Don’t tell me you’re busy

Let’s abolish the word busy. When you ask someone, “How have you been?” and they say, “Busy,” it doesn’t mean anything. I’m sick of it. We all have the same 24 hours to fill. Everyone’s are filled with something.

The difference is that the “busy” people feel frenetic during those hours. Those of you who walk around telling everyone how busy you are, get a grip. Make some tough choices and calm down. There’s a big difference between a busy day and a full day. The former is so frantic that you aren’t effective.

Don’t tell me you can’t help it. You can. Here are the steps to take:

1. Recognize that a frenetic life is a life half lived. You should aim for “Flow,” a concept from Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. Flow is a unique state of mind where productivity and creativity are at their highest. Csikszentmihalyi shows, in his wide-ranging study, that Flow generates the grand ideas, phenomenal work, and intense, rewarding experiences that people identify with happiness.

Flow occurs when you are fully present and engaged in what you are doing; the concept of time melts away in a commitment to the goal-oriented activity. This feeling requires being occupied and engaged for uninterrupted chunks of your day without ever once thinking that you’re rushed for time. People who are busy do not get this feeling.

2. Recognize that you are addicted to busy. You like what busy does for you.
Busy gives you an excuse for poor performance. Busy gives you a way to ignore parts of your life that are falling apart and need attention. And when what you do makes you feel inadequate — for example, if you’re a volunteer, taking care of a parent, meditating or doing other things that are not valued by society — busy gives you something to say that society does value.

Many people mistakenly feel that busy means important. But busy really means out of control. A full day means planned and prioritized. A busy day means frenetic and unorganized. Full is fine. It is expected. But important people have full days, not busy days, because important people can’t afford to be out of control.

3. Prioritize. This does not mean making a to-do list. Nor does it mean making a list of career goals. You need to list what you want in life. It should be a short list, because life is short. Don’t make a list of dreams; you need to give up your dreams. Not all, but most.

This is because being an adult means making choices. It means admitting that we cannot do everything and choosing to devote the time we have to what’s most important. By not making choices, you aren’t facing the realities of adulthood. By scheduling your days with more things than you can accomplish, you are not taking control of your life. You’re letting chance take control. Chance will dictate what gets done because you refuse to prioritize.

4. Say no. Whenever someone asks you to do something, be ready to say no. Your priorities at work, home, and during your personal and networking time should be clear.

Do not worry that you’ll hurt someone’s feelings by saying no. To do something well, you must be focused. That takes self-discipline. But when you say yes to please someone, it shows you lack the self discipline to be truly focused. Saying no is a gift to the people and projects that are the priorities in your life.

You do not automatically have to say yes to everything you’re asked to do at work either. Your boss establishes your priorities. If she then gives you work that would compromise those priorities, you can refuse (with an explanation). Sticking to the plan will makes you look smart and committed.

5. Change how you talk. Don’t ever say again that you’re busy. If this is your current response, realize you can’t bear to give up your dreams and being busy veils your fear of underperformance. You need to say something more honest than busy.

When you have done the first four steps, you will no longer be busy. You will have room to be focused and enthralled. Then, when someone says, “How have you been?” you will have something more interesting and engaging to say than “Busy.”

Posted in No image, Office politics, Productivity, Self-management
33 comments on “Don’t tell me you’re busy
  1. Liza says:

    The concept of flow. It intrigued me because throughout college and even today, that is what I strive for in my life. I refer to it as ‘my flow’ and at times I have lost it and then i find it again. I can’t believe the concept is already in existence!

    • Liz says:

      Liza,

      This “concept” has been around for centuries. It’s called Zen by some and others call it the teachings of Jesus Christ! Not to get all religious, because I’m not.

      If you’re interested read Ekhart Tolle’s “A New Earth”. That will absolutely blow your mind… it’s so “obvious” but so not all at the same time.

      Enjoy!

  2. maglover says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with this. I’d be interested to see more posts about this kind of thing.

  3. Jen says:

    3. Prioritize. This does not mean making a to-do list. Nor does it mean making a list of career goals. You need to list what you want in life. It should be a short list, because life is short. Don’t make a list of dreams; you need to give up your dreams. Not all, but most.

    Thank you for this!

  4. Eve says:

    I hate it when people say they’re busy, too. It usually just means they don’t want to do whatever you’re proposing. My main question: do you still have friends after writing stuff like this?

  5. Danielle says:

    Great, helpful post. Can you say more about the difference between “what you want in life” and “dreams” per point 3?

  6. Suzanne says:

    I love this post. I’d also like you to speak more on dreams, and giving them up. I believe that anything is possible and fulfilling dreams helps us to be passionate and unique.

  7. Jen says:

    Thank you so much for this. I grow increasingly frustrated with people telling me that they’re just so BUSY and that there’s no TIME for anything. I’ve not been able to work out why they have no time, when I seem to have plenty of it. Now I can sit back and say, it’s because they’re “busy” not because they have full days!

