Don’t fall into the ‘crazy busy’ trap

Paul Butler, Newleaf Training and Development. Submitted photo

Is it me, or is the world going crazy … crazy busy?

One of the phrases that seems to be becoming more and more popular is the response, “Crazy busy” when you ask someone how they’re doing. Or how’s work or how’s the family. Most people seem crazy … crazy busy. It’s almost like a badge of honor in today’s working world.

Technological advances are wonderful and I’m sure all of us are grateful for the tools we now have at our fingertips to make our work and even our personal lives a little easier. But are these tools actually helping us be more effective and efficient? Do they really buy us more leisure time?

Employees seem more distracted; more fragmented and more stressed than ever. Few employees seem to be on top of their work tasks and always seem to be scrambling; always running late and working longer hours than ever before — often taking work home in the evening or on the weekends. Is it any surprise therefore that few people, seem to be truly joyful in their personal lives? See, technology just brings the next task faster. Sociologists call this dilemma the “boomerang effect.”

I have found that people who are truly effective invest the time to define the roles they have in life; they identify their highest priorities within these roles and then they plan weekly and daily to achieve these goals. They maintain a balance between responsibilities at work and commitments at home by managing their energy throughout the day and intentionally work on skills and techniques to master email, the use of phones, interruptions, procrastination and meetings. These were the five time thieves I wrote about in a March column. They manage technology rather than allowing the technology to manage them.

Conversely, I’ve noticed those employees who respond with the “crazy busy” line are often operating on the inverse of what I described above. It’s as if they get their identity from their busyness. I always get the sense: Some employees prefer to keep just running and running even faster than to pause and think about where they’re heading. Aldous Huxley spoke about the dilemma of this human condition when he said, “They intoxicate themselves with busy-ness so they don’t see who they really are.”

I find it interesting in the Chinese language the word “busyness” is two symbols that essentially mean “death to the heart” when placed together. So, when we’re running around telling everyone how busy we are, maybe we’re saying “death to the heart?” Rather than saying “I’m crazy busy,” how about saying something along the lines of “I’ve had a full-on day” or “I’ve had a very challenging day.” You’re still being truthful but, whereas the former sounds like you’re drowning in a sea of busyness, the latter sounds like you’re in command, in control and after a good night’s rest, you’ll be refreshed and ready to re-engage.

It’s as if some employees think it’s good for job security to always be in frenetic motion — it’s as if their mindset is, “I’ve got to look busy or else I may get laid off.” Have you ever heard a work colleague say they’re really on top of their tasks and all is under control? Rarely, if ever right? Always responding with “crazy busy” may make you feel important but it’s not language that serves yourself, your co-workers, your boss or your customers very well at all.

I’m not sure who said this quote but I picked it up somewhere: “Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michael Angelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein.”

I remember as a regional finance director for Hilton and then-Marriott hotels in Western Europe during times of “reorganization,” “downsizing,” “right-sizing” or “re-engineering,” we never wanted to let go of the truly effective. Those employees who had a reputation of getting things done were like gold dust to us. We wanted to hold on to those leaders who led well. We protected the jobs of those who achieved their highest priorities.

So, as an employee, I encourage you to be clear on your highest priorities at work. If necessary, seek clarity from your supervisor. Continue to build a reputation for getting things done. Change your language — refuse to fall into the “crazy busy” trap. If you have a degree of discretion as to when certain tasks get done, begin to create effective weekly planning and daily prioritization techniques. Dig in and do some work to master the five time thieves of email, interruptions, procrastination and meetings. Manage technology and don’t allow it to manage you.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia ( The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected].

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