I go amongst the buildings of a city and I see a Man hurrying along – to what?  —John Keats

S ifting through some old emails this week, I noticed a number of follow up actions that I missed. Shrugging, I quickly dismissed the oversights, after all, I was traveling, had a bunch of meetings, ran numerous errands, had endless interruptions, and on and on. In fact, I was so quick to rationalize these missed details and chalk them up to busyness that it literally stopped me in my tracks. I thought to my self: busyness is a poor excuse.

We all do it. From a day-to-day perspective, busyness becomes an excuse for:

  • not communicating
  • mistakes
  • missed/canceled appointments
  • lost focus
  • poor organization
  • not eating well, not sleeping enough, not exercising
  • not investing in important relationships

The list above only scratches the surface. Busyness is an easy rationalization and a poor excuse.

Busyness is an easy rationalization and a poor excuse.

Let’s face it, we are all busy. If we’re not busy with work, we’re busy with family, hobbies, volunteering, TV, social media, travel, entertainment, and myriad other distractions. Our distractions may have merit. However, it doesn’t change my point: busyness is a poor excuse.

I’m not talking about prioritization. Well, actually I am. Not doing something intentionally because it is a lower priority is a very different thing from not getting something done because you missed it due to being busy. If we choose to prioritize activities (and we should) and not do something, then we are in control of our intentions and our behavior; we are making a conscience trade off. That doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to communicate, follow up, or follow through. It means that we are subordinating one thing to another.

However, when we miss things, drop balls, falter, and forget due to what we call “busyness,” then we are not in control of our intentions and behavior. We are letting other things set our priorities for us and floating along on a river of busyness. If we don’t get something done at work because we were too busy, whose fault is it? We could argue that we don’t have enough resources or we could claim that we have to many duties but it doesn’t change the fact that something didn’t get done. If we miss a lunch with a friend, we might blame our busyness but what we’re really saying is that our lunch wasn’t a loud enough priority to grab our attention over the din of distractions.

Certainly mistakes happen. We are human and prone to error. People are apt to forgive us; at least once or twice. The more important thing to consider is whether or not you are using busyness as a rationalization for poor organization, prioritization, and focus. For me, recognizing some missed follow ups was a wake-up call to a lack of focus. Often, that is where our mistakes begin. After that, we have to look at workload, organization, and time management.

…recognizing some missed follow ups was a wake-up call to a lack of focus.

Much has been written about our addiction to busyness – our propensity to fill our calendars and free moments with activities and commitments. I suppose we may be prone to an addiction of busyness but I also feel that we are meant to be fully engaged; we are meant to fully deploy our resources and capabilities. Perhaps we sometimes choose the wrong priorities but most of us are at our best when we are busy. In my mind, idleness seems more problematic.

Rather than worry about being addicted to busyness, let’s focus on managing ourselves to our priorities. We certainly need to subordinate low priority activities to high priority activities but the issue isn’t really the activity. The challenge is our management of our focus and our time. The issue is continuing to use busyness as an excuse for not following through on our priorities, our commitments, and our responsibilities.