Is Being Too Busy Bad for Business?

We've all messed up our calendars on occasion. Some professionals laugh it off as being not so great at communicating regularly, even with their own team. But how many times can someone apologize and re-offend without hurting a business relationship?

And what does that nonverbal communication says about their brand? Does it say, "hey, I'm short staffed and I'm drowning in this" or "my business is running me rather than me running my business?"

Often times, when I interview the staff of these busy professionals, they say their bosses are very tough to work for. I recognize there are often budget cuts, and so many are doing more with less in very political environments. But no one wants to work on a rollercoaster, getting directives in a thousand directions. And if staff members decide to quit, that then perpetuates a cycle of rehiring, retraining, and a very real danger of managers feeling overwhelmed by having to do too much.

And then there are those professionals who have just checked out. But at what costs? We're all very busy and have important deadlines. But being over-absorbed in work hurts your credibility, as well as your efforts to take your business to the next level. Many of us have lofty goals, and so barely being able to make it through the day can have real repercussions. You just may be sabotaging the opportunity to grow your business in the long term.

One of the top business complaints is that many professionals do not return calls or emails. The average number of emails sent and received is presently around 121 per day, and it's expected to rise to 140 per day in 2018. By then, people will receive an average of 12 emails every working hour, while sending one about every 10 minutes. More often than not, we will follow up to hear the recipient is still going through voicemails and emails 4 days later.

Here are 4 reasons why people ignore messages:

  1. There are too many different kinds of messages out there and they often get buried in additional texts, tweets, social media direct messages, emails and voicemails. It's no wonder that any single message has a tendency to get lost in the noise.

  • People are too busy. With everyone rushing about and multi-tasking, it's easy to have small things like messages slip through the cracks, even if these are things that may be on their to-do lists.
  • They may not have the answers so they avoid returning the call. Only later do they realize that never followed through on a request because they simply forgot about it.
  • Some people would rather avoid the hard stuff. Conflict or having to say no can be challenging for them. So if there's not a clear expectation or definite answer, it's less stressful to ignore the message. For example, if someone calls a company to check on the status of a proposal status and the company rep just does not have the money, he or she may not return to call rather than admit that the budget ran out. But why not have a short correspondence to preserve the relationship? It would be less frustrating for all parties. You never know if that project may return or if you may need that resource again.
  • Some say not to take these missed messages personally. Why not have some empathy for how overwhelmed people are? But quite frankly, many business professionals don't really care how overwhelmed you may be at work. They need their projects delivered on time as you promised. They want you to recognize that their time is very valuable and expect you to keep regularly scheduled meetings. And they have their own goals and responsibilities to be accountable for.

    We have 3 tips to tackle overwhelm at work:

    1. Prioritize and chunk it out. Create a to-do list of home, career, family/partner and health. Organizing your to-dos into chunks will help you see your world more clearly. Evaluate briefly what part of your list are hot items and must-dos.

  • Go through your emails and group them by priority. Set up project folders - one for "hot items," one for "to read later" and another as a to-do list. It takes about 5 minutes to do this and Gmail even gives you an option to add color to these folders. Adding rules to your email can be of help. If you know there is a hot project coming, you can add the company's name as a rule and it can automatically go into the to-do or hot items folder as the emails come. I would recommend cleaning up these folders weekly or monthly, but don't be a slave to your email. Instead of breathlessly looking for updates by the minute, try to limit check-ins to three or four times a day, opting for other forms of communication when it makes sense. Aren't there times when it would just be easier to have a brief call and avoid a three-email volley?
  • Focus on the task at hand and think about what you're doing, rather than worrying about what you're not getting done. Instead of panicking and subsequently overreacting by jumping four steps, simply slow down and focus on what is in front of you right now.
  • Talent is a prerequisite for getting a seat at the table, but if you want to keep that seat, you must focus on cultivating relationships. People with strong relationships fare far better in job searches, hires, vendor relationships, work collaboration and tackling any of life's challenges.


    This blogger graduated from Goldman Sachs' 10,000 Small Businesses program. Goldman Sachs is a partner of the What Is Working: Small Businesses section.