… Or it is a way of being?

Through the influences we are exposed to, the conversation we have in our head (what we tell ourselves) and the filters we have developed over our life (our attitudes, beliefs + values, to name a few) we create our very own ‘map of the world’.  Our version of what is going on.  Some people create a map of ‘busy’.

Is this you?

Be careful.  It has implications.

Busy.  There’s a heaviness around it, a lack of space or options.  And a flavour of ‘the dog ate my homework’ – how could I get that done, being as busy as I am?!

What value does this map give to the person holding it?  Typically zero, zip, nada.

What does it potentially do to our thinking + our physiology?  It can bring with it overwhelm, fuzziness of head, unclear thinking.  For some, faster heart beat, shortness of breath, tension in the shoulder + neck, all working to reinforce mental scattiness.  A repeated mantra of ‘I’m busy’ can block out other, more useful, thoughts.  It can make it harder to pay attention in the moment.  And, worryingly, it can become our new normal so that we don’t realise the havoc it is wreaking on our ability to perform.

[Side thought: if you really want to ratchet up feelings of overwhelm that stem from our busy identity (some people we meet are pretty good at this) a great technique is to bring to mind everything you have on your plate, right now.  No matter how big or small, how urgent or trivial, how pressing or distant the deadline.  Then run through the list at speed.  Go over and over it.  Ponder it, connect with all of it, ruminate on it – even tell other people about it … and notice just how fast you can feel metaphorically like you are working hard to stay afloat.]


Why do we do it?  Why do we connect with this identity and tell people around us that we are busy?  (It’s not as if others aren’t busy too … I mean, most people find ways to fill whole days, non-stop, until they flop into bed at night.)  What does this thinking do for us?

  • Feelings of importance?  Perhaps.
  • A ‘get out of jail free’ card?  How can they hold me to this deadline when they know how busy I am?
  • An alternative to having to say ‘I don’t want to do that!’?

Wayne Muller encapsulates our common use of ‘I’m so busy’ here:

“We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character … To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single, mindful breath, this has become a model of a successful life.”

Rather than ‘a model of a successful life’, this sounds like Crazy Town to me.  What rational person, with a passionately beating heart, sets out to trade those life-affirming moments with special people doing ordinary or extraordinary things for being busy?  I concede that it can creep up on you.  But to own up to living in ‘busy’ feels more like a personal challenge to overcome than a mark of character.

Perhaps, if we could see ‘busy’ as an inability to prioritise, or an unhelpful behaviour / habit of thought we are working to correct, we might strive to remove it from our vocabulary, our thinking and our experience.  Funnily enough, some of the most productive people I’ve had the pleasure to work with over my career – some in very high stakes environments – would never have used this term.  Instead, they were clear, focused, determined, energetic, funny.  They worked with purpose and got shit done, creating an upward spiral around them.  This spiral gathered me up too, calling forth my best.

When I came across the following quote (in the ‘busy’ ball-park), it made me laugh out loud.  Mainly because it is so confronting.  But it is also true:

“Time is a created thing.  To say ‘I don’t have time’ is like saying ‘I don’t want to’. ”  Lao Tsu

Would you be that honest?  That brave?  In ‘Deadpool’ (classic flick with messages for all of us) our superhero rushes out for a shake-down with the bad guys, potentially heading to his death.  His mate says,

‘I would come with you … but I just don’t want to.’

Love it.  One of the first steps towards taking personal responsibility is to fess up to the fact that we make our own choices, on a moment-by-moment basis.  And being busy, consistently, removes our ability to focus on the stuff that really matters.

Life is about choices.  Especially how you spend your time and energy.  Every.  Single.  Moment.

Maybe we can all give up being ‘busy’ and be ‘productive’, ‘hopeful’, ‘focused’, ‘caring’, ‘energetic’, ‘valuable’ instead.  And maybe, just maybe, we can choose to spend time reflecting on what that ‘stuff that really matters’ actually is, so we can do more of it.

Author: Nicola Deakin