Man On Couch With Phone

Stop using this word. You're not fooling anyone.

Elizabeth Bromstein|

I know a woman who, literally every time I run into her and ask how she is – as one does – she responds, with just a hint of exaggerated melancholy, “Busyyyyyyy” (drawn out, just like that).

And I always think, “Doing what? You’re a freelance writer and part-time performer. You don’t own a house or have kids. You’re not even in a relationship that you have to maintain. What are you so busy doing?” But I don’t say that because it would be rude.

Another guy I know can never commit to anything, like dinner, because he’s so busy. It’s all I hear about when we get together and everything is a chore because it takes him away from the other tasks he’s supposedly so busy doing. Again, I can’t for the life of me figure out what these things are. He shares custody of his son with his ex, so she has the kid half the week, and he works one job like everyone else.

These people aren’t any busier than the rest of us, and I actually suspect they’re less busy than a lot of us, and yet they are permanently beleaguered, a state they feel the need to announce to everyone. Loudly.

And it’s not just them – they’re just the most obvious examples that spring to mind. The fake busy epidemic has been spreading for a while now. I can’t trace it back to its source, so I’m not sure where it started and it might go back to the Paleolithic period for all I know, but I did find an article from 11 years ago, in which Brazen Careerist Penelope Trunk is beseeching people to stop saying they’re “busy.”

I think there are a few reasons people do this, one is that they think saying they’re busy sounds impressive. Another is that they do genuinely feel super busy, because they’re naturally perpetually beleaguered and/or they don’t know how to manage their time.

Regardless, “Busy” is not an appropriate answer to “How are you?”

Similarly, “I’m busy” or “too busy” is often not an appropriate response to requests for your time. In some cases, it might actually be true. In others, be it at work or in life, you probably could accommodate whatever the request is, but you choose not to.

As soon as you tell me you’re busy, I assume you’re not. Not really. Really busy people don’t talk about it. And really busy people are, in my experience, generous with their time.

When I was writing a health column for which I had to interview about 10 people a month, it was always those at the top of their field who were the most generous with their time and who were readily available. The surgeon with a Harvard professorship (and probably three kids) who had just flown in from a conference and had to perform an operation in a few minutes usually had time to talk with me and tell me what I needed to know. The less successful a person was, the harder they often were to pin down.

It’s not for nothing that there’s an old saying that goes, “If you want something done, ask the busy man. The others never have the time.” But they mean the real busy man. Not the fake one.

You’re not fooling anyone, except people who don’t know any better. We know you’re not busy. So, stop saying you are.

If you really do feel like you can’t get a handle on your time, here are some tips:

    1. Meditate. Spend just ten minutes a day meditating and it will increase your concentration and focus.

    2. Live mindfully. It might sound a bit hippyish to some but pay attention to every moment and focus on whatever task is at hand. Don’t let our mind wander. You will get more done.

    3. Stop multitasking. Many are of the opinion that unitasking is the way to go, and you’ll get more done. Try concentrating on one task at a time.

    4. Prioritize. Set your to do list from most important to least important and work your way down.

    5. Say “No.” If you really, really don’t have time, say no when people ask things of you. It’s better than making a promise you’re not going to deliver on, or doing a half-assed job. But remember that saying yes will often get you further, so examine your life first and ask yourself “Am I really that busy?” I bet the answer is no.

Category: Advice, Life At Work, Uncategorised
  • Teresa Murphy Wright

    Frankly, your ideas here, scare me: the assumptions that people are making more and more often are pathetic. If we cannot honestly express ourselves, what have we become?
    You are certainly right that many people lie. Extrapolating particular words however, and then applying them globally is weak and simplistic. Life is not black & white, nor are people, and it will never be so. As throughout history, we need to take our chances as to whether or not to believe an individual, use our experience, common sense and intuition.

    PS … Living mindfully actually encourages us to allow our mind to wander – not always, sometimes focus is required. Suggesting that a Hippie doesn’t have a wandering mind is quite funny.

    Lastly, I personally think that we should be careful when judging what a successful person is. The ‘less successful’ person you referred to may actually be living their dream, and doing that despite the critics is brave, bold and Successful!

  • Audrey B

    Although I agree with some of your points here, I believe it is rather simple minded to judge people in the way you have done. Of course some people lie and say they are busy to get out of commitments or events, but stating that the other person cannot possibly be as busy as you are is short-sighted and simple-minded. How do you truly know everything that is occurring in said person’s life?

    I would also like to know how you would classify a successful and an unsuccessful? It would appear you are judging people based on their salary and title, but what of people who are truly living for themselves?

  • Matthew Wos-Lavoie

    Articles like this are going to continue to make people more and more judgmental. It is not our place to judge how busy a person is.

    In the freelance writer example: I know some freelance writers who are VERY busy. They do edits for friends/family, they write blogs, they do guest posts, they write books/stories and to make some money on the side they do the freelance writing for other people until they can get their own stuff published and popular. To assume a freelance writer should not be busy is in my mind, quite offensive to those who put hours upon hours of their time into their career. As for assuming that the person is not busy because they have no kids or partner, that is just plain silly. Maybe that person has a life and likes to get out and volunteer, help others etc?

    I am 23, in a stable relationship with no children and unemployed. Naturally, people assume this means that I should have tons of time to just go out and do what I want. Frankly, I am very busy. People ask if I can go out, I say no. During the day I am applying for jobs, customizing resumes/cover letters, researching companies and looking at trends to see what I can improve upon in order to make myself a better candidate. In the evening I continue to build my social media accounts, pra my coding/graphic design skills and I do some unpaid casual work for friends who have their own start-up businesses.

    With this all said though, I do understand your point; however, I do not think it was made properly. Yes, some people make their jobs sound a lot harder than they are. Yes, some people lie in order to sound busy in order to look better and avoid a higher work load. Yes, it can be annoying. Regardless, we do not have the right to judge others. We have no idea what else is going on in their work/life and unless we have the exact same life/job, we really do not know how much work they actually have to do. I could assume a boss does no work because I just see him/her walking around constantly, but as far as I know he/she could be observing how everyone works together in order to see if there are any team building exercises that could be implemented.