Busy is the new fine – why I am fighting back

How many of your casual conversations start something like this:

“How are you?”

“Oh, you know, busy!”

It seems busy is the new fine.

Default answer, default setting
What’s the big deal? It’s just a throw away response to a polite question, which probably doesn’t interest the asker that much anyway.

But it is a big deal – it’s accepting and reinforcing a social norm.

Busyness is no longer a blip, a short burst of extra activity, an exception– it’s the default. Being busy is not just socially acceptable, it’s almost expected.

Busy is not fine
By operating with busyness as the default setting we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are sending out messages like:

  • if you’re not busy, you’re not successful or important
  • it’s not enough to be satisfied with what you have, you should always want to do more and have more
  • quantity is more valuable than quality.

Worse still busyness blinds us. When we’re busy, we’re more concerned with the what than the why. When we’re busy, there’s no room to think, reflect or question. In a world where we’re busy by default, in effect, we put our heads in the sand.

Fighting back
I am on a personal mission to fight back against the modern day social norm of busyness. About nine months ago, I started to make a concerted effort to remove the word busy from my vocabulary – especially as a default response to the ubiquitous, “how are you?”.

I have also tried to reframe my own small talk. Instead of, “Did you have a good summer holiday?”, I’ve been all about asking, “Did you have a nice, relaxing summer holiday?”.

I am not the only person on this mission – I’ve discovered others concerned with this same issue. If busy is something that has been troubling you, I suggest that you check out Courtney Carver’s 21 Day Busy Boycott and it’s really supportive Facebook group. Shawn Fink at the Abundant Mama also has her #BanBusy challenge .

Do you agree that busy seems to be the default setting? Have you taken any steps to tone down the busyness in your life lately?

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17 thoughts on “Busy is the new fine – why I am fighting back”

  1. I couldn’t agree more – and as Mums I think we are led to believe that if our kids aren’t busy – being dragged from one after school activity to another (and yes, I kid you not, I know plenty of kids that do two after school activities a day) then we are doing our kids a disservice – that they are somehow missing out. In fact, our primary school has stopped giving the kids homework because guess what – they’re too busy to do it! My kids love the days when they can just come home from school and chill – maybe with a friend – and to me those social skills are way more important than being a piano/dancing/karate/swimming virtuoso by the time they are 10.

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    1. Ahh yes I know that pressure. I got all worked up when I decided to stop taking my then 2 year old to swimming lessons – bad mother!
      Generally I am in favour of no or very targeted homework, to allow time for play time and relaxing. But to have to cull it because of too many activities! I feel for the teachers, as I imagine my kids are quite tired at school with all the after school rushing.
      I don’t think we are helping to set our kids up with a good life if they think rush, rush, rush, more, more, more is the way to live.
      I am fortunate for now, as my son is only 3, that there is no peer pressure to join the activities other kids do at school. I’ll have that one to deal with. I think kids get a lot out of their after school activities, but they get just as much from their down time.

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  2. I don’t do busy either 🙂 I never use the word. People look at me as if I am a weirdo when they’re comparing how busy they are and I say ‘we’re not’. It doesn’t mean I am idle, we just make decisions that enable us to keep things simple. The less schedule the better.

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    1. Go Fran – that’s awesome. Since I’ve been paying more attention to the b work, I’ve found lots of people say “How are you, having a busy day?” – that’s the standard from the checkout operators at my local supermarket! I think I’m the only one that says no as they look a bit stunned. I think they are quite happy for the peace rather than another list of all the things people as so busy with.

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  3. In 7th grade, I remember reading a book called the Tao of Pooh that was talking about this exact issue–the Bisybackson (derived from the phrase, “Busy, back soon”). I agree that “busy” seems to be a default setting in our society, but as a student there is not much I can do about that busyness. So I do the next best thing–insert mandatory breaks in between work time so I never overload myself.

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  4. Yes! Completely agree. I’ve started taking steps to be less busy, resigning from one committee as of 2 weeks time (had to give notice), re-adjusting/re-prioritising my hobby/business and aim for as much of a social media shut down as possible over the upcoming Christmas/school holiday period. I can’t wait!

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    1. Great stuff. I find it really hard to do things like resign from committees. I resigned from one last year with a lot of angst, I am still involved but don’t find myself taking more and more on like I did when I was a committee member.

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  5. I struggle with this daily on a personal level. We don’t participate in too many activities (my boys are still quite young) but I find myself nervously twitching during the day when I’m not “doing” something. And I definitely feel my shoulders creeping up to my ears when my usual morning chores aren’t done before 11am.

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    1. We are so conditioned to be busy. It is really hard to slow down. I knit and crochet and use this as a bit of a pause and reset – gets the twitch out of my hands and can be quite a mindful activity.

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      1. All sorts. I also co-ordinate a charity craft group for babies in need, so I make lots of baby clothes and blankets.

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