When “Busy” Is A Badge Of Honour

When “Busy” Is A Badge Of Honour

Posted by in Self-Leadership, The Leadership Coach™

Productivity has a cousin you don’t want to spend too much time with. At a glance productivity and busyness seem to be close relatives, but don’t settle for the counterfeit. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely believe in having a strong work ethic. But when you don’t understand the difference between being busy and being productive, your life and leadership are heading for peril.

Some years ago I was having dinner with my parents. We were talking about the projects I had on at work. I was stressed and over-tired, but I brushed it off by saying, “It’s just a busy season at the moment”. Their response floored me. Without a hint of ill-will they said, “Oh Paul, you always say it’s just a busy season”. They were right. The truth was that I had allowed busyness to become a badge of honour.

Perhaps it’s a “Sydney thing” but if you ask people, “How are you?” it’s incredible how often their immediate reply is, “I’ve been busy”. Busyness is a drug. Slowly but surely you find that what used to seem “busy” is the new “normal”. You need to be busy to feel alive. Even on holidays you’re busy. If you’re not busy, you start to feel guilty. But most insidious of all is that if you maintain that addiction long enough, eventually it becomes part of your identity. In fact you tell yourself that the more activity you’re involved in, the more important you must be.

But being “busy” can block some of the best things in life:
1. Productivity

Ever since Stephen Covey developed the four quadrants model in “7 Habits Of Highly Effective People” we’ve been urged to recognise that “urgent” and “important” are not the same thing. Very often it’s the truly important things that are squeezed out of my schedule when busyness starts running the show.

2. Opportunities
Ironically while we run around frantically trying to make it all happen, we’re often blind to the best opportunities that are right under our nose. There’s little time for reflection, objectivity, creative thinking or experimentation – the incubators of great ideas. And other people don’t want to bother you with great opportunities because they can see you’re already running at maximum capacity.

3. Celebration
When we become addicted to activity it gets very difficult to stop and celebrate our successes. Life becomes a destination we have to get to (fast!)… rather than a journey we can experience and enjoy.

4. Spontaneity
The reality is that leaders cannot operate at their full potential without some margin in their life. I need some wiggle room in my schedule, my priorities and my head-space. Without that room to breathe I feel more and more trapped in my to do list, less and less free to seize the day when life opens a door for a moment.

5. Relationships
In the long run perhaps nothing is damaged by this cycle more than our relationships. Whether it’s our team, clients or family, those who do life with an “activity addict” often long for a deeper relationship with them. Or for conversations that aren’t about work. To know the real “them”… underneath all those pressing priorities.

So as leaders, let’s take responsibility for asking ourselves the hard questions in this area. I know it’s a challenge but I’d rather make a conscious decision to shift the way I work and lead, than to wake up one day wondering if the price of being eternally busy was worth it in the end.

I’d love to hear your comments and feel free to use the links below to pass this article on

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27 Responses to “When “Busy” Is A Badge Of Honour”

  1. Eugene Roberts

    26. Apr, 2010

    I want to send this to some friends but I think they are to busy to read it… Good one

  2. Paul Andrew

    26. Apr, 2010

    Thanks Steven, and that’s a great approach you take. That’s got to lead to better quality conversations.

    And Eugune, that’s priceless. Maybe you could do a summary for them!


  3. Mark Nicholson

    26. Apr, 2010

    Awesome post as usual Paul. Great to have some insight into the attitudes we can find ourselves trapped in-I think for me personnally it’s not the longing to be busy, but to be valued and feel like my contribution is making a difference.

  4. Steven Di Pietro

    26. Apr, 2010

    Very true,

    When people ask me “How are you”. I respond with something like “Cruising”

    Confuses people and they ask. All of a sudden they have an interest, and I have a reason to talk about my passions in a way in which people listen. It’s not an ego thing, but then I know I am speaking to someone who is listening – otherwise why speak?

    Great post.

  5. Narelle Harker

    27. Apr, 2010

    How true is this post. I love meeting people who you know are busy people but they have their priorities all sorted, are productive, know how to delegate and have time to impact lives around them.
    Thanks Paul for the timely reminder to stop making my important things more urgent than they really are!

  6. Gail

    27. Apr, 2010

    It’s good to be reminded again that we need to take time for the truly important things before they become beyond urgent – like family, friends, relaxation, enjoying the journey and getting to know yourself.

    I’ve yet to hear of anyone who, on their death bed, was stressed about TASKS that hadn’t been completed. Instead those at the end of their lives are regretful because they were too busy with tasks to do the very important things – life, relationships, being.

    I’ve learnt that I will always have a To Do List but life and people won’t wait for me to get it all done, so when I have to choose between being busy with tasks or taking time for myself or for people, tasks always take a lower priority. For a Task Orientated person this has been a major lesson in my life.

