How changing the response 'I've been busy' leads to more meaningful conversations.
You're catching up with a friend for dinner after work. They ask how your week has been, or what you have been up to. You are invited to a social event you do not want to attend because you’re exhausted. A colleague asks how your day is. How do you answer? You wouldn't be alone if you catch yourself using the word 'busy' in those scenarios more often than you'd like.
The words ‘Yeah, good, been busy’ would tumble out of my mouth as I felt myself trying to pull them back in. Once aware of how often 'busy' was used, it was still a challenge to find anything to replace it. Why is busy one of the first words we scramble to?
When reflecting, I'm not busy. Life is full. Full of experiences and responsibilities I design. Most of my time is spent doing activities that create meaning and enjoyment for the values I try to live by.
I have a full time job with a side of laundry and all the minutia a modern life entails. I also value creating space to shift into a slower pace. To read a book uninterrupted for 45 minutes, an hour of stretching at yoga, to watch movies or to take a lunchtime stroll. Conscious of the lifestyle I live, with no children and just myself to look after I am aware this pace is considered a luxury to some. However I believe we should all carve out time for ourselves to fill our proverbial cups back up to be able to fully show up for others.
Ideally how we spend most of our time should consist of active, intentional choices. Decisions that consider what we're responsible for, realistically can achieve and what is most enjoyable and important for our well being. So why do we keep saying ‘were so busy’?
Why is the automatic response 'I'm busy' still so commonly used?
Paying attention to when 'busy' is a response given, I've come to the conclusion it's an automatic response we learn in a society that has valued 'the hustle'. Busy is used as a badge of honour when recounting how we spend our time. Or replacing responses such as 'I don't want to spend my time doing that'.
Madeleine Dore from Extraordinary Routines recently read out the definition of hustle to her Side Project Session-ers as to push roughly; to jostle or shove. Those are not words I want to describe how I have been spending my time. Nor did Madeleine, asking her audience to love their labour, over shoving it.
Madeleine is not the first person to identify as an anti-hustler. Lately I've noticed a shift in both my mindset, people in my circles and great creators, writers and thinkers. Seeking out an anti-busy movement championing slow thought, presence and applying an intention to how we use our time has given me a fresh approach to how I answer that question. So no more faux-busy for me.
Five mindset shifts that helped with more authentic responses and less 'busy':
Creating an alternate response by being a little more specific about a few things you've spent your time doing.
Busy is generic. It doesn't describe or explain anything anyway, so try specifically mentioning a few activities or areas you've been focusing on. "I've been good - currently enjoying reading, pottering around the house, working on a new strategy at work and trying to do yoga twice a week". This requires a pause as you consider a response, but with practice becomes simple.
An added bonus of the specific response is it opens the conversation up wider. You may find a common interest, experience or lead onto another topic when 'busy' can often shut conversation down.
Applying honesty in how we decline invitations to spend our time.
Instead of saying 'we're too busy' to go to an event, could we respond with 'I am in much need of a night home alone relaxing so I can't attend'? By giving ourselves permission to be more open about what we need, hopefully it gives others permission to do the same. Adopting new language can demonstrate via actions and lead others to do the same by example. Bonus, no more fake busy.
Change your mindset to how you spend your time.
Analyse any TV commercial break and you'll see our over scheduled-ness being blamed as the catalyst for many of lifes challenges. The word 'busy' is ingrained in many aspects of society, embraced by the workplace and associated with familial life. Smartphones and constant pings don't ease the perception of busy-ness either. It can feel like we are extremely busy. However we are in control of how we spend a large portion of our time. Shifting our mindset to being the decision makers instead of the receivers of our schedules can change how we view our calendars. Take control back and re-shuffle your time to be spent on what matters most.
Be realistic in what you can do and apply some self-compassion.
Identify what is truly important to you, bin the rest. It's unrealistic to expect high performance in every area in your life, so being realistic in the important areas can help release some of the expectation and perfectionism we place on ourselves. Easier said than done but once applied, this can be extremely freeing. What activities ground you? What are must-dos? How much time you really spend commuting, working, cleaning, worrying and on Instagram? You'll develop a clear view of how you spend your time and you can tweak accordingly if you feel out of balance in a certain area. Pay close attention to how you use your free time and identify when you need to rest, recoup, play or refill your cup. Hopefully, then you’ll feel less busy and less inclined to use that word to reference how you have been. Applying self-compassion and empathy towards yourself for this is crucial.
Listen generously when the other is talking
Generous listening seems like a simple act but when in the moment of an interaction that starts with 'I'm so busy' it can seem like a race to the end of the conversation. Listen between the lines, can you pick up on experiences subtly mentioned? If you're applying an openness and intention to how we response to others, we can hope to receive the same back.
If one has no time, one has also lost oneself. Distracted by the obligations of everyday activities, we are no longer aware of ourselves… Everything is done all at once, faster and faster, yet no personal balance or meaning can be found. This implies the loss of contact with one’s own self. We also no longer feel “at home” with ourselves and find it difficult to persist in any given activity because we are available at every moment. - Marc Whittman
The end of busy
I'm not answering 'busy' when people ask how I've been anymore. Life is full, full of experiences. I choose how I spend my time. Perhaps when moving house or during a particularly intensive project I’ll instead say something like: 'I'm experiencing a moment of heightened logistical/strategic activities that will make space for xxxxx in the future'.
By re-framing our words we need to focus on using words that matter. Busy is not one of those for me. Instead, let's choose our words more carefully. Krista Tippet from On Being boldy states 'Words have the force of action and become virtues in and of themselves. The words we use shape how we understand ourselves, how we interpret the world, how we treat others.'
Let's stop the automatic busy-ness and be more open, specific and intentional with our responses. Hopefully, in turn we can shape a society that values a slower pace than the one we've built today.