Full disclosure: I do have a problem – actually: two problems – with people who keep telling me – and anybody else, who is not interested, but happens to be around – how busy they are.

“I have no time”, “I don’t have the bandwidth”, “I am too busy”, “my task list is so long”, “my day is too short” – all of those (and more) are overused.

And I cannot help but wonder: “why?” and also, “what are you trying to say?”

Time is a created thing.

To say “I don’t have time”, is like saying “I don’t want to”.

— Lao Tzu

The First Problem

Why would you keep telling me about your time management problems? And no, I don’t ask, because I don’t care. Well, ok, perhaps that’s a part of the reason, but certainly not all of it. Let’s take a moment, take the question seriously, and think of possible causes:

The Good Ones

  • I am in a position to help you. Either as your teammate, your mentor, or your line manager. A position – in other words – which has a fairly direct influence on your workload or priorities.
  • You are an absolute junior, trying to grow into your role, overestimated yourself, and are now asking for advice, guidance, and help to rectify the situation.

The Bad Ones

  • You want to show how important you are and mistake looking busy for being relevant.
  • I am somebody you want to impress, and you think this will do the trick.
  • You consider yourself superior to me and try to express this superiority by emphasizing your workload (anybody here noticing the irony?).
  • I asked you for something you could not care less about, but because you don’t have the courage to say so, you hide behind a “lack of bandwidth”.

The Second Problem

What message exactly are you trying to convey by moaning and bitching about being ever so busy? Just think about how you react to people doing the same. Do you feel compassion or the need to help them? I’d think not. Best case, people don’t care or even listen. Worst case, they receive one or more of the messages below.

  • You are overwhelmed and not on top of things. If you are in a senior position, this does not inspire trust in people. How would they see you as someone to go to for help, guidance, or advice, if they always hear you struggle with your responsibilities?
  • People see you as a fraud because you are not as busy as you pretend, and people know it. Why would they want to work with a pretender?
  • You are seen as a show-off, pretending to accomplish many things while accomplishing not more – and possibly less – than most people.

The Exception

Nothing is always true, and there are exceptions to everything.

So I want to clarify that there are good reasons and occasions for letting people know about your difficulties in coping with your workload.

This would be the case if you are talking to your mentor, line manager, or teammates, asking for their help to manage your work better. Note the difference: you would not complain or brag continuously about your workload, but very specifically and with a clear purpose: getting help.

I don’t intend to discourage this at all—quite the opposite. I want to stress that this is the right way of dealing with actually being overwhelmed – and you should do it rather than fighting an uphill battle alone and eventually burning out.

I also make a difference depending on your seniority and experience. I would fully expect anybody in a CxO or comparable position to be able to organize their workload, sort out any overload, and do so without whining.

On the other hand, I would expect less experienced people in junior or medium positions to need and ask for help more frequently.

The Solution

Just stop it! Really. Unless you need help and are willing to accept it, just stop telling everyone and their mother, how terribly busy you are.

Nobody likes hearing you whine about it.

Most people don’t believe it.

It does not make you look important.

It does not inspire trust or confidence in your abilities.

In a nutshell: it’s a really, really bad thing to do.

Just stop it.

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