are you really as busy as you think you are?

Are you too busy, and do you like to let people know how busy and exhausted you are? And/or have you noticed an increase in the number of people in your lives who are busy busy busy and who will tell you all about it?

Then you must read this article by Hanna Rosin in Slate, You’re Not As Busy As You Say You Are. She writes: “The art of busyness is to convey genuine alarm at the pace of your life and a helpless resignation, as if someone else is setting the clock, and yet simultaneously make it clear that you are completely on top of your game. These are not exactly humble brags. They are more like fretful brags, and they are increasingly becoming the idiom of our age.”

And the part I found most interesting: “The answer to feeling oppressively busy … is to stop telling yourself that you’re oppressively busy.”

I think there’s something to that. I feel far more harried and rushed when I’m focusing on the fact that a particular day or week feels packed. When I instead just move through the stuff I have to do, calmly ticking things off one by one without freaking out about How Much I Have To Do, it feels far less daunting and exhausting, and I tend not to end the day in a stressed-out heap. (Rosin tried  silently repeating, “You’re not that busy” to herself one day, and said that it stopped “the tape in my head of what had to get done that day. I just calmly did one thing after another.”)

Anyway, read the whole article. It’s fascinating.

(And if you want more, read this as a follow-up. Hat tip to the reader who suggested it yesterday.)

{ 292 comments… read them below }

  1. KJR*

    Interestingly enough, the people in my office who claim to be the busiest seem to have the most time to come by and talk about how busy they are!!

  2. Bryan*

    I like the article and I really love the follow-up article. I like the quotes “Busy isn’t respectable anymore” and that “it can actually be a sign of an inability to manage our lives well.” Also their disclaimer, “Being busy, in this context, is not synonymous with being hard working or productive or effective.”

    I am going to try the same experiment about stop using the word busy (and synonyms) for a month.

    1. Elysian*

      I really like this idea, too, the experiment. But when I thought about it, I’m honestly a little worried that people will think I’m acting superior or something if I don’t reply that everything is busy when they ask about my life. Maybe I’m projecting or something, but I feel like we all find a little collective misery in the fact that everyone is as busy as us. I’m afraid that if I stop telling people that things are busy, that they’ll think I’m somehow ‘better than them.’ (Kind of like what some people express feeling when someone says they’re a vegetarian.)

      Honestly, I’ve tried hard to find balance in my life, and made sacrifices, and at the moment I’m pretty happy with the balance I’ve struck. I’ve tried not to play the race-to-the-bottom busy dance, but I honestly am a little afraid to give up the “Things are busy but good.” answer to the question “How are things going?”

      1. VE*

        I haven’t read the article yet, but I think there’s a difference between replying with “busy but good!” and volunteering “OMG, look how busy I am!”

        1. Jax*

          I have a friend who likes to ask, “Are you struggling well?” rather than “How are you?”

          It may seem weird at first, but she’s acknowledging the busy in all of our lives and kicking away the standard polite answer of “Fine!” It never fails to put a smile on my face. It’s just more real and relatable then the laundry list of OMG so busy! blustering or the polite, “I’m fine!”

      2. NEP*

        We could all sometimes use a reminder that in cases like this, what others think of what we do or say does. not. matter.

        1. Elysian*

          I believe you, but I stare into that abyss and sometimes just can’t take the plunge.

          Plus, like Malissa says below, defying the “busy” stereotype can have negative consequences.

          1. NEP*

            I like your honesty and the way you put that. Point well taken about possible negative consequences — but I reckon better not to feed this tendency to put so much importance in what people think. It seems that in Malissa’s example, what ruled in the end was not people’s impressions but what was true. Let’s hear it for getting the work done and not complaining about being busy.

          2. Celeste*

            Yes! Somebody called me to talk about an opening and asked if it was too busy to talk. I said no, since I was hoping for the call. It was like a chill came out, and he said Oh…EVERYBODY’S busy. It was all downhill from there, and maybe for the best if all that mattered was playing a round of Topper on how busy we are.

            1. Another Emily*

              I think you dodged a bullet there. What were you supposed to say, that you weren’t going to make time for a potential job?

