“Labour not as one who is wretched, nor yet as one who would be pitied or admired; but direct thy will to one thing only, to put thyself in motion and to check thyself, as the social reason requires.” — Meditations, Marcus Aurelius (IX, 12)
Friend: “How’s your day going?”
You: “It’s busy!”
You: “Hey, sorry I haven’t called you back yet, I’ve just been so busy.“
You: “I wish I had the time to (fill in the blank), but I’m just too busy.“
With good reason, the word “busy” is one of the most overused words in the English vocabulary in modern day America. The word comes from an overwhelming presence of a perceived shortage of time by the persons using the word. To said persons, there is never enough time in our day, enough days in the week, or enough weeks in the year to accomplish all of the things we should do, want to do, or know need to do.
Because we feel this, an apparent shortage of time necessary to accomplish what we need to accomplish, we think we feel busy. We have assumed “busyness” as a feeling, such as the feeling of happiness or sadness. “Busy” has become our answer when a friend or spouse or coworker asks us “how are you?” But I argue here that this logic is flawed.
Busyness is not a feeling. It’s not really anything actually. The truth is, we are all as busy as we want to be with the things we want to be busy with. Rarely have I ever met a person so busy that he could not find time for the things he truly wanted to do.
Here’s the real problem:
- Being too busy doesn’t mean you are a victim to your own importance, it means you are caught up in the unimportant.
- Being too busy doesn’t mean you are occupied doing great things, it means you are just giving an impression of doing more things.
- Being too busy means your self-worth is based on a scorecard of supposed accomplishment, rather than a scorecard of self-satisfaction and relationships.
- Being too busy doesn’t mean you are effective or efficient, it means you can’t prioritize, and you often waste useful time.
- Being too busy doesn’t mean you have an excuse, it means you can’t own up to your own decisions about how you spend time.
Let me explain with some examples. For every person that tells me how busy they are, I can almost always find out the best shows on Netflix and how each season’s plot finishes. For every person that tells me how busy they are, I see wasted time on social media scrolling through endless photos of “friends.” For every person that tells me they are too busy, I can find them sleeping in on weekends, reading the news, or online shopping. For every person that tells me they are busy, I don’t hear “I am important,” I hear “I am not in control.” That’s what you say when you say you are busy. “I’m not in control and this is a personal exoneration for any missed opportunities from said lack of control.”
Aside from not controlling one’s own schedule, many are controlled also by the immediate endorphin hit they get from completing perceived “necessary” tasks. Courtney Carver from bemorewithless.com says, in her article, A Gentle Warrior’s Manifesto, she commits to, “measure more by what’s in my heart and less by what’s crossed off my list.”
Personally, I can relate to the crutch of a to do list and leaning on the busyness of occupying my time with non-urgent tasks rather than enjoying life and prioritizing those things that will make me happy. The key is to make the to do list work for you, not to work for your to do list. Don’t be a slave to your obligations. Instead, move about with an effectiveness that chooses to participate in important acts, and to neglect unimportant tasks.
You may be reading this and think it unrealistic. You might even think I am being too harsh. Maybe your employer is too demanding. Maybe your children are young and in a number of activities. Maybe your family needs your extra resources, so you work multiple jobs or you tend to their health. For you, free-time is non-existent, and you rarely have a moment to yourself. I understand, and I certainly don’t intend to lessen the significance of your burdens. However, I still believe that using the word “busy” in your everyday vocabulary is paralyzing because it enforces the idea of chaos and victimhood it in your life. It removes your potential for living a satisfactory life and being great by covering it in a layer of helplessness or displacement. For you, the one who has thrown away all time wasting, has prioritized with conviction, and who still cannot find time in your day; for you, I ask that you consider Steven R. Covey’s wisdom in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
It is here that we find two ways to put ourselves in control of our lives immediately. We can make a promise-and keep it. Or we can set a goal-and work to achieve it. As we make and keep commitments, we begin to establish an inner integrity that gives us the awareness of self-control and the courage and strength to accept more of the responsibility for our own lives. By making and keeping promises to ourselves and others, little by little, our honor becomes greater than our moods.
In response to Covey, I offer a challenge, to make a promise or to set a goal, however you see it. If you can’t choose your own promise or goals right at this moment, then let me offer some assistance. This promise/goal is to stop saying the words “I’m too busy.” Stop using “busy,” period. Stop saying it as an excuse, an escape, or a facade. Stop using it to avoid, but also stop using it to self-promote. Stop using it to sound important at work or in social conversations. Saying “I’m busy” is not helping anything or anyone.
First, you will stop using “busy” in your spoken language to others. Then, as you have established this stronghold, you will, as Covey says, establish an inner integrity, awareness, and self-control that will help you to prioritize, take action, and neglect (as needed) those tasks and duties that fill your schedule.
In her article, “Why I’m Eliminating the Word ‘Busy’ From My Vocabulary,” Author Agapi Stassinopolous, says:
So here are some of the words I have come up with to make me feel more time affluent: When people ask me for something and it is not a good time for me to engage, there are a few phrases I use:
“I can’t do that right now.”
“My plate is full for the next month.”
“My focus is handling xyz project at the moment, so there is not a lot of space and time to handle anything else.”
I find that when I use these phrases, I relax — and I feel weight lifted off my shoulders.
So today, once and for all, stop saying the word “
“The trouble with being in the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” — Lily Tomlin
If you want to read more on this topic, please read:
- Six reasons you’d be happier if you stopped saying “busy” by Megan Wycklendt
- Please stop saying you’re too busy by Jon Acuf