Two lunches and a chance meeting in the Home Depot parking lot recently have me thinking about how I spend my time. And how I answer when someone asks, “How are you?”  Surprisingly, they’re both related.

First, the lunches. Anyone who has worked with me for any length of time knows that most days I eat lunch at my desk – or take a quick 15 minutes in the break room to slurp down some soup or eat a salad. I rarely go out and mostly work through lunch because, well…I’m busy.

But, several months ago when I received an invitation from AWESOME’s Nancy Nix to join other women from the Dallas-Fort Worth area for lunch I accepted, thinking that if I was too busy when the day rolled around I could send my regrets. That day was two weeks ago, and I’m happy to report that I joined a small group of equally busy women for stimulating conversation, information sharing and a good salad. I look forward to doing it again.

And one month ago, I heard from a former colleague who I hadn’t seen or talked to for probably 15 years, despite the fact that we live in the same metro area. He reached out via LinkedIn, said he’d like to catch up, and we met for lunch. It was wonderful to hear about his job and family, share about mine, and just catch up. He’s had a very challenging year personally, but his optimism and attitude left me feeling energized, and glad I made the time to meet despite being, you know…busy.

Then on Saturday I ran to my neighborhood Home Depot to pick up some items for a home improvement project and bumped into an old friend in the parking lot. Our kids went to preschool together and as they grew and developed different interests, and we all got – you guessed it – so busy and wrapped up in our own lives that we didn’t see each other, despite the fact we live but 10 minutes apart. I learned that her husband is doing a lot of traveling and that she has free time in the evenings. Knowing that, surely we could find time to connect for dinner. We agreed we would try to get together soon.

As I was driving away from that encounter, I asked myself, “When did I get so busy being busy?” Surely I’ve been busier – when my children were little and I spent whatever free time I had shuttling them to and from activities, eating more fast food in the car than was good for them (sorry kids!) and still working long days and nights. And then it hit me – maybe I’m busy because I say I am. Are you?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that when someone asks me how I am, my answer is likely to be “I’m so busy!” What an uninspired, lame response that is. We all are busy. And for goodness sake, as a marketing professional I should be able to offer a better answer than that.  Perhaps something like “Thanks for asking. I’m a little perplexed right now.  I’m in problem-solving mode and feeling stuck. Do you want to help?” Or maybe “I’m feeling great! My team just shared some awesome creative for an upcoming campaign and I’m super excited for the whole company to see it.” Or even a simple “I’m doing just fine. How’s your day going?” Any response would be better than “I’m really busy,” which often results in a response like “me too, so busy.” That only leaves us both feeling overwhelmed. I’m pretty sure I I’ve said it so much that I believe it to be true, but does it need to define my state of being? Is that how I want people to think of me – as the woman whose always busy?

I think it all comes down to this: I have a job with a lot of responsibility. I work for a company with big goals and we are moving fast. It is fun, challenging and invigorating. There is a lot of work to do. I also have things I want to do outside of work – at my church, in my community, with my family and friends. The goal is to find a way to fit it all into the time that I have in a way that is fulfilling, productive and worthwhile. I have a few ideas how I’ll do this:

  • I’ll re-examine my system. (If you haven’t read JDA CEO Girish Rishi’s two blogs “How Good Is Your System” Part I and Part II, do so now). I believe mine needs some reworking, especially as it relates to how restful my “down time” is and how productive my “work time” is. I think a more disciplined approach in both areas would be beneficial.
  • I’ll be aware of how I respond when someone asks, “how are you?” Time will tell if a better answer not only prompts different responses from those asking, but also changes my mindset – and maybe how I’m perceived.
  • I’ll be more intentional in my relationships. Working in a global company with colleagues living across time zones means that meetings are often scheduled over traditional lunch hours. But that doesn’t mean that I can’t break away one or two times a month to re-connect with an old friend, set up a networking meeting with a former colleague, or get to know someone within my own company that I don’t know as well as I’d like to. And of course, there’s always dinner…
  • I’ll recommit myself to finding the ever elusive work/life balance. As an empty nester, it’s easier than ever to fill my time with work, and while technology ensures that work is never far away, I do think I can do a better job of setting and adhering to some boundaries that make all areas of my life more fulfilling.

We only have one life. Our time is too precious to spend it just being busy. I recently had a three-encounter wake up call. I figure it’s not too late to do a little personal tune-up to see if I improve the way that I spend my time, so it just doesn’t feel like I’m always busy.  How about you. Are you busy being busy? What will you do about it? I’d love to know (unless, of course, you’re too busy to share!)