So wait, what are you so busy with anyway?

I could probably write an entire book on this concept, but for right here and right now, I’ll limit it to a dinky little blog post. I’ve already written about “The Busy Trap” once (here), and when I repurposed that post on LinkedIn, it had something like 80K views. (That’s rare for me.) As a result, I can only assume people are somewhat interested in the general topic of “Being Busy” or “Having So Much To Do.” As such, I wrote two other posts along the same lines: one about how “OMG I’m So Busy” may eventually lead us to an Essentialist Movement, and one about how basically no one can balance the idea of “Being Busy” and “Being Happy.” Both were moderately popular among the people that read this blog.

Here’s a thought I’ve had for literally decades: what is it, exactly, that people are so busy with? Allow me to explain.

Take a standard work interaction. Oftentimes in a work setting, you need something from another person — or, at the very least, you need to work with another person to achieve something. Almost without thought (as if a reflex), the other person will tell you, “I’m so busy” (or my favorite, “I’m slammed,” because that vaguely sounds like you’re overlapping porn and work).

Maybe you’re the type of person who approaches others with projects and they instantly fall into sync with you. I’m not, and never have been. (Phrased another way, I’ve never really been high-ranking anywhere.) Most people I know have approached others and heard “I’m so busy!”

Here is where this gets confusing.

If everyone is out there telling everyone else that they’re so busy, what exactly is the thing they’re working on that’s making them so busy?

(Quick but important caveat here: I currently do not have children. I suppose if I had a 1 year-old, I might feel very differently about this issue.)

There’s a lot to digest here, because this issue is multi-faceted. It’s about (a) people’s inability to set priorities properly, (b) the fact that “being busy” is cultural currency (I’ve told people “No, I’m not too busy this week” and had them look at me like I had a penis growing out of my forehead), and (c) people oftentimes using “busy” as a shield because they don’t want to deal with some new bullshit project that will also lack context, priorities, true deliverables, and the like.

But phrased another way, think about this.

Ever tried to work with a friend/acquaintance on “Soft Plans?” You know, like, “maybe drinks next Thursday” or whatever? Here’s a funny take on that. This is an issue near and dear to my heart at present because I moved to a new place about 7-8 months ago and I’m over 30, so making friends is hard. I’ve reached out to tons of people in those eight months — which is almost a full year — to set something up.

You know what the most common response is?

“Well, this is my crazy time of year.”


“This is just a super busy time.”

Without fail.

Now, I have low self-esteem for sure, but I refuse to believe this is just a bunch of people socially ducking me, you know? This has to be some kind of trend or something.

I understand our lives are supposedly busier than ever, although that often seems counterintuitive — wasn’t the rapid onset of technology supposed to make things easier, all told?

But doesn’t it sometimes seem like the whole notion of “busy” is kind of a broader block aimed at preventing new activities from getting through? Like a gatekeeper of sorts?

I often do feel like everyone is actually busy telling other people how busy they are, and the “busy” they think they’re discussing is something they’re doing quite fine managing.

Has anyone else ever felt that way? If so, leave it in the comments or send me a note via the form.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. This really hits home for me. I’ve felt like this since I joined the workforce, lo these many years ago. There is (or should be) an ebb and flow to workload. It can’t be all flow – or you’ll be burned out. It can’t be all ebb – or you’ll become redundant. I think there’s such a culture of fear bestowed upon the workers of today by their respective companies that people would rather feign being busy than admit they have some slack in their schedule. You’re right, if you give the slightest inclination that you have some extra time, you’ll be given even more bullshit busy work than you probably already have.

    The people who are truly busy all the time usually don’t stay in that particular job for an extended amount of time. We’re not robots, we need breaks. Focus on quality over quantity. I sound like Tony Robbins.

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