Stop telling me you’re busy

When was the last time you said to someone, some variation of, “I’ve been so busy, I haven’t gotten around to it.”

How often does that someone nod emphatically and respond, “Yeah, I’m SO (with a clear, over dramatization of the so) busy”!

Ugh. I’m sliding down the back of my chair covering my face in embarrassment as I raise my hand. I’ve been a repeat offender, guilty as charged.

I’d like to consider myself a busy badge wearer in recovery meaning I am actively working to change the way I think and speak about busyness and I challenge you to do the same.

We need to change the way we speak and think about busyness

The busyness phenomenon is toxic not only to ourselves but also the people around us. In this article, I’m suggesting the following:

Changing the way we think and speak about busyness can help us create more bandwidth in our professional and personal lives and help us live more authentically.

How to create more bandwidth

I suspect, for many, if you logged the number of times within a given day or week that you said, “I’m busy”, you’d be shocked. An interesting experiment would be to notice each time you say, “I’m busy”, follow up with a few questions:

“I say I’m busy, but what am I actually doing?”

“Does what I’m “busy” with align with my larger priorities and values?”

Answering these two simple questions can help create more bandwidth in your personal and professional life because:

It forces you to confront the reality of how you actually spend your time versus how you think you spend your time and how you convey this message to the rest of the world.

My guess is, for many, there is a disconnect between perceived versus actual time spent. For instance, significant amounts of time are being spent doing non value added “stuff” — getting sucked into the social media and Internet search vortex, Netflix binging, meaningless tasks, putting too much happy in the happy hour, etc.

Busyness doesn’t equal productivity.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting every moment of the day needs to be obsessively focused on self improvement and productivity (sorry, Tim Ferris) – that’s equally dangerous! I think there is a time and a place for unplugging and leisure, but I’ll tackle that in a later article.

Answering the questions: “I say I’m busy, but what am I actually doing?” and “Does what I’m “busy” with align with my larger priorities and values?”creates awareness of how frequently or infrequently you’re filling your time with things that reflect your priorities and values.

Answering these questions may present an uncomfortable truth as I’m making an assumption that for many, there is a disconnect. Many of us are filling our days with work, activities and tasks that don’t align with our larger priorities and values.

No surprise here, there is a fixed number of hours in the day. They go by fast. The way you spend your time says a lot about you. So, ask yourself, is the way I spend my time an accurate reflection of who I am or better yet, who I want to be?

Getting in the habit of doing periodic self check-ins by asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly helps you become more intentional about how you spend your time. It can help empower you to start saying no more often to things that don’t really matter (be protective of your time!); say yes more often to the things that do matter; and perhaps make some bigger, more impactful life changes that you should’ve made years ago, but just “hadn’t gotten around to it”.

How to live more authentically

A few years ago I was sitting in a meeting with all staff gathered around the table. The topic of vacation time came up and one woman, a middle manager, conventionally successful and well-educated, proclaimed, “I’ve never taken ‘a vacation’, I just couldn’t handle taking more than a long weekend!”.

My immediate, seemingly uncontrollable reaction was, “Well, if the President of the United States (Obama at the time) can take a vacation, I feel like I can too.”

There was initial silence but then murmurings of staff members lamenting, “Yeah, I need to take some time off” or “Oh, I’d really love to travel to (insert locale)!”

That exchange has stuck with me many years later because it still troubles me. Whether or not she intended to, her comment around never having taken a vacation suggests an inflated sense of self-importance. Sure, everyone wants to feel needed and indispensable, but to the extent that she felt she could never travel or truly unplug doesn’t impress me, it makes me feel sorry for her.

We need to be more honest with ourselves. In a work context, we aren’t too important to take time off here and there. Pretending to not have passions and interests outside of work isn’t something to brag about, so if you’re pretending, you have permission to stop! For those that legitimately don’t have passions and interests outside of work, that’s not honorable, that’s a red flag of burnout and lack of sustainability!

If you identify as someone that doesn’t take vacation and you’re not buying my prior arguments, have you considered how your words and actions affect the people around you? Intentionally or unintentionally, you’re vacation shaming your coworkers and sending the message that taking time off isn’t appropriate or they should feel guilty for “indulging”.

What I’m suggesting is take a realistic look about how you spend your time and how you talk about spending your time. Are you living your truth or putting on a show?

There is never a “right time” or “good time”

In the anecdote above, the fact that the woman had never taken a vacation or left the country conveys to me not that “she must be really busy”, rather, traveling must not be a priority. Another prime example is when a friend says, “I’m just bad at staying in touch”. I’m not talking about the occasional radio silence, I’m talking about many months to years of falling off the grid. For those people in my life that year over year tell me, “I’m just bad at keeping in touch”, what I’m hearing is, “you’re not a priority”. And that’s ok, just don’t mask it under the “I’m too busy” guise. Be authentic.

Busyness is a badge of honor we need to stop wearing

It can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that our lives are really just the product of a series of choices we make and priorities we set out for ourselves.

Busyness obsession is a toxic cultural norm we’ve been subjected to, but here are a few, small steps you can take break the cycle:

1.Keep a log (a note on your phone will do or make a physical tally in your agenda) of the number of times a day you say “I’m busy” to someone. Awareness is the first step.

2. Do a quick self assessment after you catch yourself saying “I’m busy”: “I say I’m busy, but what I am actually doing?” and “Does what I’m “busy” with align with my larger priorities and values?” If you find there is a discrepancy, make note of it!

3. Use alternatives to “I’m busy” (e.g. “I haven’t made it a priority yet” – I believe this phrase suggests ownership and reponsibility versus being the victim of the “I’m too busy”). Notice how your thoughts change and how you feel as you use these alternatives.

4. Find an accountability buddy! Tell your close friends, family members or even coworkers to gently “call you out” when you say “I’m busy”. This may be especially helpful in the early stages as you try to break the habit.

Don’t let busyness get in the way from living the life you want to lead. Society tells us that the busier we are, the more important we are.


Whether or not you want to admit it, every time you tell someone “I’m busy”, the recipient of that message is thinking to themselves “Well, I’m busier and more important”.

Don’t play the game!

Agree? Disagree? Tell me what you think!
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