I’M TOO BUSY.” Sometimes it’s not what you say – it’s how you say it.”

Cartoon man working with quoteDo you ever find yourself telling people, “I can’t, I’m too busy”? Guest writer, Jane Harwood, explains why this might not be the best way to communicate your schedule to other people.

I used to catch myself saying it all the time (still do sometimes) …but one day I realized something – everyone is busy! We all wear multiple hats in this fast-paced world and when someone wants to add another task to our plate we balk at the thought. The problem? Saying “I’m too busy” might send out the wrong message to your employees, your employer, your fellow colleagues…and even your family and friends.

You have to admit, when you take time to think about it, it does sound a tad bit dismissive. Here are some other ways to say you’re “too busy”, without actually having to say it.


You’ve been staying late at work all week and your boss asks you to have a report ready for tomorrow. Instead of saying those three words… why don’t you tell them “no problem”? Tell your boss you can definitely do it but make sure you also explain what else is on your plate at the moment and that you’ll have to do some reprioritizing. Most of the time we are the only ones who are aware of the loads we carry – so it’s important to communicate what you’re working on.

Say what you can do – not what you can’t do

Q – “Can you do ten back flips and work on this spreadsheet at the same time?”

A – “I can do a somersault and count to five at the same time.”

We are often surrounded by so much negativity that we don’t even notice how negative we can sound when communicating in the workplace. When someone asks you to do something that you’ve deemed impossible or that you simply can’t squeeze in – say what you CAN do instead of what you can’t do. You’ll come across as someone who wants to help instead of someone who is unsympathetic.

Q – “Can you hand your project in early tomorrow morning?”

A – “I can hand it in by the end of the day.”

Read: Don’t put your productivity on ice: How to stay motivated at work this winter

Explain why you’re busy

Instead of just saying you’re busy, say why you’re busy.

Q – “Do you mind filling in for me at the event tonight?”

A – “I have a file that I have to send to the boss by midnight. Sorry, I really wish I could help. Let me know how I can help in the future.”

Sounds a heck of a lot better than “I’m too busy” doesn’t it?!

And those times when you think you really can’t help but say those forbidden words? Take a deep breath and count to three…

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