Man On Couch With Phone

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

Written by Elizabeth Bromstein
Posted on July 10, 2014

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.