How removing the word ‘busy’ lead to more meaningful conversations.

Bec Thexton
Jun 9 · 5 min read

I have a full-time job with 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 only myself to look after, I am aware this pace is considered a luxury to many. However I believe regardless of our responsibilities, we should carve out time for ourselves to fill our cups back up to be able to fully show up for others.

How we spend our time should consist of intentional choices. Decisions that consider our responsibilities, what we realistically can achieve and what is most enjoyable and important for our well being. Being too busy to take time for ourselves can majorly affect life satisfaction, so why do we keep saying ‘we're so busy’?

Why is the response ‘I’m busy’ still so commonly used?

Paying attention to when ‘ busy’ is used, I’ve come to the conclusion it’s an automatic response we learn in a society that has valued ‘the hustle’. Busy is a mindless response often 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 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. Many are seeking out anti-busy and championing slow thought, presence and applying an intention to how we use our time. This has given me a fresh approach to how I answer that question. No more ‘busy’.

Five mindset shifts that helped with more authentic responses and less ‘busy’:

  1. Creating an alternate response by being specific about what 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’ often shuts conversation down.

2. 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 demonstrates via actions and leads others to do the same by example. Bonus, no more ‘fake busy’ when you’re really recharging at home.

3. Change your mindset to how you spend your time.

Analyse any TV commercial break and you’ll see 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 designers of our schedule instead of the receivers can change how we view our calendars. Take control back and re-shuffle your time to be spent on what matters most.

4. 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. 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 scrolling on Facebook?

Develop a clear view of how you spend your time and 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.

5. 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 Tippett from On Being boldly 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 authenticity and a slower pace than the one we’re rushing through today.

Originally published at on June 9, 2019.

Bec Thexton

Written by

Just a content marketer, applying a mindful approach to content creation, intentionally posting her way through the internet.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade