The "I'm too busy" syndrome

Right now, it feels like I've never been busier in my job(s) in my whole life. As family and friends tell me, I have a big problem with not saying No enough, and I think they are right. I acknowledge that every day, I struggle with work/life balance.

In spite of the amount of work I need to get done, it's pretty rare for me to say to work colleagues, "Sorry, I'm too busy to do that right now" even if that's precisely the truth at the moment. (Maybe I should do that more often!) What is more often my response is something like, "OK, I'll be glad to do this. Can you tell me the timeframe in which you need it done? It may take me awhile to get to it but I promise I'll follow up." Is this how things always work? Heck no. Am I perfect in meeting deadlines and expectations? Again, heck no! But I try.

By way of contrast, there are those who routinely say, "I'm too busy to do x" or some variation of that response. Every workplace has at least one such person, and the key factor that makes this person stand out is if this response is consistently repeated over a significant period of time, in response to different types of requests. I call this the "I'm too busy" syndrome.

If this is the response I get once or twice, or only occasionally, I can handle it. Everyone has spikes in workload where it's normal to resist adding something to one's plate. Everyone has his or her work priorities and quite frankly, I or anyone else who isn't doing that particular job or set of responsibilities doesn't know the complete story of what is involved. But if this is a consistent pattern over time, I begin to have a problem with it, and I begin to believe it has nothing whatsoever to do with the real or perceived workload of that individual. I begin to see this as a basic job performance issue. Intentionally or not, those who routinely give this response convey an attitude of "My time is more important than yours." This response also demonstrates a lack of collegiality and unwillingness to collaborate. As a result, I begin to think of ways to avoid working with such people, which isn't healthy for the workplace.

I find that those who exhibit the "I'm too busy" syndrome may exhibit other negative characteristics as well. Ironically, one of those is a reverse expectation that whatever that person asks or expects someone else to do, should be done asap, always. If that person doesn't get a speedy response or resolution, vocal criticism or dissatisfaction is quickly expressed. Weird, huh? But true.

Like I noted earlier, every place has at least one of these people. Thirty years of being in the workforce have confirmed it over and over again. Anyone who might read this have suggestions for a positive approach to such a negative experience? I may have been around awhile but I sure would like to learn how to handle this better.

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