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“BUSY” is the greatest value of our age

Scene: phone call, or text messaging, or running into somebody at a social event

Person 1: “Hey! How’s it going? / How’s your week? / How have you been? / What have you been up to?”

(Person 2 does quick inhale, or slight shake of head, or slight eye roll, or touches fingertips to forehead, or all of the above)

Person 2: “I’ve been so busy.”

Person 1: “Oh, me TOO.”

We always say that we’re busy. We have these things pressing us—deadlines, social engagements, to-do-lists, self promotion, conferences, bills & paperwork, business development, client meetings. And there’s the mundane stuff like household upkeep, feeding yourself / your family, vehicle maintenance, exercise, doctor appointments, more.

When we tell others that we’re busy, we’re trying to tell them that we have a lot of responsibilities and that we are valuable.

We feel we have to always be doing something productive. Even the leisure hours go to something useful, like a hobby or side project. We value productivity and activity.

That’s a good thing.

But I don’t like this word “busy” to describe my commitment to producing and making.

To me, the word “busy” belongs in a category with words like networking and multi-tasking. You say it like it’s a good thing, but I don’t think it means what you think it means.

“Busy work” is what teachers assigned when you were a kid to keep your head down and keep you out of trouble. “Busybody” is when you meddle in other people’s affairs. “Busy as a bee” means bumbling, flitting, doing a bit of everything.

So when I hear someone say BUSY, I think: moving quickly from one thing to the next, being caught up in an unending set of tasks, answering a lot of communications, being distracted, not having much control over your own time, being permanently in “react” mode instead of “respond” mode.

It means missing out on moments of reflection between tasks, having no time for just thinking, lacking clear focus, not enjoying a sense of accomplishment at the completion of a block of work, failing to value your own time, always feeling pressed and hectic.

Claiming BUSY does not mean that your days are dedicated to valuable things.

Sometimes, I do feel exactly that: BUSY. It’s a state I want to get out of, and it’s not something I want to use to describe my time or myself. Constantly telling yourself and others that you’re inhabiting a frenetic mindspace cues your mind / body / emotions to operate as though you were, and I think that’s almost always a bad thing.

The things you say about yourself (both to yourself and to others) have a big impact on your brain and your emotions. Instead of saying that my time is constantly getting frittered away, I want to communicate that I’m fully engaged, that I’m productive, that I’ve accomplished a lot, that my days are full.

Saying “BUSY” is a habit, and it’s one I want to break.