• Edwin and George

The Cult of Busy

EGM On A Mission: Let’s Build Better Companies


Busyness: /ˈbɪzɪnəs/

1. the state or condition of having a great deal to do.

"it's easy to get caught up in the busyness of life"



Busyness is so mixed up with self-esteem, we dare not admit to a moment of idleness.

Why has busyness become the default topic of discussion for those of us at work?

Why does it always manage to make an appearance whenever work is referenced or mentioned or even hinted at? (1)

Best to be busy.


Otherwise someone might notice if you’re not.


Useful phrases:

  • It’s been busy this week

  • It’s a busy time of year

  • Wow….I’m totally stressed, I’m so busy.

To be truly contributing, you must be busy.


Try the following questions on work colleagues:

  • Stared out of the window today?

  • Cleaned your desk drawer out?

  • Did you enjoy sitting watching the paint dry?

They’ll think you’re mad.

We’ve managed to create workplaces where nobody in their right mind would have the courage to say:

‘Actually, it’s kind of quiet at the moment. I’m getting the chance to read up for the client presentation next month - and tidy up my desktop.’

Confusion would reign.

If people aren’t seen to be busy - then clearly they’re either lazy or incompetent - or both.

Collectively we’ve determined that ‘being busy’ is the leading indicator of high performance.


To be a true star in your company, you must cram your day with lots and lots of stuff.

(Research probably hasn’t proved this) - but we’re sure that, by far the most widely deployed and readily accepted excuse in the workplace for not doing something (if you want to impress) - is lack of time. How can you not do something – and still look good?


But, more than anything else, than anything else at all - to get on in your job - (EGM valuable life changing insight coming):



You must ensure everyone else is aware of your busyness.

(Top tips):


At the rugby club on Saturday:

  • ‘Good week at work?’

  • ‘Rushed off my feet’

Coffee with a friend:

  • Work OK?’

  • ‘Totally blitzed – don’t know which way to turn.’

In a taxi:

  • Been busy? (sorry our error – you ask the taxi driver that – they don’t ask you).


We’re so obsessed with busyness, we’re even passing it on to the next generation.

Take the average seven to ten-year old - parents are under immense pressure to use all means available to keep them busy. A year-round calendar of after-school activities, training sessions, weekend matches, dance classes, horse riding - that would have left the hardiest of grown-ups slumped in a comfortable chair.

And that’s without even taking into account the hefty demands of the party circuit A party circuit that any self-respecting 21-year-old would view with envy. (2)



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Thank goodness Peppa Pig is around - or we’d have the same problem with the three year olds.

In 1930, legendary economist John Maynard Keynes wrote that within a century, technological efficiency would be so great and prosperity so assured that people would be at pains to avoid leisure and boredom.

‘However,’ Keynes continued, ‘people will need three hours work a day to feel useful and occupied.’ (3)

We would never be so bold to disagree with the top economist of all time - but if his vision is to come true, we’d better hurry up.

However, it’s possible Keynes overlooked one critical point.

Work is, in fact, a science and follows scientific laws, namely:
The amount of work naturally expands to more than fill the time available : or W>T.”

It’s a law that can’t be disputed – like Newtons Law of Gravity. (4)

Question: So, what’s keeping us so busy?

Answer: Attending useless meetings, hanging around waiting for meetings to start, preparing 20-slide PowerPoint presentations when 2-slides will do, compliance, filling out forms, bureaucracy, following internal processes and procedures (introduced because something once went wrong), endless emails, business planning (long-term plans, medium term plans, short-term plans).

And, what doesn’t get done (because we’re so busy):

Q: Spent time checking in with the team?

A: Didn’t have time - sorry


Q: Good one-to-one meeting with Sally?

A: Had to re-arrange - sorry


Q: How did Harrys performance review go?

A: Would have been better if I didn’t have to rush it - sorry


Q: Did Rita’s probation review go through?

A: I put it off till next month – sorry.


Q: How’s your personal development going. Did you do that course?

A: Couldn’t fit it in, so busy – sorry.

Please know - no-one is doubting that people are busy.

Some of you will work in ‘utilisation’ cultures where every minute of the day has to be accounted for – the amount of billable time or calls completed. And others who are really so busy, you barely get a break.




However, the demands of a good leader aren’t to ask continually for more time for the team – but to think about how time is better spent.

‘Time is a precious and finite resource and it can’t be magically produced from thin air. But you can change how you do what you do with it.’ (5)

We’re in a different world now, but despite what you’ve been told, there’s no ‘new normal’ coming in the way we work – unless people challenge the bureaucracy that exists in our companies today.

‘One of the problems with busyness is that it clutters our brains and makes us less productive.

The global trend of being busy means the whole thing becomes self – fulfilling. The more we are busy – the less time for ourselves – to come up with new and imaginative ideas, to think about our jobs and better ways to do them – where we are heading - where common sense is totally lacking – and what we can do to put things right.’ (6)

We need to find a way of breaking the circle.



  1. Busy, busy, busy: Time to give this most overworked word a rest, The Irish Times, 6 August 2021

  2. Busy, busy, busy: Time to give this most overworked word a rest, The Irish Times, 6 August 2021

  3. Economic prosperity for our grandchildren, JM Keynes

  4. The Ministry of Common Sense, EGM blog

  5. The promise of giants, John Amaechi

  6. The Ministry of common sense, how to eliminate bureaucracy and corporate rubbish, Martin Lindstrom

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