This hits home for you, doesn’t it?

Well, it does for me. But we’ve all heard it before, we’re all guilty of it and we all know that one person who says it way more than anyone else you know (and if you don’t know that person, it’s probably you).

“I’m so sorry, I can’t come out for dinner, I’m piled in at work.”

“I’m so sorry, I’d love to come to coffee but I’m so busy with these 3 projects all due in the next 5 days that I need to work on.”

“I’m so sorry this was submitted this late, I’ve just been so busy with other tasks that this kept getting pushed back.”

Now don’t get me wrong, in this day and age we have a tonne of informational & task-based overload, but “I’m so sorry, I’m too busy” gets thrown around far too often (yes, we all feel it). But what does it really mean when we’re about to tell someone “I’m too busy” and how can we reframe our thinking to avoid ever saying it again?


Overcoming “I’m too busy” in 4 steps:

  1. Set goals so that you’re only working on what matters
  2. Pause and consider.
  3. Prioritise to soothe your internal locus of control.
  4. The key is to respond with honesty, but it’s not everything.


1. Set goals so that you’re only working on what matters.

I’m not asking you to travel on an altruistic search to identify new major life goals right now. But truly understanding if you’re “too busy” or not is best looked at by taking a step backward (identifying your goals) to take a huge leap forward (spending your time in the areas that actually matter to you).

Macro: Visualise your “big picture” and what you want to create, do and experience with your life over the next 10 years. Identify the large scale goals that compliment this.
Micro:  Break these goals into smaller chunks and understand your own personal hierarchy of importance with goals related to your career, education, family, social or health. The more often you hit your micro goals the more steps you’ll be taking to hit your macro goals.  
Plan: Create a plan, don’t complicate it and get to work.


The point here is that once you’ve identified what you want to create, do or experience you’ll have far more clarity when it comes to making decisions about how you allocate your time. Consistency is critical. Hold yourself accountable by writing down your goals, make them real, make them tangible & tell someone about them.


2. Pause and consider.

The next time you’re about to tell someone “I’m too busy” I ask you to pause and consider the below:


Is the work or activity you’re doing right now aligned with your micro goals?
Productivity quite literally is categorised by being able to increase your output per unit of input, but becoming an expert at producing more of something that doesn’t align with your goals or that no one cares about doesn’t sound very productive, does it?

Are you multi-tasking? Because if you are, you’re probably not.
Contrary to common belief, multitasking doesn’t save time and the act of jumping back and forth between two projects slows you down. What you call multitasking is really task-switching. Think of your brain capacity like RAM (memory system) in a computer. Each task you accept your RAM gets filled up and soon enough begins to slow down, leaving you with less power and capacity to complete the tasks that most contribute towards your goals.


3. Prioritise to soothe your internal locus of control.

My internal what?


Your locus of control refers to the extent to which you feel that you have control over the events that influence your life. When you’re faced with a challenging situation, a new demand or external distractor (personal or work related), do you feel that you have control over the outcome and situation? Or do you believe that you are simply at the hands of outside forces?


To relate it back, are you actually busy? Or are you just that stressed, anxious and unsure of what actually needs to be done in the short term that you couldn’t even begin to fathom how to respond other than just saying “I’m so sorry, I can’t, I’m way too busy”?


Your locus of control can influence not only how you respond to the constant barrage of noise that occurs throughout your daily life, but also your motivation to take action.


Prioritisation is the key to soothe (or developing) your internal locus of control. But beware the allure of task-based lists, the critical part here is prioritising across four metrics:

  1. Important: The activities that contribute to your long-term mission, values, and goals. 
  2. Not important: Activities that don’t help you achieve your goals or fulfill your mission.
  3. Urgent: A task that requires immediate attention. 
  4. Not urgent: Activities aren’t pressing nor do they help you achieve long-term goals or fulfill your mission


Just because you’ve crossed off a lot of tasks on your task list today doesn’t mean you’ve actually made forward momentum towards your goals. Prioritisation will soothe you.


4. The key is to respond with honesty, but it’s not everything.


By now, we’re all well equipped to be able to answer the questions below. Yes we all lead action-packed lives but claiming we’re busy isn’t fair on the person we tell it to, why? Because at the end of the day, it’s actually a lie. 


Long time no see! We should go for dinner?

Hey, I like the work you’re doing for our client, Can you also be the lead for this project?

Can you give me feedback on a new book I’ve just finished writing?


It’s a lie that we tell ourselves and tell others to avoid actually addressing the question at hand. Fortunately for us all, the solution can be a simple shift in how you frame your response, with honesty.

Be honest and replace “Sorry I can’t, I’m too busy.” with “Sorry I can’t, It’s not a priority” and see how it feels. Often that’s all it takes and is a perfectly adequate explanation.

But what does this look like in practice? Do you actually have to say that exact phrase? In short, no (I’ll elaborate in a bit). Often times this phrase won’t sit well for you and although that’s the point, it’s not the answer.

Compromise with them and delegate where possible. This person has goals as well and it’s very likely their question is directly geared towards their own motivators, so are you able to point this person to where they need to be without just shutting them down? Don’t spend too much time on this, but if you’re able to find a win/win than go for it. Try this instead.

“Sorry I can’t stay back working, I’ve organised to spend time and have dinner with my wife tonight. But I can do tomorrow night instead?”
“Sorry I don’t have time to fix that error, I need to focus on finishing this presentation for the meeting this afternoon. But here’s an article that walks you through how to do it.”
“Sorry I can’t come to drinks, I’m trying to avoid going out for at least a few months to focus my energy on my startup. Have you asked Tim yet? He’s been in my ear all week about wanting to go out.”

You get the point.


Reframing the way we look at “being busy” reminds us that the way we spend our time is a choice. A choice that we are consciously making to spend (or not spend) working towards our goals. If you are in the same boat that I’m in and are interested in diving deeper into productivity and learning how to get things done without feeling overwhelmed than register free for our 1-hour live stream and interactive Q&A at 6:30pm Monday with best selling author and productivity guru David Allen.

Cameron Muller
Cameron Muller

Heads up the community and digital success of Masterly, runs a business on his spare time and by nature, just an all-round passionately curious (and often cheeky) guy.