We all know the “I’m so busy” people. I used to be one. Maybe you are one too. We say “I’m so busy” in response to people kindly asking, “how are you?” and we sometimes use it to turn down personal and professional invitations or requests. It’s such a habit that some version of I’m so busy, too busy or very busy just slides out.
I started writing about busyness and slowing down in 2010. I remember sharing a post on social media that said, “Let’s stop telling each other how busy we are.” It resonated and I thought it was the start of something, perhaps a collective shift. Did I mention I’m pretty optimistic?
When the pandemic began to subside and social events started up again, businesses brought employees back into the office and families started making up for lost time celebrating everything from birthdays to weddings, many people felt uncertain about getting back to their busy lives.
They (and maybe you too) were tired of spreading themselves so thin, tired of always being “so busy” and missed having time to make sourdough bread, saying no with ease and other things that only happened when we couldn’t leave the house.
5 reasons we have to stop staying, “I’m so busy”
Now, it seems like the “I’m so busy” conversations are back. It may sound like harmless venting but I don’t think it’s that harmless. When we perpetuate this narrative we remind each other that …
- There is some sort of superiority in being busy. In between the lines we are saying to each other and our own hearts, “I am important because I’m busy.” “People rely on me, need me, and I’m the only one who can do it.” Having too much to do doesn’t make us superior, nor does a fancy job title, big bank account, your biggest accomplishments or biggest failures or other external factors. None of this defines who we are. We all know this but all of this busy talk blurs the lines. We lose ourselves in being busy.
- It’s not ok to rest and recover, or to prioritize play and fun. When you talk to people who don’t view busyness as a badge of honor, you silently shame them by telling them how busy you are. “Who has time to sleep or have fun?!” Are we so self-important that the world will crumble if we rest?
- We have to measure who we are by what we accomplish. “My calendar is so full, my inbox is overflowing. My to-do list goes on for days.” When we reflect on our busy spaces, we forget how broken our measuring system is. We forget that are aren’t better people because we accomplish more things. We are just tired people. Our self-worth cannot be measured by how busy we are.
- Our heart-callings are not a priority. I remember the height of my busy addiction. I wrote about it in depth here. I was really burnt out at work and thinking there must be something better out there, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do instead, or how I wanted to spend my time because I was too busy to think straight. My heart was calling for something different, but I didn’t have any attention left to listen. When was the last time you just sat still and thought, “Ok heart, what do you want?” Maybe now is a good time.
- We don’t have enough time. As we run around in our busy states, we reinforce the idea that there simply isn’t enough time. We search for productivity hacks, new planners, something to allow us to fit more in (don’t get me started on multitasking). Yet, we know that more is not the answer.
Image and quote credit: Sara Kuburic @millennial.therapist
But what if you really are so busy?
If you are lost in deadlines and distractions or a demanding boss and lack of professional boundaries, you may actually be very busy. This is the time to check in and decide if you are thriving in your busyness or hiding in it. As Sara Kuburic says, “Always being busy has become an admirable way for people to avoid themselves.”
What you can say instead of “I’m so busy”
A group of researchers from Harvard Business School studied 300 participants to examine the “I’m busy” conversation (and sometimes excuse).
Let people know what you are up to. Telling people what you are up to will them get to know you better. Instead of dumping your busyness all over them, you can establish common ground instead.
Take a rain check. A simple “this isn’t a great time but how about next Wednesday?” is a usually well received scenario. This way, you don’t have to worry about finding an appropriate excuse.
How to slow down
Let’s stop talking about how busy we are AND work on being a little less busy. If it seems impossible, look at next week and even next month and see what you can remove. Are there things you can say no to now so you don’t get overloaded with upcoming obligations?
If you need help saying no, try one of these suggestions.
Read a book about slowing down to inspire your journey.
Prioritize complete honesty about your busyness behaviors. You’ll uncover valuable insight and lessons when you can look at your actions through a judgement free lens. Make a laundry list of the way you feel when you are busy and when you aren’t. Are you busy because it provides internal validation or because of an external circumstance, or a bit of both? If you are too busy to recognize that you are too busy, use this list of 17 signs and tips.
Define what leisure time and free time mean to you. If you spend all of your free time catching up, running errands and getting ahead, that is not free time. How do you rest and linger? Make a list of all of your favorite ways to relax and have fun. It may inspire you to carve out time to enjoy your life.
Restructure your work environment. If you are overwhelmed with busyness at work, what can shift? Can you ask a colleague for help? Are you able to make it a point to leave on time, stop checking email after hours or put a plant on your desk? If you are used to eating lunch while you work, could you leave your workspace and take a walk or eat somewhere else? If other people you are working with feel overwhelmed too (I see you teachers), could you get together for a brainstorming meeting to figure out effective ways to slow down together? Or, maybe it’s time to update your resume and look for something new.
Ban the word “busy” from your vocabulary for a while and see if it makes a difference in how you feel. Even this simple shift will help. If you want an extra challenge, try The Busy Boycott.
There are seasons of life where busyness feels completely out of control and you just want to move to Italy or Denmark until you find out that people are busy there too. Even in the busiest of times and places, carve out a little bit of time and space for yourself so you can come back to you.
Being intentional about where your energy goes is a worthy investment of your time. You’ll be happier, healthier, more present and have more personal control of your yeses and nos. Time is your most precious commodity. You are allowed to protect it.