I’m trying to be more positive these days. But let’s be realistic, I wouldn’t have to try so hard if there weren’t so many things that rub me completely the wrong way. Clearly that can only mean one thing: I must tell you about these things, for only by sharing them will I ever be rid of them. So it is with encouragement akin to: “I’m surprised it took you this long” from those who know me best that I embark on this journey to illuminate the deepest grumbles of my professional life. Please allow me to serenade you from my soapbox…
We’re all busy people, right?! We’ve got jobs, families, friends, and the boundless Internet to keep us endlessly occupied. But at some point being busy has turned into a prestigious status even though it just means being overwhelmed. And furthermore, if you’re not so busy that you’re overwhelmed then you’re not doing enough and/or you’re lazy.
Being too busy to do something is the #1 excuse I get from clients, colleagues, and sometimes even friends. And I’m not buying it anymore because it’s just an excuse, a fashionable way to say a variety of things without having to be honest about what it is you really want to say. I don’t know about you but I really don’t appreciate being lied to.
I realize that it’s a lot harder to say “it” how “it” is than to use a tried and true excuse, but if you think about it, people don’t use excuses when they don’t need to be excused. Here is what being “too busy” actually stands for:
- Not a priority – you’d find the time if it was a priority.
- You just don’t care – and that would be totally fine most of the time, it’s even understandable at times. But, if it’s your job to do something then you damn well better do it. Unprofessionalism doesn’t bode well for careers.
- You’re overwhelmed – you’ve got too much stuff going on and things are slipping through the cracks. This kind of thing happens to everyone at some point, I’ve been there and feel endless empathy for you. But please check yourself against numbers 1 and 2 above. Furthermore, if this isn’t just a short-term problem, if it’s been weeks or even months that things have been like this, then you need to deal with the underlying problem before things will get better. There are two most common problems at the source of such a situation: poor time management and unrealistic goals/expectations. In the former case, it’s time to streamline frequent tasks and focus on your work (not what’s trending on Facebook). In the latter case it’s time to chat with your boss about reducing your load, re-delegating tasks, or getting an assistant. Of course there’s a third option, you just suck at your job…
Oy vey, that’s just the kind of negative thinking I’m trying to stray away from. If you think of it from a slightly different point of view though, sucking at your job just means that this is not the job for you. You could still be amazing at another job, but you are the one responsible for realizing this and doing something about it. We are responsible for improving our own situations. Being overwhelmed or working a job you’re no good at can’t be very pleasant; that’s not the kind of thing that makes people happy. And you can wait for someone to sweep in and save you and fix everything, or you can have the guts to do something about it yourself. I know it’s scary, and uncomfortable, and stressful. You might not even be in this situation through any fault of your own. We live in a productivity-crazed society which puts unrealistic expectations on many of us. But hiding behind excuses has never made anyone happy, nor has it ever resulted in production of good, meaningful work. If you’re OK with being mediocre at what you do, then at least strive to be happy.
Recommended further reading: This column will change your life: stop being busy by Oliver Burkeman and recommended watching:
Debbie Millman is an amazing woman, and the above interview has been a source of inspiration to me. Hopefully it will be for you too. One very poignant observation she makes is that:
So let’s do the things we really care about and be honest about the things which don’t matter quite as much. Let’s take a step in the direction of reasonable expectations for productivity and improve the quality of work we produce, thereby increasing our job satisfaction.
What do you think?
Am I being both a millennial and a 30-something at the same time by suggesting that we can be not only happy but gain satisfaction from the work we do? Is it silly to imagine that if the “busy people” decided they’d had enough and stood up for themselves, they could turn things around and regain some sort of reasonable pace to their work lives? Let me know what you think!