We love to tell ourselves and others how busy we are, and how hard we work. If you aren’t busy, then what are you doing? Drinking coffee?
Even if we don’t explicitly say how busy we are, it is communicated through body language, intonation, and how we respond and react to questions.
Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.” — Oliver Burkeman
The reason I take issue with this is that I recognise it in myself. If you want to be creative and productive, you need to create space in your mind so you can access the executive centre in your brain - which is where the magic happens.
Bouncing from task to task keeps you from focusing on what matters. And when people tell or ask you why you can’t do certain things, or are so busy, you get offended and feel the need to justify your busyness to everyone. I know, we have all been there.
But the truth is, nobody cares how busy you are. Nobody cares how hard or important your job is compared to theirs, or how difficult your degree is compared to the rest of us. Being busy is boring as hell.
How do you feel when you ask someone how they are, and they respond, “So busy!”
Bored… That’s how you feel.
We can improve the quality of our interactions by being more intentional with our questions, and thoughtful with our responses.
How to Add Spice to Your Daily Interactions through Better Questions and Better Responses
Firstly, How to Ask Better Questions
The key is to ask unexpected questions that get people to pause for a moment before responding. You don’t have to be silly about it - but staying away from the standard “How’s work”, “How are you” or “How was your day” can provoke a more interesting response than the usual “So busy”, “So busy and you?” or “Really busy, how was yours?”
See what I did there?
Ask specific, personal questions, and watch their face light up before responding.
Focus on a hobby or personal project they’re working on, if you don’t know anything about them, ask. Everyone has something they are interested in, if they are too shy to open up then so be it. At least you tried.
You can use the information from these responses as a basis for your future encounters. This is how you build rapport and develop relationships with people, it’s relevant to your personal and professional lives.
Secondly, How to Give Better Responses
How to answer, “How are you?” - oooooooooooh this is a tough one. What else can you say instead of, “Good thanks, and you?” Here are a few examples to get you started:
- Is anything interesting happening in your personal life recently that you can share?
- What personal goals are you working on? Could be fitness related, a new business venture, home renovations, or any new toys you have bought and are testing out.
- What holidays or trips have you recently been on or planning and why?
- Tell us how you really feel, and why. We don’t need a sob story. A response more substantial than 'Fine' will do.
How to answer, “How’re things?” - this overlaps the “How are you?” question but I felt it deserves its own spot. “Good thanks” or “So busy” are common replies too, but consider these questions to spice up your interactions:
- Tell us why you are good, or why are you busy - what is it exactly that’s making you feel this way?
- Got young kids? What exactly is it about the little babooshkin that makes your life so interesting? Give us some details.
- Started a new hobby? Tell us why you love it and what emotion it invokes in you.
- Training for a physical challenge? Tell us why you are challenging yourself and your experience so far. How has the challenge developed you as a person? What have you discovered about yourself?
How to answer, “How’s Work” - An immediate impulse arises to respond, “So busy” or, “Hectic”. I am as guilty as the next person, but here’s a thought - let’s bring empathy into our response shall we? What do you think the person asking the question wants to know? My guess is:
- What challenges are you working on at work and how do you plan to overcome them?
- What projects you are working on?
- What’s something interesting that happened recently you can share with them?
- Give some context for your busyness, it makes for a more interesting conversation
It’s common to feel as if you’re boring people with your personal stories, but in reality, we are all desperately looking for more human interactions throughout our day. In a world that’s constantly speeding up, these small interactions are what allow us to pause for a moment and connect with each other.
My Personal Reflection on Busyness
One question I always return to is, “What are you avoiding by keeping yourself busy?”
When I left my home to live in Australia at the age of 18, I was advised to keep myself busy to avoid feelings of homesickness and other low moods related to moving away from home, missing friends and family etc. I don’t recall who gave me the advice, maybe I gave it to myself?
Anyhow, the belief I lived by was, “This is what you have to do if you want to settle in Australia”
So that’s what I did for many years. Between work, going out with friends and spontaneous holidays I left little time to reflect on what I was doing, why I was doing it and if the direction I was headed in was truly what I wanted or needed.
I knew if I sat still in peace and quiet, my mind would be flooded with thoughts and memories invoking emotions that would challenge the beliefs I had instilled in myself. I didn’t want to have to answer these questions, so I avoided them by keeping myself as busy as possible. and telling people I was “Good thanks”.
Looking back, because hindsight is 20/20, there were moments where I knew what I was doing was not necessarily what I wanted and often ponder on the question of “Where would I be if I had done… instead of…?” It’s an interesting rabbit hole to go down but not one I like to expend too much energy on, my journey has brought so many amazing people and experiences to my life that I am forever grateful for.
Nowadays, I am more honest with myself and try to reevaluate where I am and what I’m doing. I try my best to ask myself hard questions and try even harder to answer them honestly. Oftentimes the answers challenge my personal beliefs and the status quo I’m surrounded by, requiring contemplation to fully embrace.
The point of this note is to challenge you to actively seek out the hard questions, and answer them as best you can.
Don’t “be busy” to avoid confrontations with yourself, or other people.
Don’t “be busy” to procrastinate on the goals and challenges you have set for yourself.
Don’t “be busy” to avoid doing the hard work of bringing meaningful change into your life and the world.
It’s easy to be busy. But is easy what you really want?