I’m busy, leave me alone

I have recently been noticing how often people interrupt me in person or in email starting with “I know you’re busy but …”

Actually, I’m not that busy. I used to be much busier, running around like a headless chicken trying to be all things to too many people. Latterly I’ve stopped that nonsense and have a much more reasonable workload. 

But I never disagree when they say “I know you’re busy”, because I find it quite useful that they think I am. Not because I have a reputation to uphold but because it makes people a bit more respectful of my time. 

I realise I have been using ‘busy’ as a shield to hide behind, to buy myself time to focus and concentrate, and to reduce the time I spend interacting with people. 

I work in a culture where the ability to respond quickly is highly prized. Interrupting people is perfectly acceptable because no one is expected to be involved in anything beyond the instant, the here and now. This is a problem for me because I work in strategy and we are supposed to think ahead, plan. It requires sustained thought. So being busy is an acceptable way of saying “leave me alone, don’t interrupt me”. 

I’d like a better way of getting this message across but I haven’t come up with one. I do have pretty fierce powers of concentration, so people see me engrossed in what I’m working on and perhaps that’s why they think I’m busy. I’m occupied, yes, and engrossed, and that’s why interruptions are so annoying and disruptive. 

Busy seems to suggest I’m frantically multi tasking and rushing from meeting to meeting. I’d feel busy if I were, but I wouldn’t feel productive, just harried. 

Perhaps I should start asking people not to interrupt because I’m in the midst of being productive. That would be more accurate except it sounds a bit smug, as if I’m omitting “…unlike you, you time waster” off the end of the sentence. 

So I’ll stick with being busy. I still want to be left alone while I’m at it.