  8. Jeff says:

    Although I understand the intent, I’d be more inclined to agree with this post if I’d not just read that American households watch on average 8.3 hrs/day of TV! Sorry but running around the office in a frenzy all week while simultaneously updating me on 5-6 shows that you watch does NOT make you busy – it makes you a slacker with misplaced priorities. The folks who do the heavy lifting in society do not watch television – they get busy and get things accomplished. I’m not really ranting against the evils of TV so much; but when, as a society, we collectively watch over 8 hours of TV a day and then complain about being busy, we’re simply delusional.

    As for myself, I’m busy…I love my job, I work at our community garden, devote time serving at church, service old clients from my freelancing days, attend school functions, and build furniture and web applications that generate extra revenue for my family of 5. And I devote LOADS of time to following my dreams. What I DON’T do is watch TV – maybe 2-4 hours per month.

    I think we need to establish ‘busy’ in a good sense vs. ‘busy’ in an immature sense before labeling everyone who claims to be be busy as having misplaced priorities or living life poorly.

    • Tracy says:

      I loved this article! As for the women above if your so busy being a “heavy lifter” what are you doing on the computer. Better get BUSY. I was very irritated when a women came up to me and asked me something about the house she just bought from us, when I gave her an answer she began telling me how much more time I must have then her because she has two kids and a job. I just stood there mesmerized as I just got off work, made supper when to soccer with my son. So I just said, “not neccesarily, I just made time”. She didn’t get it and then went on about her job and her kids, like I don’t have a job and kids and how I couldnt possibly understand. Just stop complaining, and do what you want even if it is watching TV.

  9. Silvana says:

    Busy gives you a way to ignore parts of your life that are falling apart and need attention.

    Perfect!! Thanks!

  10. matchmaker says:

    The raspberries added some Nike Shoes juiciness and extra sweetness to the dessert, as well as a lovely swirl of color to break up the black-and-white of the plain cheesecake brownie. The brownies themselves are a little bit chewy and a little bit fudgy, a good contrast for the tender, melt-in-your-mouth cheesecake topping.

  11. Jill Bode says:

    Thanks for the lovely reality check! I’m grateful to @AmberCadabra for passing it along. Now I’m going to pass it on to a few other Dames!

  12. Libor says:

    What about business, wouldn´t be better to call it flowness?

  13. Jim says:

    Some interesting points here, I admittedly am guilty of saying I’m too busy. The thing is, I often feel like my life is just absolutely full to the brim. I hate to say no when a friend asks for help with this or that, but between work, household chores, my personal projects and everything else it just seems like my life is overbooked all the time.

    The biggest problem I have lately is friends who just don’t take a hint or won’t take no for an answer. They invite me to countless events, and keep pestering me to come to the ones I decline. Personally if someone says “I’m busy” I assume they don’t want to go and leave it at that. On the same note if I say no, I wish people would accept that I’m not interested rather than forcing me to make up an excuse.

  14. middleway says:

    It is very common for the people to answer ” I am busy” it could be that they are not really busy doing some activity. it is that their mind is not prepared for that action.
    for example you expect a call from a friend, and they did not call you. you ask them why he/she did not call, they say, I was busy. it does not mean that they did not even had chance to call you, it is just that their mind was not ready to talk to you.
    I noticed here in the forum people are confused about what they want in life and what are Dreams.
    dreams are something which are not necessary . they are your imaginatino, your wishes, your fantasy.
    ofcourse life is a dream, so we live with the dreams.
    what you want in life is purely means of survival.

  15. Najia says:

    I completely agree.. Some philosophers call this human behaviour “the cultural product or cultural fiction we are living in, that people love to do and show, they remarkably know how to use it… all playing with this famous image of the ego…:) Please have a look at this wonderful and highly insightful interview with Professor Dr Jacob Needleman about our modern lives : Jacob Needleman – philosopher and author, talks about the poverty of time that we experience in our modern technological world. He explores the paradox of how this poverty is rooted in our attempts to satisfy our desires, and describes the experience of real meaning as being one of timelessness – http://vimeo.com/6271504

  16. Najia says:

    I completely agree.. Some philosophers call this human behaviour “the cultural product or cultural fiction we are living in, that people love to do and show, they remarkably know how to use it. All playing with this famous image of the ego…:) Please have a look at this wonderful and highly insightful interview with Professor Dr Jacob Needleman about our modern lives : Jacob Needleman – philosopher and author, talks about the poverty of time that we experience in our modern technological world. He explores the paradox of how this poverty is rooted in our attempts to satisfy our desires, and describes the experience of real meaning as being one of timelessness – http://vimeo.com/6271504

  17. Najia says:

    Thank you Penelope for this great reflection, I completely agree. Some philosophers call this human behaviour “the cultural product or cultural fiction we are living in, that people love to do and show, they remarkably know how to use it… all playing with this famous image of the ego…:) Please have a look at this wonderful and highly insightful interview with Professor Dr Jacob Needleman about our modern lives : Jacob Needleman – philosopher and author, talks about the poverty of time that we experience in our modern technological world. He explores the paradox of how this poverty is rooted in our attempts to satisfy our desires, and describes the experience of real meaning as being one of timelessness – http://vimeo.com/6271504

  18. Sam Vargo says:

    Whenever I ask someone “how have you been?” and they respond, “I’ve been busy” it’s always sort of a rude and condascending response. People that respond this way always seem to be telling me they’re in a special class and the world doesn’t understand or appreciate their plight. Truth is, we’re all busy in our own ways and it’s not an excuse for action, or for life.