  7. Angelina

    27. Apr, 2010

    Hey Paul great post as always insightful and refreshing.

    A nice reminder to check in with what activities are moving you toward the goal rather than away from.

    Thanks for the words of wisdom

  8. Pete

    27. Apr, 2010

    Good article and summary of bringing the Best Things back into life. For those who want to follow up with more information, review Dr. Edward Hallowell’s book, CrazyBusy.

  9. Bronwyn

    27. Apr, 2010

    Simply stunning & bang on the money Paul!! Allowing ourselves to entertain ‘busy brain syndrome’ is often driven by distructive fear (false evidence appearing real)!! Your newsletter is always received with a knowingness of non nonsense – please keep it up. Warm regards. Bron

  10. Trent Julien

    27. Apr, 2010

    If you want to be productive be lazy, sounds kind of wrong I know, but it’s the best way to be, say you have 10 tasks to complete by the end of today you can head down but up & busy yourself and get through maybe half of them or you can be lazy & get 10 other people to do 1 task each getting everything done in half the time and this frees your mind up to come up with more ways of being productive

  11. Paul Andrew

    27. Apr, 2010

    Thanks for the quality comments everyone – I love it when you add to the thoughts from your own insights as leaders!
    .-= Paul Andrew´s last blog ..How To Lead Like A Marine =-.

  12. Tom

    27. Apr, 2010

    Great Post Paul. Glad I wasn’t too ‘BUSY’ to read it. Really helped me reevaluate the importance of leaving room in my day to make myself more productive!

  13. Karli

    27. Apr, 2010

    …. as I read your blog this morning, my teeth started to grind, my eye began twitching and I developed a pain in my stomach…. ouch! that one hurt! Thanks for shining a light. I am going to take an hour out this arvo and really dig into my addiction to busy.

    You really are changing the world Paul, Thank you.

  14. Andrew Starke

    28. Apr, 2010

    Absolutely fantastic article Paul. It is incredibly relevant to the circumstances I deal with often. I personally have benefited so much from subscribing “The Leadership Coach”. You present profound truths in a way that can be grasped and applied by anyone no matter where they are in the leadership journey. That is a rare gift and something I aspire to. Thank you so much.

  15. Adele Carrington

    28. Apr, 2010

    Thanks Paul. This was such a great article I had to post the link on my business facebook page so everyone I know could get the benefit from it as well.
    It really made me think about my supposedly busy day & what in fact I was getting busy with. It’s so easy to think you are being productive & aiming for your goals if you are thinking & telling everyone else you are busy. I have to go away & have a good old think about this one. What & why am I actually doing in all that ‘busy’ time. This ones definitely going up on my office wall to remind me.

  16. Robbert Gorissen

    28. Apr, 2010

    Absolutely a great post! I find myself so many times saying that I am busy… Points 2 + 4 are amazing.

  17. Ben Higgins

    28. Apr, 2010

    Hi Paul, thanks for your challenging and insightful thoughts – it definately gave me a lot to consider in terms of my own personal life and also with those I lead.

    Have you heard of a book by John P Kotter called ‘A Sense of Urgency’? I’d have to say it is one of the best leadership books I have ever read – and covers some similar themes to your article.


  18. Jacqui van Montfrans

    29. Apr, 2010

    This epitomises my realisation of some 12 months ago..and a great reminder of my decision not to ‘do’ busy, which I’d become very good at..

    Having the day off and chatting with a good friend, reading a property magazine, and allowing some space to chill reminded me too of the importance of productivity vs. busyness!

    Thanks Paul!


  19. Paul Andrew

    30. Apr, 2010

    I just want to say I am VERY humbled by some of these comments. A big, sincere “Thank You” for the overwhelming feedback… if I ever have a day when I’m feeling flat and wondering if these articles are helping people, I’ll come back and read these comments again.

    You bring out the best in me.
    .-= Paul Andrew´s last blog ..A Critique Of Criticism =-.

  20. James Tonn

    26. Feb, 2011

    Love this quote:”…reflection, objectivity, creative thinking and experimentation – the incubators of great ideas.”

    I’m an Advisor who loves to strategize and problem solve. I was met with confused faces when I mentioned to some co-workers that I purposefully make time in the day to think.

    I’m really enjoying what I’ve read so far. Excited to come back and go trough all this leadership fodder.

  21. Foney

    21. Feb, 2013

    Really like your posts! Makes me keep reading, reflecting and rethinking!


  22. Josh

    27. Sep, 2013

    I have often noted how people have asked me ‘HOW’ are you, to which I used to answer ‘busy’. Of course, busy is not ‘how’ I have been, it may have been ‘what’ I am been. It has taken along time to understand that busyness is not some ‘positive’ value.

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    19. Jan, 2015

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