Being afraid of what people will think of you if you appear less busy.

  • Using work and busyness as an excuse to avoid what you don’t want to do (e.g. going home at a reasonable time to cook healthy dinners instead of buying fast food every night).

  • Using busyness as an excuse to avoid the tasks you don’t enjoy (e.g. paperwork or dealing with problem employees).

  • Using busyness as an excuse for delays, procrastination, avoidance, or mistakes.

  • Finding comfort in avoiding change and valuing what’s familiar over seeking improvements.

It is critical that you reflect on your beliefs and what has kept you stuck until now, or else you will unconsciously self-sabotage and continue to be excessively busy.

Don’t let your ego get in the way

Another thing to keep in check is your ego! Please understand that choosing to work differently does not mean you were wrong before. If becoming more effective and less busy makes you feel bad about your past choices and behavior, your ego will stop you from wanting to make changes.

Give yourself appreciation for your past choices and habits. After all, it’s your hard work that allowed you to climb the ladder and get the position you have today. But now it’s time to grow as a leader and become more self-aware and strategic.

Sometimes the ego stops people from growing because they cannot stand the idea that another person, book, program, or system can offer them techniques they didn’t already know. Please don’t feel bad about not knowing the things you haven’t learned yet! You can’t know everything about everything. Have the humility to open your mind to new solutions.  

Next steps

Now is the time to be completely honest with yourself. Do you wish to remain as busy as you are now, or do you wish to take a close look at how you spend your time and make some changes?

If you are busy, and also effective and productive, and happy with your work performance, you don’t have to change a thing. If being busy gives you significance and is necessary for you to be fulfilled, then it’s not time to re-evaluate your choices.

However, if you are tired, stressed, overwhelmed, and you feel badly about the things you can’t find time to do (from strategic planning to having quality time with your loved ones on the weekend), make a commitment to change right now.

Most people don’t like change and don’t like having to create new habits, so in order to get yourself motivated, think about what your current situation is costing you (emotionally and physically) as well as how it hurts other people (e.g. your staff when they don’t get what they need from you, or your loved ones when they don’t see you happy and present with them).

Let me help you identify what needs to be transformed so that you can accomplish more in less time. Here are three options for you.

1.     Let’s work together. One-on-one coaching is the best way to make rapid progress. Click here to schedule a complimentary call.

2.     The second best option is to complete this self-paced program customized for higher ed. leaders. For only $47 you’ll discover all the strategies you need to become more effective and productive.

3.     Check out the many blogs I have written on time management, listed on this page. That’s a great place to start if you’re not yet ready to follow any kind of structured program.

No matter what you decide, please, stop glorifying being busy. Too many people are sacrificing too much and it’s not good for the culture, morale, or effectiveness. Let’s raise the bar by eliminating or at least discouraging wasted time and efforts.

About the author: Dr. Audrey Reille has empowered thousands of professionals through one-on-one coaching, group coaching, speaking engagements, and online courses. Audrey is the go-to coach for leaders in higher education administration. She empowers them to thrive by reducing stress, optimizing strategies, improving professional relationships, and developing a strong and empowered mindset.