Busy Vs Squeezed: How To Tell The Difference & Why It Matters

There’s a difference between being busy—and being squeezed.

Neither is very pleasant. Nor are they sustainable.

But one—busy—is a state that you’re moving through on the path to greater sustainability. And the other—squeezed—is the end result of the structures, systems, and decisions that have brought you to this point.

Busy feels like moving things forward. 

It’s certainly not the only way to move things forward—Busy isn’t a prerequisite of success—but Busy doesn’t feel stagnant or stuck.

When you’re busy, you know there’s an end to the busyness. You can point to the greater purpose behind all of your activity. And it feels good and at the same time it feels relentless.

Right now, I’m busy—with a capital B. Both of my companies are poised for serious growth, having built the systems and structures that create the capacity to serve more people in more robust ways. And, I have some work to do to realize that growth. I’m down for that.

I don’t mind this state of Busy. It’s exciting and fun—even if it’s also exhausting and, at times, frustrating. But I know that I can’t (and don’t want) to remain in this state forever.

I also know I don’t have to stay Busy. At any point in time, I have the privilege to make different choices and choose a different direction so that I can let up on the demands. Busy, for me, at this time, is a choice—at least in my business.

Being Squeezed is different.

When you’re Squeezed, you have a to-do list a mile long but it doesn’t feel like your actions are adding up to meaningful progress. Even though, on a given day you might be able to convince yourself that you were “productive.”

You’re trying to do more and squeeze new results out of the same old systems and structures.

When you’re Squeezed, you look around and wonder where to go from here. It doesn’t feel like you’re working toward something—it almost feels like you’re working to escape something.

I’ve been Squeezed before. A few times! It’s confusing, frustrating, and demoralizing. It’s hard to look toward the future and not have an idea of how things are going to be any better than they are now—especially when you’re not satisfied with what you have.

Knowing whether you’re Busy or Squeezed is key to choosing how to move forward.

If you are Busy, create an exit strategy. What conditions will give you the space to ease up? How are you actively creating those conditions? What is your deadline for exiting this Busy season regardless of the outcome? What rest will you commit to when this Busy season is complete? How will you celebrate moving through this period?

If you’re Squeezed, it’s time to step back and rethink. Question every choice. Assume nothing. Consider what it could look like to make things dramatically simpler. Examine your expectations. Play with the idea of different systems or structures.

When you are Busy, you can move through it. When you’re Squeezed, you need to step back and rethink.

Either way, the goal is to get back to sustainability—financial sustainability, operational sustainability, and personal & social sustainability.

In the meantime, are you feeling even-keeled and ready for action? Busy with an exit strategy? Or in need of some time to rethink things and alleviate The Squeeze? I’d love to know!

Cover of What Works book by Tara McMullin

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