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By: Anna Meyer for Shine
People have often caught sight of my color-coded planner and reacted with a, “Woah, you’re so busy.”
Although I love my ambition, being told that I’m “so busy” can make me feel kind of guilty. It makes me feel like I’m too busy — like my days are filled up with tasks and projects that are keeping me from other things.
Yes, some days that totally happens — my day gets taken over by “busywork” like laundry or that email inbox that refuses to hit zero. But oftentimes, my “busy” period is intentional, like when I’m blocking out time to write a new article or think up a story idea. When I call that time “busy,” it makes me forget that I’m choosing to pack my schedule with something I’m passionate about.
That’s why I’m swapping “busy” with “focused” — to actually give credit to my ambition and intention. And here’s why you should consider the swap, too.
How to Find ‘Focus’ in ‘Busy’
The first step to owning the word “focused” instead of “busy”: making sure you know the difference between the two. We all get bogged down with “busywork” throughout the week (again with that inbox overload).
But think through your schedule: What’s one thing you’re doing that isn’t required of you but you’re choosing to do because it’s meaningful? Or, what’s one thing you wantto fit into your schedule that’s important to you? That’s where your “focus” lives.
When we choose to work on something because it’s leading us to a bigger end goal — like that degree, that promotion, or even something to improve our health or confidence — it’s a powerful decision. And those moments, however brief, are a time of focus — a time when we’re in control.
‘I’m Focused’ Puts You In Control
When we describe ourselves as busy, it takes away the intention behind our priorities. “Busy” sounds as if we’re running amok with a never ending list of things to do. It can also sound like we’re in over our head.
Consider this example: “I’m so busy writing my first novel.” Writing a novel? That’s a major undertaking — of course it’s going to take up lots of time. But being simply “busy” with it makes it seem like writing is something that’s taking over someone’s time rather than something they’ve elected to do. It takes away the fire that’s fueling their ambition.
When we describe ourselves as busy, it takes away the intention behind our priorities.
“Focus,” on the other hand, puts us back in control of what we want and need to get done. When you take that same example and swap “busy” with “focused,” it becomes something new. “I’m so focused on my first novel,” makes a person’s intentions and goals clear: They know why they’re hustling, and they know what they’re doing — and now, they’re just putting in the time to get there. It’s a simple tweak, but it can turn that guilt around feeling busy into a sense of determination around getting focused.
‘Focus’ Lets Other People Know Your Ambitions
Saying “I’m focused” instead of “I’m busy” can also help your social circles better understand your schedule. Today, busyness is typically associated with someone who’s so tightly wound that they don’t have time for other things in life, like taking day trips with friends or finding a moment to relax.
When you’re in a focused sprint on something important, it’s common to feel shame as other aspects of life get less attention. For example: If you’re spending a lot of time at work because you’re leading a big new project, it’s easy to beat yourself up over skipping out on happy hour with your friends.
You’re not just busy fulfilling other people’s demands — you’re working on something that’s important to you.
But reminding your friends why you’re so focused can help them better understand that you’ve chosen your schedule for a reason. You’re not just busy fulfilling other people’s demands — you’re working on something that’s important to you.
When you do have time with friends, saying you’re focused can also make them feel more seen. “When we’re telling people that we’re busy, it’s like saying, ‘I’m talking to you, but I’m really not there,’” Agapi Stassinopoulos explains in a HuffPo essay called “Why I’m Eliminating the Word ‘Busy’ From My Vocabulary.” When we say we’re busy, some people can see it as a sign we’re not present. “Focused” not only helps us reclaim the power of our attention, but it also serves as a more meaningful jumping off point in conversation. It opens the door for someone to ask why we’re focused and learn more about our passion.
Let’s Get Focused
It might sound like a simple shift, but going from “busy” to “focused” — whether it’s in conversations with friends or in your own self-talk — is an empowering change. You go from being “busy” to choosing to be “focused,” and it’s all in the name of pursuing something meaningful.
Next time you find yourself overwhelmed by your “busy” schedule or hearing from a friend that you’re “so busy,” get focused instead. Put yourself in control of your schedule — in all its hectic glory — and know it’s packed with reason and meaning. It’ll lead to greater satisfaction and more motivation as you choose to keep hustling.
Put yourself in control of your schedule — in all its hectic glory — and know it’s packed with reason and meaning.
The next time my friend comments on how busy I am, I plan to gently remind them that I’m focused on things because I’m ambitious. It may take a while to get used to the switch of language, but, hey, nobody said being a focused doer in this world was easy.
Read next: How to Create Your Own Opportunity