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        When I first started working for myself and wasn’t super busy because I only had a couple of clients, I took great joy in bragging about how not busy I was … I presented it to people smugly, as if it was obvious evidence of how awesome I am (that I was so successful that I chose to not work very much), and it was extremely satisfying. I feel like that’s a framework more of us should embrace.

        (I actually miss those days and would like to return to them.)

        1. nmuses*

          I can relate. However, I used to get annoyed when some people would automatically assume that not busy=lazy, but then I realized it was only *their* opinion and nothing for me to take personally.

          I wish more managers understood that being busy isn’t the same thing as being productive. Sigh…

      4. Bryan*

        Do you think people will notice if you stop saying you’re busy? It seems to me the popular opinion is that we don’t like when people say they’re so busy so if someone stops saying it all it does is remove the annoying attribute. I think you might be worried about going too far and being smug about not being busy (when in reality you’ve only stopped saying you’re busy, regardless of your level of busyness ). But then it’s about being smug and turning it into a bragging contest.

        I think the part that people have a problem with is other people always saying they’re busy in that it has turned into a contest and often times with exaggerated figures and the reality is everybody has stuff to do.

        For some reason people think they win by saying they’re busy because they want to project importance and that makes no sense. Your goal should be to not be busy because it isn’t fun working 80 hour weeks and always being on call. Don’t kill me for this next one but I think some people do the same thing with being sick. They make it a contest. And it’s dumb to win it because it’s a lot better if you don’t have a disease.

      5. Ethyl*

        I think this is what the follow-up article was getting at when it talked about being forced to communicate more clearly.

        So instead of just saying “oh we’re so busy!” you would have to say something like “oh, Billy is sooo into his karate lessons now — he runs around in his gi all day! Jane really loves playing the piano, and is practicing for her big recital! I’m enjoying volunteering at Teapots on Wheels on Wednesdays while Jim takes the kids to softball practice!”

        The idea isn’t, I think, to lie and say you’re NOT busy, but to avoid using that as shorthand for a way of life that may or may not be healthy or even real.

      6. Anon #2*

        Something to consider is that most folks are “too busy” worrying about their own lives to notice something different in another person’s life. It’s a coin with a good side and a bad side, depending upon your point of view…

    2. Noelle*

      Being busy is definitely not synonymous with hard working or effective! I loved that the article pointed that out. When I first started a new job, I worked a lot with a coworker who was always frantically running from place to place, drinking massive amounts of coffee, and bragging about how they were working until 2 or 3 at night. At first I was freaking out that *I* would have to do that too, but after a while I realized that most people were far more productive in far less time. It is not impressive that you’re always busy, especially if it’s because it takes you three times as long to do something as it would take the average person.

  3. Sharm*

    The “busy game”( or whatever you may call it) is one of my biggest pet peeves. I totally get that other people have more demanding jobs than me. But why the humblebrag? I really don’t want to play this game, so I’ve made an active decision to disengage. I find more and more lately, that in environments like this board and in my social circle in my hometown, I’m the odd one out. I work to live, and not the other way around. More power to those of you who love your jobs and don’t mind pouring your souls and hearts and time into it. That’s awesome. But that’s not me.

    I actually don’t feel busy at all. I feel incredibly content right now. I’m doing the right amount of stuff to balance my job, my extracurriculars, seeing friends, cooking dinner, and getting 8 hours of sleep. That could change, but I’ve made a few decisions recently (moving to a certain place, taking a certain type of job, surrounding myself with people who share similar values) that make me feel for the first time it’s okay not to be “busy” and feel overwhelmed all the time. My significant other is very big on being relaxed and enjoying what you have. We are incredibly lucky right now, and I’m really happy about it.

    But I feel like our current society wants to label me a slacker or a loser for feeling this way. It’s really hard to stand up to the pressure, but it’s never been me, so I figure I’ll just own this while I am fortunate enough to have it.

    1. Diane*

      Totally get it and am in the same place. We choose our lives and as far as I know, we only live once. So if we’re constantly “busy,” what’s the point if it’s just something we complain about? Like you and your SO, I’m relaxed and enjoying life. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I sometimes get passive aggressive comments when I go on a vacation like “wow, must be nice!”

      You know what? It IS nice. It really is. It’s the best. I work hard, budget my time and money really carefully, and I enjoy the shit out of my vacations. You make your choices that fit with your priorities, I make mine. Own your choices, people.

