Are You Really Too Busy?

too busy
Are You Really Too Busy?

I didn’t get a chance to get to that.

I’m so busy, it’s on my list, I’m just buried in work.

I didn’t see that email in my overflowing inbox.  When did you send it?

These are just variations of “too busy” excuses (or non-excuses) that we all hear on a regular basis.

I’m just too busy

Granted, we live in a work world of interruptions, multi-tasking and 100+ emails per day.  What Tom Peters called the Nanosecond 90s has become the Millisecond Millennium.

So how are we supposed to get anything done?

Whenever I hear someone say they’re too busy, I’m always a little skeptical.  I know people are busy, but were they really too busy to get that task done?  Or did they just not make it a priority?

Which leads me to wonder two things:

First, did I stress how important the task was to me and not how important it was to that person?  As a manager, and the omnipotent seer of all priorities, it’s quite obvious to me that task A needs to be done before five people can begin tasks B through F.  Isn’t it obvious that task A is a priority and everyone should jump to get it done?

The answer, of course is a resounding NO!

If you want someone to give a task priority, they need to understand why it is a priority for them, for the project, for the company, or in some way that gives them incentive to prioritize it.

Secondly, I wonder what their other priorities were.  I’ve been on projects where team members have task assignments and are never able to meet their deadlines.  They complain that they’re just too busy and use all the tired lines.

You don’t look too busy

But when I stop by their office to get an update, they often have some monkey video on Youtube or are checking their Facebook status.  Sometimes they’re not at their desk because they’re at someone else’s desk chatting about last night’s game.

Everyone needs to take a break.  I’ve been known to check out the latest monkey video myself.  But if these extra-curricular activities intrude on the real tasks that need to be done, it’s a problem.

My approach to this problem is the following:

–        First, I explain why the task is a priority.  If other people can’t be productive until that task is completed, the assignee needs to know that.  Especially if they are the only one with the knowledge or skills to complete the critical task.

–        Secondly, I include them in estimating when the task can be completed.  If they’re reluctant to commit, I’ll set a checkpoint for when we can touch base.  I employ the squeaky wheel approach so that it’s eventually more painful to put off the task than to just do it.

–        Finally, in these checkpoints, if they give me the ‘too busy’ story, I ask them what priorities were higher than this task.  Generic, non-answers are not acceptable.  I want to know the specific tasks that distracted them from this task.  Sometimes, production issues and emergencies are legitimate distractions.  Most times, they don’t have a valid reason.  If they know I’ll push to find out the specifics they’ll be less likely to put it off.

See my related post: The Impossible Goal of Multitasking

Everyone is busy these days.  But I find that too often, people are disorganized, easily distracted procrastinators that focus on low priorities.

My mother used to say, “If you want something done, give it to the busiest person”.  I’ve learned that what she really meant was give it to the most organized person.  They are the busiest people that don’t complain about being busy.

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at Amazon.com 

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