Too busy to be better?

Drop this lame excuse

clock-shutterstock_111186194How many times have you heard,  “I’m too busy”?  How many times have you said it?

Isn’t it funny how often people who say they are too busy are the same ones who complain they need to make a change in their lives?

Here’s a department manager: “I’m disappointed with my department’s results and I really need to find a way to improve. But frankly, I don’t have time to think about changing anything right now. We’re too busy.”

Here’s a dad: “My son is struggling with identity and behavior issues. He’s basically a good kid, even though he’s had a couple of run-ins with the cops and his guidance counselor is concerned. I just don’t have time to babysit him right now and he knows what I expect of him.”

Here’s a mom: “My family doesn’t communicate well at all. It worries me, but we don’t have time to work on it. We’re all too busy.”

Too busy. What a lame excuse for staying unhappy. What a scary pattern for the future.

Who will stop to think about what might work better? Who will dare to get off the fast-moving train to make a purposeful decision about what’s next? Will you?

Leadership in all walks of life is about taking time to acknowledge that the current state of things is undesirable and making a decision to change it. Only then can you begin to consider alternative behaviors. This takes time and courage, but the first new steps, however small, can pave a magical trail to something better. Of course there is nothing magic – or easy – about this.

Here’s what won’t work:

The department manager goes offsite to create a strategic plan for his department. He comes back, announces it, changes a few job titles, buys some new equipment and expects people to “get it.”

Dad sits down with his son for a heart-to-heart talk. He explains why the bad behavior is unacceptable and says he knows his son can do better. He reassures his son that he loves him and trusts him to do the right thing.
They exchange meaningful looks; the son expresses remorse and promises to do better. As the talk ends, they shake hands feeling happy with each other and life returns to normal.

Mom decides she wants more communication with her family so she initiates family breakfast meetings every Tuesday morning. They talk about school, sports, the weather and occasionally, family vacation plans. But pretty soon schedules fill up and the breakfast meetings fall apart.

The cost of being too busy is incredibly high. It results in disappointment, cynicism and, sometimes, institutionalized resistance. But trying to fix a problem in one big effort won’t work, no matter how well intentioned or carefully considered it may be. Although everyone involved may feel better after a discussion, and some might privately resolve to work on the issue at hand, few follow through.

They are too busy.

“Too busy” are throwaway words. When intention is not followed by action, it softens into wishful thinking or worse, remorse and self-deprecation. Negative self-talk is at the core of many disappointments and springs from this cycle of wanting to improve something but being so caught up in everyday routine, it is literally impossible to try new behaviors.

What’s the remedy? Feedback. Stop-action review. Setting a new goal – painting a new picture – and working in incremental ways every day to achieve it. Having success acknowledged and, when significant enough, celebrated. In this effort, challenge and support are twin bookends that must be present.  If you are the one seeking improvement from others, it is your responsibility to provide support. It is not enough to point, speak and disappear.

We all find ways to adjust to the chaotic environment in which we live and work. We make these adjustments part of our daily routine, almost as touchstones to sanity. We don’t change them easily or often. But when our routines create barriers to growth, they need to be challenged.

Is there an area of your life you’d like to improve? Stop for a moment to consider a new way. Start small and keep going. Replace “too busy” with “determined.”

Susan A. Marshall is an author, speaker and the founder of Backbone Institute. ( She can be reached at (262) 567-5983 or

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Susan Marshall is an author, speaker, and Founder of Backbone Institute, LLC, whose mission is to create a stronger, more confident future one person or team at a time. Her work over nearly 30 years with leaders in public and private sector industry, non-profit agencies, and public education is dedicated to building strong leaders who in turn create successful organizations, transform school systems, and develop leaders at all levels.

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