      1. Smunchy*

        Very wise comment. I will not leave any vacation time on the table – it’s part of my compensation package and I will use it all. I don’t feel sorry for people who ‘can’t afford’ vacations when they can afford the latest gadget, meals out, etc. When my husband and I married, we both wanted to make travel a priority. With two kids, that’s been tough. But we just got back from a week in Dublin/London and had a great time. I do not feel ashamed for taking the time I’ve earned and spending our hard-earned money in a fabulous location.

        1. athek*

          +1. I love to travel. And it drives me crazy when I’m leaving for a trip and people make comments, “must be nice to be able to afford that.” I budget for it and make other sacrifices to be able to do so (no cable, fewer lunches out, etc.)

          1. ZoeUK*

            Or when they say, ‘You’re so lucky!’ Err, no. I’ve been saving for this all year, nothing to do with luck!

        1. Dan*

          Yup, and it means we should ditch the word “can’t” and replace it with “don’t want to.”

          I “can” do just about anything, but whether or not I want to is a whole different story.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Argh, no. This is almost as bad as the busy-humblebrag. “Don’t want to” can encompass anything from “I would rather blow money on a new gadget” to “I would rather spend the money on making sure my dying father gets a better quality of palliative care than he can afford without my help”. I would hope that nobody rolls their eyes at the second person and says, geez, you could CHOOSE to go on vacation if you really wanted to.

        2. nmuses*

          Exactly. Don’t get mad at me b/c you chose (bold, underline) to take on the busy martyr role. No thanks…

      2. Kevin*

        And I have some not so kind words to people who say things like that because you only say things like that to get under the skin of others. After budgeting time and money carefully to get to travel and come back a comment like that can really ruin it.

        1. Windchime*

          Exactly. Whenever I start to feel guilty for spending (not wasting) money on something, I remind myself that this is why I work. So I can support myself, yes, but also so I can have cool stuff or experiences.

      3. Sigrid*

        Strangely enough (or perhaps not), my husband often gets that reaction from his co-workers in response to the leftovers he brings in for lunch. “Wow, it must be nice to be able to cook such great food! I could never find the time to do our own cooking!”

        Erm…. Mr. Sigrid and I have the time to cook all our own food because that’s a high priority for us. We’ve made the decisions to prioritize cooking and eating real food over other things. It’s entirely a conscious choice, and in fact, one most other people can make, too (certainly the other people in Mr. Sigrid’s office)!

        1. BeenThere*

          Seriously it doesn’t take that long if you plan a little bit. The time it would take us to decide on take out, order and pick up is about the same time it takes us to make a meal. Except we cook in bulk with nearly every meal so usually have three more meals frozen from one session of cooking. So we used that time saved to make some awesome time intensive meals and do laundry at the same time. We spend our money on our vacations :D

        2. Kara*

          Agreed. Cooking doesn’t have to take long. I brown-bag it every single day unless there’s a working lunch planned (that someone else is paying for). I do a lot of cooking and prep on weekends, but even if I cook dinner when I get home (and I exercise after work so don’t eat until later), it’s not like I’m roasting a turkey every night.

          I also get irked when people say they don’t have time to eat breakfast. Eating a banana takes thirty seconds. You can do it on the walk to your car or public transport.

        3. Windchime*

          The thing about “no time!” is this: We all have the same 24 hours in each and every day. Obviously we have different ways of filling that time, but still–we all have the same amount of hours in a day. And it takes 5 minutes to scramble an egg.

      4. ZoeUK*

        Totally agree Katie the Fed.

        I love to read. It drives me mad when I tell people this and they say, ‘Oh I don’t have time to read’ as if they are far too busy to be bothered with it. Firstly, you have the same time as everyone else. It’s your choice how you fill it. Secondly, you usually find that those people who don’t have time to read, DO have time to watch sports, play computer games, mess around on Facebook etc…

        It’s your time, fill it how you want. But don’t make out that you are far too busy and have more pressing priorities than everyone else because of choices you make. This also goes to the people who are ‘too busy to cook’ discussed below. If you want to do something you’ll make time for it.

