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Busy Bodies

I was riding the elevator the other day heading to a client meeting when a young lady I’ve never met boarded on the second floor. There’s nothing as awkward as standing with another person in an elevator for 10 floors. I picture even Donald Trump blankly staring at the lighted numbers and silently praying no one else boards.
I decide to break the weirdness with an extraordinarily generic, “How’s it going today?” I figured the response would be something like, “Good. How about you?” But here’s what I got instead: “It’s crazy. I’m slammed from the time I get here until the second I leave. It’s just non-stop. I need a vacation.”
OK, let me reiterate that I’ve never met this young lady. I’d say at the most she was 26 years old, which unless she’s the youngest CFO in company history means her presence probably wasn’t mission-critical.
Why did she feel it was important to tell a stranger how insanely busy she was? Because most everyone these days wears “busy” as a badge of honor. Being busy means you’re important. Try it out for yourself. Ask some random person in your morning Starbucks line, “What’s the day look like?” and stand back as they unload on you like Mike Tyson in his heyday.
People just love telling others how busy they are. Ask a stay-at-home mom the question and she’ll roll her eyes and tell you about her 10-hour siege with the toddler. Ask an assistant marketing manager at a local bank and you’ll hear about the endless string of meetings, strategy sessions and quarter-end numbers. Yeah, I’m sure the bank’s survival is based on your PowerPoint. Heck, ask one of your teenagers and they’ll tell you about the eight periods of hell at school followed by the drama club meeting and then the select soccer practices/games/tournaments.
Man, I’m sweating just reading the last paragraph. After talking with folks about how busy they are, I feel like such a slacker for only working 50 hours a week, helping to coach my son’s flag football team and tutoring my daughter in Texas history. What a loser.
Of course, I’m not alone. Facebook alone cost American employers more than $5 billion in productivity last year.* Yeah, that’s BILLION. The inconvenient truth is that everyone slacks off a ton more than they would ever let on. Unless you’re a Navy SEAL or Jason Garrett, you’re not nearly as busy or important as you think you are. And that’s OK … if we could ever ’fess up to it.
Whether it’s the economic collapse we’ve been enjoying the last several years, the invention of the so-called smart phone or that people are addicted to feeling important, telling others how nutty our lives are might be the country’s biggest export these days. So when Mom and Dad talk about how hectic their schedules are, our kids pick up on the vibe. When my 7-year-old sees me look at my BlackBerry as if it’s an insulin gauge, he’s going to ask tough questions like, “Dad, why can’t you focus on our book for a few minutes?”
Ouch, that’s going to leave a mark.
Is my job busy? Sure, it’s busy. Are we curing cancer or saving the planet from killer asteroids? Not even close. But jobs being what they are these days, it’s important that I take mine seriously so the 7-year-old has mint chocolate chip ice cream to eat a couple of times a week. But could I take myself a little less seriously from time to time? Yes. Could I make sure I focus on reading, playing and talking with my kids without worrying about some mass email that was just sent from corporate saying that we should now use Orbitz for any travel planning?
Yeah, that probably could wait.
*At least, according to Rudy