Lately this word has bothered me an awful lot: more so when others use it, but I know I use it too and I’m working on cutting it out of my vocabulary.

I recently read a blog post over at The Minimalist Mom entitled “I’m Not Busy (And I’m Proud of It)” and it really resonated with me.

When was the last time you heard someone say “I have plenty of time” or “We don’t have a lot of things on this week” or, “I’m not busy”? Saying we’re busy (or even “crazy busy”) is such a cultural mantra these days. Pretty much everyone says it so it ends up being rather redundant and yet we continue to say it.

In Tim Kreider’s thoughtful New York Times article “The ‘Busy’ Trap”, he writes that saying we’re busy is a boast disguised as a complaint:

“It’s almost always people whose lamented busyness is purely self-imposed: work and obligations they’ve taken on voluntarily. They’re busy because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they’re addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence.

“Almost everyone I know is busy. They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work. They schedule in time with friends the way students with 4.0 G.P.A.’s make sure to sign up for community service because it looks good on their college applications.

“The present hysteria is not a necessary or inevitable condition of life; it’s something we’ve chosen, if only by our acquiescence to it.

“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.

“I could see why people enjoy this [busyness] complaint; it makes you feel important, sought-after and put-upon.

“I’ve always understood that the best investment of my limited time on earth was to spend it with people I love. Life is too short to be busy.”

Busyness = Speed + Activity

In Robert Levine’s journal paper entitled “A Geography of Busyness”, he defines busyness to be a combination of speed and activity. When someone says they’re busy, they feel like they’re experiencing an overload of speed, or activity, or both.

We all say we’re busy and it’s relative.

Most of the things that we’re busy with in an ongoing basis are personal choices. From time to time we all have moments where life throws things at us which we need to deal with which takes up our time and energy, but they’re not the norm.

Busyness is not a measure of success.

“Don’t mistake movement for achievement. It’s easy to get faked out by being busy.” – Jim Rohn

The perception is that if you’re busy, you are successful and in demand. The corollary: if you’re not busy, you’re unsuccessful (worse, lazy) and unneeded by others.

Where time is money, being busy makes a cultural statement. The economic thinking then means that the busier a person is, the more valuable their time. Levine says that this means that people who are busy are perceived as being more important and valuable than those who are not.

Busyness as an excuse.

Being busy is often used as an excuse for not doing something you wish you could have done.

If we really wanted to do something though, why didn’t we? Prioritizing the important things over the seemingly pressing things is what’s actually needed. (I’ve read articles on this about your inbox not being your to do list.)

Often, using busyness as an excuse makes the other person feel unworthy of your time and attention because you’re not one of their priorities – or at least you come behind all the other things they’ve listed. I’d rather not know about the busyness (I often tune out when hearing a long list of reasons) and just spend time with the person right then and there in the moment.

Busyness is also not a synonym for productivity.

“It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” – Henry David Thoreau

Simply avoiding using the word busy can make you feel less busy.

I’m going to try it this year.

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