    3. OhNo*

      I agree that the “busy game” is annoying beyond all belief. People always seem to want to one-up each other whenever it comes up in conversation, too. (“I went to work at 4am this morning”, “Well I went to work at 2am this morning” “Well I never left work last night at all!”) I don’t really understand the urge to brag about how you don’t have a life outside of work.

      That and “pity poker” are my least favorite conversation topics. Although I do have an easy way out of that one – I always win.

      1. Omne*

        I sometimes went in at 4:30am or 5:00am but it was because I have insomnia. I can’t see bragging about it……

        Sitting around a dark house at 5:00am so I don’t wake everyone else up is more depressing than going into work.

    4. Puddin*

      Thank you! I have never considered myself ‘busy,’ even though I often have a full plate. I certainly do not panic about job tasks the way my busy colleagues do. At times I have been concerned about being labeled a slacker because I do not have this work drudgery attitude that is pretty prevalent and encouraged where I work. (Managers refer to people who do not work ample overtime as those who [put in] 8 [hours] and skate). I will still continue to choose the same balance you wrote about regardless of labels or culture that pushes otherwise. Thanks for the booster in your post!

  4. Anonymous*

    It is good to hear this sentiment. I’m confused by people who constantly talk about how busy you are.

    Um, do less stuff? (It might be different at work but I mostly hear this about people’s personal lives.)

    You choose to do all those things (I’ve never heard anyone who has to work 2 jobs to pay rent complain about being busy) you don’t like it, stop it.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      Yeah, I see this a lot with moms too on FB. OMG motherhood is the hardest thing in the world I never have a moment to eat or sleep or use the bathroom (but I have time to FB somehow) and it’s all work all the time. But seriously it’s the best and most rewarding thing ever and you’re not complete until you’re a mother.


      1. Ali*

        I have a friend like this. Well, two friends since one doesn’t have kids. Both of them insist that they can’t cut back, but one has anxiety issues and the other gets sick a lot and it took her breaking her ankle to learn she should slow down. And she still hasn’t!

        The friend of mine who is a mom tells me she has no choice but to have big blowout parties for her kids, to teach Sunday school, to do everything around the house and so forth because her husband won’t contribute. Why she stays married to him I couldn’t tell you…

        1. Ruffingit*

          Probably so she has a built-in reason to be a martyr. The people who continually complain about spouses always get me too. Get some marriage counseling, if that doesn’t work, get rid of them. Complaining for years on end does no one any good and I say this from the perspective of someone who has done the divorce thing. It’s not fun, but it sure made life easier. I was tired of complaining and being angry and bitter. I realized things weren’t going to change. So I changed. And life is good again.

      2. Celeste*

        My favorite is the moms who say, it’s a 24-7 job, I’m even working when I’m sleeping because I have to get up to get the baby. Just. Stop. Nobody believes it! It leaps from humble-brag to Superiority Dance, and ain’t nobody got time for that.

      3. Mints*

        The FB thing, yes! When someone is constantly talking about how busy they are, I become super judgy about their time management.
        Humblebrag: “I have so many calls to prep for today, I can’t even go get lunch!”
        My thoughts: Then why were you on YouTube an hour ago?

        I become hyper critical (which I know is for no reason) but I feel like if they said nothing, I would think less negatively about them

      4. Anoners*

        This. I’m a mom to a toddler, I know exactly how hard it can be, but you know what there are plenty of moments to get things done and many of us manage it without having to talk about how busy and rushed we are. If you can find time to post on FB you can find time to do something else a lot more constructive.

      5. Just a Reader*

        I find this to actually be true for working motherhood, but I don’t talk about it because it’s obnoxious.

        I’m spread really thin at home between work and juggling my family. Work is my break to be around adults and accomplish things as a person and not a mother. And I don’t seek out other momz to talk about how busy we all are etc.

        I do not use busy as an excuse at work. When there’s a particularly busy time, I clear my calendar and get my stuff done. No blowing people off due to workload. That’s the worst excuse in the book.

