The real cost of busy

A few years back, I was in full on overwhelm. In over my head, working 50+ hours a week, hustling from one meeting to another. I was a burnt out leader with never enough time for anything but to dream of a good night’s sleep.

I had an illness called Busy. Have you heard of it, perhaps experienced it yourself? It’s on the rise, as more and more of us take on more.

I was reading an article recently on how busy-ness has become a status symbol. The more busy we are, somehow the more important we are. If you listen closely to the conversations around you, you may here things like “I’m too busy for X” or “I’m sorry I’m late/can’t make it. I’m just so busy.” While busy can be connected to perceptions of value, there is an even greater toll I’ve noticed and experienced myself.

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Some years back, when I was suffering from Busy, my husband and I were celebrating my birthday. In between checking my email and worrying about work, we had dinner and wine at a lovely restaurant I can’t remember the name of (there’s a theme here already). At one point, he gave me my gift. This beautiful First Nations traditional woven jewelry basket he handpicked for me on our last trip to Tofino BC.

You would think I would remember the next part. Saying thank you, admiring the gift, asking questions about why he chose it. Nope. I don’t remember much. Why? Because I was too busy.

I was too busy to be present for my husband, our night, my birthday, the gift. Which really means I was too busy for the person who matters most in my life. Looking back at that night, I see that my busy-ness has another side.

If you listen even closer to the conversations around you, you’ll hear another lens. It sounds like this:

“Hey I know you’re busy but… “I’m sure you’re too busy to see/meet with me…”

When others perceive us as busy, they can shift how they connect and engage with us. Maybe they stop asking you to coffee or for your advice. They don’t let you know when you’ve missed a deadline or meeting because they don’t want to bother you. Over time they can lose faith in your ability to lead and make decisions.

There’s more.

The ultimate cost of Busy is trust. 

In my work with dozens of organizations over the years I have witnessed people lose their sense of value and purpose because of leaders who are too busy. Teams that once thrived with creativity and excitement slowly disintegrate from a lack of human connection that comes from making space and being present with others.

The saddest part for me is when I see people who give up. They can let you get away with Busy because they have to protect themselves from being let down again. I’ve seen this happen at work and at home.

What do we miss out on when we’re not present?

What moments do you wish you could do over?

Me, I wish I could remember the name of that restaurant. I’d take Kam back there, turn my phone off, and give him – give us – our full attention.

As we know, there’s no going back. But there is going forward. Decide today what you want to be here for. What could you bring to your life and the people in it if you weren’t so busy? What kind of leader could you be? What kind of life partner, co-worker, parent, friend? When you choose presence, there is no space for busy. Only trust, connection, and a lifetime of memories.