7 things really busy people do

  1. They check phones in meetings

If email and other notifications aren’t checked – particularly when someone else is speaking – then opportunities will be missed, issues will go unresolved and the business will definitely collapse in on itself. Therefore it’s important to spend the time that could be used to discuss important opportunities and issues instead of looking at a device that they worry their kids (or millennial employees!) are spending too much time on.

Tip to avoid being this person: Leave your phone at your desk

  1. They have back-to-back meetings

As a human race, the last thing we did back-to-back was to shoot each other in a duel. The generational equivalent is arguably more painful and definitely more drawn-out, but absolutely necessary. How else would they be able to run the business if not by attending every single second of every meeting that they possibly could? They often (miraculously) manage this with no structure, formality or decisions actually being made.

Tip to avoid being this person: Say no to some meetings that aren’t important

  1. They don’t answer emails or calls

Nothing says, ‘I’m really busy!’ like 1000 unread messages or 10 unheard voice messages. Not opening emails is an essential way to support long, unnecessary meetings (see 2) by requiring a complete run-down of the issues face-to-face with everyone in the room, rather than turning up prepared and informed. Ignoring voice messages is for the boldly busy, as only the very desperate would have picked up the phone to try and engage them in the first place.

 Tip to avoid being this person: Be clear with your team about what communication you require. Return calls, it’s rude not to. Be part of the solution – stop hitting reply all. 

  1. They eat lunch at their desk

Truly busy people know that the key to a healthy working lifestyle is to never change your environment, especially when eating. Breakfast, morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea are all consumed over their desks and keyboards or, at a pinch, on the way to one of those meetings. Oh, and eating and drinking in meetings is a great way to draw attention to how time poor they are.

Tip to avoid being this person: Take time throughout the day to change your environment while taking on sustenance – go outside, use the staff kitchen or common areas.

  1. They ignore success

Celebrating success is important, but not as important as checking phones (see 1) or back-to-back meetings (see 2). Walking around the office connecting with staff, attending celebrations and demonstrating gratitude are things that they don’t have time for. That time is better spent setting unrealistic deadlines or demanding things get done quicker, often using someone’s name as leverage.

Tip to avoid being this person: Start the week off by walking and talking and/or write someone a simple ‘thank you’ card to show that you appreciate their effort.

  1. They work 12-hour days or 60-80 hour weeks (at least!)

Productive work – as we all know – can only be demonstrated by the number of hours spent in the office, ideally with most of that time spent in front of a screen or in a meeting. If they’re senior managers, then it’s explicitly written into their role description that they’re on call 24/7, so 12-hour days tend to be the minimum. Regardless of how productive you’ve been, they’ve been busier (see 7), worked longer and harder.

Tip to avoid being this person: Don’t get sucked into a culture of presenteeism. Get better at prioritising your work, so that you have time to go home and recharge

  1. They tell you that they’re busy

How are you? – “I’m busy”

Can you spare me a minute? – “Can it wait? I’m really busy”

I need to see you –  “I’m really busy right now with back-to-backs all week. Put a meeting in for next week”

Why did you cancel our meeting? – “I have a really busy week, sorry”

I sent you an email last week, have you seen it? – “I’m sorry, I’ve been really busy, I’ve got so many unread emails in my inbox”

Are you OK? – “I’m so busy, I don’t know where to start”

Can you make the celebration drinks later? – “I’m sorry, but I’m really busy at the moment. There just aren’t enough hours in the day”.

Tip to avoid being this person: Say something positive about your week instead e.g. ‘I’m working on some great things right now’ and mean it!

Busy doing nothing

The most productive people I’ve known have always got time to do work that’s important AND still make time to check-in with people, eat meals, be attentive in meetings, show gratitude, celebrate success and not bore others stupid by telling them that they’re busy.

Being busy isn’t the same as being productive. Take the time to list your priorities, add them to your plan and deliver to the expectations you’ve set. Stop telling people that you’re busy and get busy being productive instead.


Colin Ellis

Colin Ellis is the author of The Conscious Project Leader and works with organisations around the world to transform their project cultures and help them deliver projects successfully every time.

To find out more about Colin and the work he does, head to www.colindellis.com

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