  19. Kelly says:

    I totally disagree. There is nothing wrong with a response of “busy”. If anything, it provides an opening to further discussion.
    There’s nothing rude about it.

  20. Jason says:

    Well said. Why do social dynamics at large enterprises make this so difficult? Every boss I have had could not do this.

  21. mark says:

    This article is a little overbearing and assumptive. I am quite honestly, a very busy person. I have tons of projects I’m working on (none of which, are on a deadline or anything of that nature, because I’m self-employed and living out my own dreams), but I also have a pregnant wife to nurture and give attention to, a career to maintain, an organized schedule of things to attend to, daily martial arts training classes, that I consistently take 5-6 days a week. Etc.

    I never say “I’m busy” as an excuse to avoid doing something, or a way to justify a chaotic, unorganized schedule. I just say it because there’s always work to be done, and taking on any egregious commitments at the moment isn’t something I should probably do.

    You say “say you have a full schedule.” Well the same logic could be tacked onto the word “full.” It’s language, and you know what it means. Some people are better at being busy than others. Some people aren’t busy at all. It’s all about the energy and motivation people have at the specific time you speak with them.

  22. a says:

    “But important people have full days, not busy days, because important people can’t afford to be out of control.”

    How nice for them. The rest of us, who work for them, don’t have that luxury. What “busy” means for us is, “I hate my life, I feel like a slave, but I’m absolutely terrified that if I drop what I’m doing, or even try to relax, I’ll be destitute.”

  23. Beth says:

    Love, LOVE this article and reminds me of a certain few who I find myself in a constant battle with, trying to prove that they’re more busy than I am when I have simply answered what I have been up to that week. God forbid I should be in more than 2 countries in 4 days without getting thrown a list as long as my arm on what said conversant has been doing and how this was much more strenuous! In a bid to not rise to this I often find myself lessening what I have been doing that week or even ignoring great projects which I would usually share detail of!

  24. Justin says:

    Busy people also like “make work”: they get themselves involved in ways that are not helpful, they do things for people that those people could have done themselves, they do projects that don’t need to be done

  25. TJ says:

    I actually agree completely. Being busy really is an excuse for most things

  26. Henrieta Riesco says:

    Great article.
    For some reason we’ve learned that “wasting time” is really bad, so we tend to prove to ourselves that by being busy, we are not wasting a second. And, of curse, on the contrary, by being busy, we are totally wasting our time on stuff that is not even important.
    Let’s all pause, reflect, and choose what we want to do right now.

  27. Kenneth Vogt says:

    Way to teach how to get off the busy merry-go-round, Penelope. Have you ever wondered why anyone would buy a ticket to ride in the first place? Then you may also find this interesting: http://www.veraclaritas.com/busy-equals-blame/

  28. Geneva Prince says:

    This post really helped me to open my eyes on saying no and making my to do list short, because it’s true life is short =-).

  29. Sara says:

    I have to agree with this article but mostly because I have been on both sides of the spectrum. I have been both full and busy. I think the vocabulary can be intertwined but it is more of a personal meaning than anything else.

    This article struck home for me because I do have much to do. I am a single mom, I work full time and am a recent graduate with studying to accomplish and many other goals to work on.

    But notice I am responding to an article instead of focusing.

    I have time and because of this article I realize that I am mearly “busy” and poorly managing my time in order to procrastinate or put people off I don’t want subject myself too. Its an excuse and something I have been aware of for some time. I appreciate that there are others who do sense this lack of focus and disorganization.

    This article has helped open my eyes a little further to become more honest with myself and create a more positive flowing life.

    Thank you!

  30. Mike says:

    I hope this message reaches so many people! I learned a long time ago that to say you are busy means to say you are uninterested, that stuck with me. If you continually say you are busy to people you ultimately are using valuable time to perform the tasks at hand.
    Also, you trick your subconscious mind in giving yourself some sort of attribute far away from reality. Keep telling yourself “I can’t afford” or “I’m busy” and you won’t get past it.

  31. James W says:

    Busy throws up a wall to put you on notice, I don’t have time for you or what ever it is that you want.” Often used when they have failed to do something requested of them. I agree it is overused just like when you ask, How are you? and the immediate response is Fine, just fine, when they are falling apart inside.

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