As professionals trying to navigate our work and personal lives in a balanced fashion, we can become prone to catch-all responses like “I’m really busy” to questions like “How are you doing?”
While this seems like an accurate way to describe our often-hectic lives, “busy” is a pretty reductive label to hang on oneself. Best case scenario, you’re talking to a group of Type A personalities and using your busyness as a humblebrag. Worst case, you’re shoving the interesting facets of your life into a narrow box, using “I’m so busy” as a placeholder to avoid talking about specifics. And you're probably shoving your wellness into a narrow box to keep up with your "busy" lifestyle, too.
Regardless of our situation, we should make the effort to see our lives as topics worthy of consideration and conversation. And when chatting with our similarly career-minded friends and colleagues, our overloaded schedules don’t need to be the defining factor of our entire existence. It's not healthy, and it's not sustainable.
These three descriptive phrases below offer a more balanced view of ourselves than “I’m so busy,” and thus open us up to fuller conversations and better networking opportunities (and a healthier life).
1. “I’ve been productive.”
When speaking with others in your industry, “I’m so busy” often appears as a substitute for “I have a full plate and am accomplishing a lot.” However, “busy” and “productive” aren’t synonymous, and using “busy” as an umbrella term for activity may convey the message that you aren’t actually producing results.
In a recent story, Forbes contributor Tim Maurer explained the issue: “Numerous studies have shown that busyness isn’t actually good business, and here’s the big reason why: It makes us less productive. We’re all susceptible to it, but If I’m saying to myself (and I have), 'Woo, I’m busy; really busy,' I’m likely being distracted from the most important, most productive work that I could be doing. I may feel like I’m doing more, but the net result is actually less. And it often feels like it.”
An easy fix involves replacing “I’ve been busy” with “I’ve been productive.” By focusing on what you’ve accomplished rather than the overwhelmed state often suggested by busyness, you keep the conversation pointed in a positive direction and have the opportunity to share your achievements without implicitly diminishing them. Use this phrase when you're having conversations with yourself, too. It'll keep anxiety at bay and allow you to focus on the positivies of your hard work. You deserve it.
2. “I’m working on ____”
Rather than offering a generic explanation of “busy,” getting specific about your projects gives you the chance to share what you’re excited about, what you’re struggling with, and the activities occupying your time lately.
In social settings, this tactic can ease any annoyance or discomfort among your friends caused by your packed schedule. “Sorry, I’ve been busy” feels like an excuse. But “I’ve been working on the Patterson case and managed to finish all of the depositions and get myself on-track for trial” gives more information and helps your crew put themselves in your place and better understand why you’ve needed to cancel plans or opt out of text convos.
In professional settings, revealing the particular tasks that are keeping you busy can help you find new solutions to problems related to your project. So when a colleague or supervisor asks, “So, how’s everything going?”, give her an honest response, mentioning both your successes thus far and where you’re encountering issues. She may just be able to help or offer some valuable advice.
3. “I’m looking for opportunities.”
“I’m busy” can inadvertently shut the door on possibilities for career advancement. If your packed schedule is the top piece of information you share with others when networking, you’ll linger in their minds as an individual with more work than she can handle. When chatting with others in your field, it helps to approach the conversation from a place of place of optimism. If you’re looking to switch jobs or companies, that’s especially important.
In a story for CNBC about the problem with busyness, wellness guru Deepak Chopra gives a concise overview of why it’s smart to avoid language that shuts you off from new possibilities: “When people think you're too busy, they won't present you with opportunities. You want people thinking of you when a truly amazing opportunity emerges."
On top of these professional benefits, this language is much better for your psyche. You'll feel less trapped by your obligations when you provide yourself flexibility to approach new projects and passions. Allowing yourself to stretch your wings and feeling as though you have time to pursue things you like will help avoid burnout.
A version of this post previously appeared on Fairygodboss, the largest career community that helps women get the inside scoop on pay, corporate culture, benefits, and work flexibility. Founded in 2015, Fairygodboss offers company ratings, job listings, discussion boards, and career advice.
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