It seems like an oft asked question at the start of business conversations is, “How are you?” A typical response is, “Busy.” I can’t help to wonder why so many people say that and what it really means. Is it a good busy or bad busy? I know many people who profess to be busy, but aren’t productive. That’s how I define “bad busy”. I also know productive people who never complain about being busy. That’s a “good busy”. Unfortunately, the “bad” seem to out number the “good”. It is apropos that the origin of the word business is taken from the Old English language combination of busy + ness.
As I reflect on this, I can’t help to wonder if we’ve become too busy to be neighborly. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” sounds like a worthy aim, however many of us don’t have the awareness to put it into practice. In the midst of our busyness, a friend in need texts, “Can you talk?” A neighbor asks for help to move a couch. A teammate at work asks for feedback on a project. The driven among us find such “neighborly love” disrupting to our schedules, overturning of our plans, and interrupting to our productivity. It leaves to-do lists unfinished. “Love your neighbor” feels like a frustratingly inconvenient ask, and therefore, excuses are abundant:
- I’m just too busy
- I helped last time
- My work is too pressing
- They reach out too often
While these defenses may be legitimate, they reveal that we take ourselves and our work too seriously. The only way to interrupt our self-centered natures is to center ourselves on God’s love. Loving God first enables the awareness to subordinate our selfishness, thereby equipping us to offer our time and love to others in the moment. We see them as humans, just like we are, with needs, wants and hurts in need of a balm, a ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on, a mind for counsel. I must admit, despite my best efforts, I’m guilty of prioritizing tasks over people and seeing my real work as the kind that can be checked off a list. Such mistakes make me want to lean into God’s love even more so that I can get better at loving others.
That said, there are times when saying “no” is appropriate. However, we must be able to discern the difference between a hasty “not now” and an appropriate “no”. With so many demands and requests, and so much important work to be done, how do we know when to embrace the unexpected and when to stay focused?
The answer is in this rule of thumb:
- Lean in to small interruptions and little requests
- Lean away from large or ongoing responsibilities by pausing to consider the opportunity costs first
In other words, larger time commitments and responsibilities are worthy of strategic thoughtfulness and prayerfulness. You want to be sure they are part of God’s will for your life and core to your calling before acting. Conversely, small acts of service should be viewed and treated not as interruptions to your calling, but integral to it.
This is how we all can place the business of busyness in the proper context. They next time you’re asked, “Can you talk?” or “Can you help?” or “Do you mind?,” kindly lean in to the minor interruption and prioritize the other person over yourself.