Why I Stopped Saying “I’m Busy”


kreider quote


It all started two summers ago.

That was the afternoon I was scanning Tim Krieder’s article, The Busy Trap, when suddenly I noticed I was no longer scanning. I’d slowed down. I was actually reading, which is rare when I’m in front of a screen.

I was squirming in my seat a little too, because his take on busyness was hitting uncomfortably close to home.

Busyness is often self imposed: Check.

Busyness is often about fear of the yawning existential emptiness that lurks around the corner: Check.

Busyness is often an ego trip: Check.

Busyness is often about compulsion: Check.

I read the article a few more times. I pondered it, but not for too long. And pretty much right then and there I decided to stop using the word busy. To stop answering, “I’m really busy” when someone asks how I’m doing.

Like some people pick a word for the year, I decided to make this my unword for the year. I started using it like a verb: I’m unwording my vocabulary.

Surprisingly, it stuck. Each time I’d start to say or think busy I pulled myself back. Now here I am two years later and there’s no end in sight to my unwording experiment.

Here’s what I’ve discovered along the way: deleting busy from my vocabulary has made a difference in my life.

It’s made a difference in ways that I couldn’t have imagined two years ago.

I discovered that busy is often a comfortable shield, a way to hide out. Since I can no longer hide behind the word, I have to be honest with myself, acknowledging that how I fill my time and expend my energy is mostly within my control. Although this may seem simplistic, seeing clearly that these are my choices is both sobering and freeing.

Does this mean I always make good choices? No! But no matter what I choose, it’s an exercise in consciousness now, even when I step into the vortex of overload: doing/going/bustling/striving.

It’s also forced me to face (again) what I’ve known all along: the internet is a huge contributor to my own personal Busy Trap.

It increases my dopamine-induced seeking behavior like nothing else, resulting in a deeply unsatisfying kind of faux busyness. And there are certain things that I simply can’t allow in my life, like a bunch of apps and constant alerts and internet on my phone and being online after about 8pm.

My solution? I had my husband put parental restrictions on Safari. I deleted all apps that push information out to me. I turned off all the noise.

Ah, bliss! I’ve never missed any of it. And I found myself smiling yesterday when I read that others are doing this too. It’s nice to know that I have companions on the journey. Jake Knapp calls it making his smart phone into a sensible phone. I just call it getting out of the Busy Trap.

The other major difference in my life is that I’m now very attuned to hearing and noticing the busy word. It shows up everywhere. For almost everyone.

It’s so ubiquitous that it seems like we conjugate it in our sleep each night and wake up in the morning ready to recite it: I’m busy, you’re busy, she’s busy, he’s busy, we’re busy, they’re busy.

I see how often it’s a knee-jerk. How it keeps us disengaged from real play. How it feeds fatigue and resentment. How it pushes down our deep creative wisdom. How it builds walls between us.

This growing awareness has moved me to look at some of my relationships, to try to hear what’s behind the “I’m busy” response when I get it from others. I’m better now at discerning what’s real and what’s a wall. And I can see which walls are worth scaling and which walls I just need to walk away from.

About a year into my unwording experiment I started noticing bees. You know, busy bees.

There are these beautiful big black bees in my garden. They float from the rosemary to the salvia to the butterfly bushes. They make love to the passion vines. They stop to rest and nourish on the long stalks of lavender, staying so long that they pull the stalks down, almost to the ground.

When I come out to tend the garden they seem unperturbed, even though I sometimes wonder if they miss the stuff I prune away: Where did the lavender go? What have you done with the passion flowers?

I think about those bees. They seem happy in their busyness.

They take their time. Their pace is leisurely. They don’t rush from plant to plant.

It’s a different kind of busy.

I doubt they tell each other: Sorry, can’t meet you tonight. Too busy!

Or: How am I? Busy! Got so many of these damned plants to tend to.

Or: I’m beat from chauffeuring the kids back and forth to Bee school and Bee sports and Bee extracurricular activities.

Yes, Bee-Busy is far different from Human Being-Busy.

And maybe that’s what it’ll take for me to go back to using the busy word.

When we all become more like bees.

Human Bee-ings. 

* * * * *

How about you? Is there a word or phrase you’d like to unword from your vocabulary?

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5 thoughts on “Why I Stopped Saying “I’m Busy”

  1. Oh, I loved this post!!! Especially this line, “Like some people pick a word for the year, I decided to make this (busy) my unword for the year.” LOL. I also liked the term, “faux busyness.” That’s good and so very true.

    I will sharing this post link with some people I love:~)

  2. I’ll never forget last spring when I met with the director of a non-profit, who was late to a lunch during which she wanted to ask me to volunteer. She came cruising in proclaiming how busy she was and I could see in her eyes how much of a false front that was for her! That was an ah-ha moment for me. Another one is where I am right now–in a small historic village in France, where all the shops close every day from 12 to 2 for a petite siest. Can you imagine trying to do that in the states? The pace of life is so much more leisurely here–and still, plenty gets done. I am going to try to emulate some of this attitude when I return home next week.

    • I would *love* it if we did that in the states. I’d also like that European thing that happens when everyone goes to the pub or cafe or whatever in the evening and just hangs out. Like you say, there’s plenty of time left for getting things done. 🙂

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