The word “busy” – Bad, rude or a warning sign?

Busy – it’s a phrase I’ve been using a lot lately, when someone asks, “How are you?” my go-to-answer has been “Busy!” The dictionary has ‘similar’ words associated with busy in the negative…

Busy (bizi) Adjective: having a great deal to do – hard-pressed / time-poor / have one’s hands full Verb: keep oneself occupied – distracted / diverted / immersed

I read some time ago about how ‘busy’ is a ‘bad’ word and shouldn’t be used. Theories about how busy represents bad time management, or that it’s rude to say that to someone and/or a sign that you’re on your way to a breakdown! I decided to delve deeper…

Bad time management

This is the theory that if you say you are busy, you are actually just misusing your time. That it’s an excuse and means you need to prioritise – that you need to be effective by prioritising what is important.

Keyways to achieve effective time management:

  1. Make a list – prioritise between what is important and urgent. Remove unnecessary things from your schedule – Urgent and important \ Urgent and not important \ Important and not urgent \ Not urgent and not important.
  2. Schedule based on your core values – apparently something ‘high achievers’ believe is critical. Take a detailed audit of your schedule and determine how much time you are dedicating to things that connect to your core values.
  3. Be accountable for how you spend your time – this helps you make conscious choices to limit your busyness and focus on top priorities. Write down what you are doing so that you can see exactly where your time goes, then be more aware when you are wasting it.

This information gave me a little boost – because I do prioritise, I am aligned with my core values and I am accountable. Therefore, bad time management is not my issue (I’ll take the compliment that this means I am effective!)

Being rude or self-important

This is where the claim to being busy is worn like a badge of honour. That appearing to be busy is signalling your value to others or that it is some kind of status symbol.

What scared me most about reading from this viewpoint, is how people hear it – This could go one of two ways (especially without context):

  1. I could be communicating that the person I’m talking to is not a priority to me, or
  2. I’m making my life important and that my presence matters to the people around me – like, you are currently blessed with my presence because I choose to spend time with you even though I’m busy.

It all comes down to interpretation of those hearing the word “busy” when it comes out of your mouth and the context it is said in. I note that sometimes when I tell my colleagues that I’m busy, it’s puts them off asking me to do something for them. This could be labelled as positive because it means I have less on my plate, or it could be negative because I’m alienating myself from the team.

This article went onto suggest other ways of saying “busy” without saying that you are busy. Be creative, say something about what it is that’s making you busy – essentially put it into context. This angle I like. To be more mindful of how you talk about your busyness.

Putting your health in danger

Researching into this topic provided a list of reasons why you shouldn’t be proud of being busy, here are some that stood out to me:

  1. You’re not present
  2. You forget to invest in yourself
  3. Your vision gets blurry
  4. You forget to love and care for yourself
  5. You don’t make time for doing nothing
  6. You neglect to set boundaries
  7. Friends become acquaintances
  8. You become emotionally unavailable
  9. You forget to dream
  10. You put your health in danger

Being constantly busy can trigger chronic stress, which leads to a host of issues that aren’t good for your body. If any of the above concern you, it could be considered a warning sign that you might be on your way to a breakdown.

My own thoughts on busy

I am a busy person. I set goals so that I achieve. I enjoy achieving because it feels like I am leading a full and rich life, and this is important to me. I work hard at my career and am always aiming for the next step/level. I train hard in my roller skating for both competitions and coaching purposes. I have a bucket list of one-off goals that keep things interesting and ensure I don’t miss out on opportunities.

Time is finite, you only have so much of it, and I am of the belief that if I’m going to spend my time on something, it should count.

When I reply to someone with the answer “busy”, I confess that I am bragging a little bit. I am proud of what I’m doing and that I always have something on the go.

I also listen to my body and the warning signs. My warning signs are not sleeping well, craving unhealthy food, emotional responses and/or a decline in my health. I have plans/strategies that help me with each of these and they enable me to keep on track… to keep being busy.

In summation:

  1. Ensure you are spending your time how you want. Don’t be wasteful.
  2. Look after yourself because there is only one of you and only you know if you’re in a good place.
  3. Be mindful of how you tell others that you are busy.

As part of my introduction to busy, I presented the definition of busy in the negative. Here is the positive…

Busy (bizi) Adjective: having a great deal to do – industrious / energetic / tireless Verb: keep oneself occupied – involved / engaged / engrossed

This is what I choose; to continue being busy but be mindful of how I say it.

Sources / Acknowledgements:

When people ask how you are, stop saying busy. https://www.inc.com/robert-glazer/when-people-ask-how-you-are-stop-saying-busy.html

This is what you really mean when you say ‘I’m busy’. https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20170222-this-is-what-you-really-mean-when-you-say-im-busy

Reasons why you should not be proud of being busy. https://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/21-reasons-why-you-should-not-proud-being-busy.html

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