The everyday question you're answering wrong.

Kelly Exeter

What’s the first thing we tend to ask each people when we catch up? Something along the lines of, “How’s things?”, right?

And what do we all tend to reply with a wry smile on our faces?


Yep, between kids, work, sport, hobbies, partners, homes, families, fitness, friends and life… we’re all ‘busy’. So much so that in the last couple of years, social commentators have been lining up to demonise the word.

Katie Kavulla scathingly called busy “the hottest new trend for moms saying:

… somewhere over the past few years, as Pinterest and social media started to latch on to the world of motherhood and suddenly you could see exactly what other moms were doing, a new brand of moms was launched — the Busy Moms. [They’re] the ones who are happy to tell you everything they are doing — volunteering twice a week in her child’s classroom and planning a charity run and taking yoga every morning at 10 a.m. and how they’re doing it without breaking a sweat.

In a widely shared NY Times piece ‘The Busy Trap‘, Tim Kreider takes the concept of ‘busy as a badge of honour’ even further:

Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day.

While Dr Suzanne Koven last year declared ‘Busy is the New Sick‘ saying:

In the past few years, I’ve observed an epidemic of sorts: patient after patient suffering from the same condition. The symptoms of this condition include fatigue, irritability, insomnia, anxiety, headaches, heartburn, bowel disturbances, back pain, and weight gain. There are no blood tests or X-rays diagnostic of this condition, and yet it’s easy to recognize. The condition is excessive busyness.

So is it any wonder that when we say we’re busy we do so almost apologetically?

It seems we feel the need to acknowledge that, a bit like drinking Diet Coke every day, we know all this busyness is bad for us, but we’re addicted to it and as far as addictions go, it’s a hard one to kick.

But here’s the thing.

I know a lot of people who are both busy and thriving. When you talk to them, their eyes sparkle and they sweep you up in the enthusiasm they have for whatever it is they’ve got going on.

They’re not wearing busy as a badge of honour. They’re not using it as a tool for one-upmanship. They’re not addicted to being busy.

They’re simply both busy and loving life.

This is why I think it’s time to claim the word busy back.

It’s time we gave ourselves permission to be busy.

All the social commentary around ‘busy being bad’ has its base on the back of one main concern that we’re all burning out trying to out-busy each other.

Instead of trying to out-busy each other, maybe we should try and just be happy being busy at what we like doing.

But the fact is, if you’re busy doing stuff you genuinely love, it’s really hard to burnout – even if it’s taking up a lot of your time.

That’s what our busy and thriving counterparts are doing right.

  • They’re not volunteering for school committees in a moment of weakness despite loathing meetings.
  • They’re not trying to host lavish dinner parties every weekend if they don’t have a Martha Stewart bone in their body.
  • They’re not getting to the start of each new week exhausted because they’ve spent all weekend going from one unnecessary commitment to another.

The bulk of what is keeping them busy is stuff they love – whether it be their work, their family or a very time-consuming hobby.

Now, I know what you’re thinking at this point. You’re thinking ‘this is nice and all, but it’s just not possible to get through life without having to do some stuff you’d rather not be doing.’

And you’re right. Because if it was possible I’d never cook another meal again as long as I live.

But again, here’s what the ‘busy but thriving’ people are doing right.

If they’re doing stuff they don’t love, they’re doing that stuff in service of their families and the lifestyle they’re striving for. They’re not adding to the ‘stuff I’d rather not be doing list’ by saying yes to things they neither need to do, nor want to do.

Sounds selfish but it’s not, it’s smart.

Because it’s all this extra stuff that leads to resentment, frustration and general irritability with the world. It’s this extra stuff that stresses us out and makes us sick.

It’s this extra stuff that’s been giving busy a bad name.

Kelly’s just released a new book on Kindle called Your Best Year Yet: 7 simple ways to shift your thinking and take charge of your life. It’s a short and sweet read designed to break the damaging patterns of thinking we all have and give you the jolt you need to have your best year ever.

Mother, runner, writer, blogger. Serial over-committer. Kelly believes a busy life need not be a stressful life. She blogs about embracing the busy by living intentionally at A Life Less Frantic. Her new book ‘Your Best Year Yet – 7 simple ways to shift your thinking and take charge of your life’ is now available in Kindle format here.

Do you think that being busy is good?

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