Are You Too Busy Being Busy?

Aug 07, 2018 1 Min Read
“It is not enough to be busy; so are the ants. The question is: what are we busy about?”
– Henry David Thoreau

Everywhere I go, I hear people talking about how busy they are. My clients tell me they’re busy. Too busy, in fact, to do the things they know they really need to – if only they had the time.  

The simple truth is: we choose how we invest our time, energy and resources. While it cannot be denied that the world is full of external pressures to deliver, how we choose to respond is key.

For most of us, there will be times when we need to dig deep and get something across the line by working long and hard. But, if maintaining that pace is an everyday demand of your role or employer, then the reality is that something needs to change.  

Busyness isn’t always productive 

For far too many years, I bought into my own stories about how busy I was and how little choice I had in the matter. Then my Mum set me straight – as good Mums tend to do.  

Rolling her eyes at me while I complained about my ultra-busyness, Mum said, “Karen, if you weren’t busy, you’d make yourself busy.”  

Apparently, it was obvious to my mother that my “at times, out of control” approach to life was of my own making.    

Performing at your best and maintaining physical, mental, and emotional health simply aren’t possible if you’re constantly doing too much.  

Being driven, focused, and hardworking are unquestionably important to success. But burning yourself out and sacrificing the things that matter in your personal world never leads to a thriving life – in or out of work.  

READ: Being Busy Is Not A Sign Of Productivity

Breaking the back of ‘busy’ is up to you.  Among the most important lessons I have learned about creating balance are these four things:

  1. Stop seeing busy as a badge of honour 

So, why do we keep telling people how busy we are? While of course everyone is different, for many, I have observed a sense of pride and self-worth from being in high demand.

The reality, however, is that the vast majority of people are busy. Being busy isn’t what matters, being effective is. I’ve spent many years being busy, but not getting a lot of important things done.

  1. See yourself 

What are you busy doing? How much time do you waste? Whether its double-handling, procrastinating, or even just being stubborn, in what ways do you undermine your own productivity?

How much of your own time and energy do you waste when you could just be getting on with getting the right things done?  

  1. Do what really matters 

Make decisions about what you’re going to do, but also what you’re not. There is a myriad of things we can choose to invest in on any given day – but are they the things that will really allow you to achieve the goals you are striving for?

Ask yourself whether you are balancing the priorities you need to deliver on today, with the seeds of success you need to plant for tomorrow.

Recently, a chief executive told me that he doesn’t have time to focus on the effectiveness of his executive team, because in the absence of a sales manager, he needed to drive sales growth.

Now, this was a highly profitable business experiencing substantial growing pains. Maturing this organisation’s leadership capability and operating model was essential to creating a sustainable future of success – and yet this CEO was too busy to focus on that.   

  1. Get over yourself and out of your own way 

Does it really need to be you delivering on a particular outcome? It’s common for the people I work with to be crossing the boundaries of their own role and into that of their teams or colleagues.  

While you may be the most experienced or even the one with the client relationship, does it really need to be you who does the work on this occasion?  

If you’re a perfectionist or control freak, recognise those things in yourself and learn to let some things go and allow other people on the team to do their job.


Karen Gately, a founder of HR Consultancy, Ryan Gately, is a leadership and people-management specialist. Karen works with leaders and HR teams to drive business results through the talent and energy of people. She is the author of The People Manager’s Toolkit: A Practical Guide To Getting The Best From People (Wiley) and The Corporate Dojo: Driving Extraordinary Results Through Spirited People.  


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This article is published by the editors of with the consent of the guest author. 

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