When did “busy” become an emotion?

Definition of Busy: (Collins Dictionary)

Adj: When you are busy, you are working hard or concentrating on a task, so that you are not free to do anything else. A busy time is a period of time during which you have a lot of things to do.

Common Synonyms:

  • Tied up. Example: I’m a little tied up with this new project. …
  • Occupied. Example: She’s a bit occupied today dealing with new staff. …
  • Overstretched. …
  • Over-extended. …
  • Overloaded. …
  • Swamped. …
  • Snowed under. …
  • To have enough/rather a lot/too much on one’s plate at the moment.

I have an interesting relationship with the word “busy”. I am really not sure about it. I have a lot of trouble trying to figure out exactly what it means. When I was researching the job ads on Seek and Jobs4Physios as part of a series of blogs that I wrote about values-based recruitment, I was surprised at the number of practices stating in almost the first sentence, that they are busy. I have written job ads in this way in the past. I am wondering what we are really trying to say? Is it a good thing, a bad thing, or a neutral thing? Are we telling our future employees that our services are valued and therefore we are a great place to work or is it a word of warning, that it is a possibility that the workload might be unmanageable and stressful?

My observation is that “busy” generally has negative connotations (see the synonyms above). It is a word that is banned from the language of our frontline staff when talking to potential clients on the phone. Busy is not an excuse, to not do our best to see a new or returning client. It is not in alignment with our values to say that we are “too busy”. The expectation is that we show that we “Care, listen and empower” and are “Part of the solution”. We will find a way to see a new patient as soon as possible.

In one-to-one formal or informal catch-ups with both clinical and admin staff, it is not unusual for the answer to the first question to be: “Busy”, opening up an opportunity for a much bigger conversation. The “busy” in this situation can sometimes be busy to the point of overwhelmed. I have found that it is better not to ignore how your staff are managing and the word “busy” is certainly a lead in to find out what that specifically means. It could mean that they are feeling stimulated and fulfilled? My experience is that “busy” is not the response if this is the case. There is much to be said about these conversations and is a subject for later blogs.

Back in the early days, I used to have a cartoon sitting above my desk at work, that said: ” Stress is not how much you do, but how you feel about what you are doing” and certainly in the early days of establishing and running my practice this was the principle that guided me. I was excited, curious, and passionate about what I was aiming for. It invigorated me.

I agree, with the oft-said adage that we wear “busy” as a badge of honour. It seems to be a sign of our times. Whilst researching the topic of “busyness”, I found a blog written in 2016. It contains some good advice:

Resist the challenge to make “busy” your new emotion. If someone asks, “How are you doing?” tell them exactly how you are doing with a real emotion (ok, maybe a little filter). See if they are shocked to hear you say anything but, “Busy.” (They probably will be, even if they don’t tell you.)

And then ask them the same question, and do something incredibly shocking: carve out a little time and really listen to what they say. If we can all do this, maybe “busy” will stop being the emotion it’s becoming!

Whilst, I have been reflecting on the dilemma of the word “busy” for several months, I am grateful that I have waited to write this series of blogs. A new podcast by one of the simply coolest people around, Brene Brown on her Dare to Lead platform, (find it on Spotify) dropped last week. She is in conversation with Charles Duhigg on Habits and Productivity. This is gold for a miner like myself who is interested in unpacking this interesting subject with you. So let’s get busy (verb)!

Dianna Howell CMgr MIML MAPA

August 2021

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