Skip to main content

So What Do I Say if I Can’t Say I’m Busy?

By April 24, 2018February 14th, 2019Articles, Leadership

This is one of the most common questions I am asked by leaders and by participants in my workshops when I encourage them to stop the ‘busy’ language. There is a genuine look of fear and confusion on their faces. How would I respond or what on earth will I say if I can’t say I’m busy and won’t people think there’s something wrong if I’m not busy?

The language of busy has become so ingrained in our culture. We think we just have to be busy. We think busy, we speak busy and we believe we’re busy. It’s become an instinctive response to the question of how are you or how are things and in my opinion it’s very lazy language. It’s nondescript, beige and rather boring. Everyone is busy so how are you going to stand out and get known for what you do if all you are is busy?

The fact of the matter is, most people turn off to the busy response. They expect it. How often have you had someone ask you about what you’re busy doing? My bet is it’s very rare. However, when people have changed their response of busy to something much more exciting (and that’s not hard) people’s eyes widen and their response is very different. They engage, which is exactly what you want from a conversation.

An important thing to note, your language sets the direction and the tone of your leadership. It also brings a particular energy to the conversation. Busy is rarely seen as a positive response so it brings a particular heaviness to a conversation, especially if it’s coupled with some emotional drama and exasperation! So how you respond to questions of ‘how are you?’ and the language you are using both externally, to clients team and peers etc and the language you are using with your own self will determine how you navigate your leadership and has a direct influence on your attitude.

We have a choice in how we respond to any question and I believe we need to get much clearer on the perception we are trying to create in others. What do you want to be known for and what do you want others to say about you? I for one do not want to be known as someone who is busy, I want to be known for something much more than that and I’m assuming you do to. Make it easy for people to understand what you do and help them to connect the dots. In our time challenged world, people don’t have the time to work you out. Make it easy for them.

Here are some suggestions to use in place of boring old busy:

  1. Productive/Getting Stuff Done
    I do love this response. This is what we all strive for in business. That you’re being productive and focused on the right things that make the biggest difference to your outcomes. You’re ticking off a prioritized to do list and ‘getting stuff done’. This response has forward movement and a positive vibe to it.
  2. Doing some really great work
    This invites another question and can evoke curiosity. What is this great work that you are doing, tell me more. This response gives an insight to others that you are passionate about what you do and it means a lot to you. It could be community work, work with your team, client work or strategy work. It creates a perception that you love what you’re doing.
  3. Working on very exciting projects
    This response creates a lot of interest and the perception you’re doing some purposeful work. You may not be able to provide a lot of detail or perhaps you might but this response creates intrigue and may encourage others to watch your space to see what these projects are and how they come to fruition. I know many of my clients who could use this response and really engage in conversations about what they do rather than responding with ‘busy’. I use it a bit and often people will ask me to tell them more which enables me to paint them a clearer picture of what I do. It’s a winner.
  4. Enjoying life/work/business – things are great/awesome/fantastic
    People are drawn to positive people. It’s been reported that positive leaders are seen as 132% more effective than those who are negative. Negative people and those who complain often repel people and for good reason. It’s a much more effective strategy to be known as someone who is positive and be someone that others want to be around. Also, be aware of passive negativity For example the response of ‘not bad’ is one that irks me nearly as much as busy. What does not bad mean? Not good but not bad? Another version of beige! To be known as someone who is enjoying life is awesome, but it has to be genuine. Not everyone can pull this response off on a consistent basis and consistency is the key to this otherwise you could be known as someone whose emotions are a bit of a rollercoaster!
  5. Really focused and feeling motivated
    This is a case of saving the best to last. This response is a great one. This is something most of us want to experience in our lives in general. I want to know more. What are you focused on and how can I get that feeling of motivation too. What are you doing? How are you doing it? Download your strategy to me!! In this world of constant and never ending distractions the ability to be focused and remain motivated is critical and people will want to know more about how you’re doing this and find it quite admirable.

As mentioned in response 4, any response you give does need to be authentic. Make up your own responses in line with the language you use. The key point is to stop using busy as your instinctive response and challenge yourself to respond otherwise. Be conscious of the direction and the tone you are setting for your leadership. Allow others to get to know you and what you do and make it easy for them to do that. Whether you are leading a team, progressing in your career, parenting, speaking with clients, make more of an effort and stop using the lazy language of busy. It’s holding you back.