        1. Arbynka*

          For me, it was harder being SAHM than it is being a working mom. I have three kids, two years apart, youngest has developmental disability and I had to stay home with him longer than planned, doing the therapy thing.. All kids being in school “all day”, me working part time, I get to travel….Just easier for me. But I don’t usually tell that to people, I just end up being called a bad mom.. or slacker worker because if I work hard enough I would see how being working mom is so much harder. I can’t win either way……Some people just do not realize that all women are different, they have different circumstances…. Yes, if I worked full time things probably would be much harder but I just don’t get why I should feel guilty because right now they are not :(

          1. Just a Reader*

            That is ridiculous. I hate the mom shaming. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

            I have a preemie who has needed a LOT of attention–lots of doctor’s appointments and early intervention, that kind of thing. If she didn’t have those needs I would have more time/less stress on my hands, but she does, and there are many days I feel like I suck as a mom because I’m not home with her. And then I feel like I suck as an employee because I can’t take calls with Japan twice a week at 8pm. Lose lose.

            I guess we all have our guilt, and the circumstances of the average workplace doesn’t make it easy to juggle.

            1. Arbynka*

              You know, I really think women who made these comments – if you are a working mom you must not care about your child and why you are not raising your kid, if your sahm -why don’t you go and contribute to society, are you so stupid – they deep inside don’t feel comfortable or secure about their own choices, so they have to bring others down to feel better. And some people also do not understand that sometimes we really do not choose our circumstances. They are handed down to us and we have to do our best to deal with them.

            2. Arbynka*

              “I guess we all have our guilt, and the circumstances of the average workplace doesn’t make it easy to juggle.”

              I bet you are doing a great job :) I understand the guilt, had it both ways, it is normal, but do not listen to it too much.

              1. HappyLurker*

                I have two sayings in my home (I use sarcasim as a coping skill).
                1-Just add it to the Mommy Guilt piled up on my back
                2-Now they (the children) have something to talk about in therapy in a few years.

                Seriously though, we are all probably doing a good job both at work and at home. We all just need to take a breath now and then! :)

          2. Anonsie*

            I think when your day to day work (be it parenting or employment or school work or any combination thereof) is done in your home, there’s an extra layer of stress and feeling crunched for time because you lack any distinction between “on” and “off” time. There’s always more that can be done in a day, and when you’re just deciding to stop as opposed to changing location, it doesn’t feel right. You never really feel like your not on the clock, and that mental tape (as they put it in this article) is always running full force no matter what.

            For me, this is a lot more stressful in its own way. I know other people who worked remotely from home for years and decided they needed a new job so they could have separate work place for exactly this reason. I’ve also noticed the same type of busy busy busy talk from all the folks I know who are at home during the day– parents, freelancers, work from home employees, etc.

            1. VintageLydia USA*

              This is probably the number one reason we bought the house we did. There was a finished room attached to the separate garage for my husband to work in so when he wfh (95% of the time) he gets most of the benefits of working AWAY from the home in addition to all the benefits of working in the home. Our old set up (a room in the house set up as an office) was driving him crazy.

            2. Just a Reader*

              This is true. I pull into my driveway after my hour-long commute and then it’s time to feed the baby, put her to bed, eat dinner, pack my lunch, lay out my clothes, and then it’s 9pm and time to sleep. I might sit on the couch for 10 minutes and watch the news.

              Is this “busy?” Not really…but it’s not downtime.

      6. Arbynka*

        “motherhood is the hardest thing in the world I never have a moment to eat or sleep”

        he, he, I wish I never had a moment to eat after I had my kids, I imagine it would have made losing the pregnancy weight so much easier :)

      7. Sunflower*

        THIS. This is so annoying and you can’t say anything because it makes you look like a bad person because you can’t possibly understand the holy grail that is motherhood. I recently read an article, by a SAHM, called ‘6 lies SAHM’s tell themselves’ and 2 are ‘i don’t have time’ and ‘it’s so stressful’. Obviously the article had some backlash but this quote from the article can be applied to any situation

        ‘seriously take time to look at your day and see if there are things you are doing that you don’t need or want to be doing anymore’

        1. James M*

          +1. The most annoying part is not saying what I’m thinking when someone humblebrags at me (especially when the topic is related to gender/orientation/ethnicity/income). My practiced response to unavoidable blather is to give a banal “yeah” and an upward nod.

        2. some1*

          Honestly, I don’t have kids, but the SAHMs on FB who I see do this I think are also looking for some commiseration because they are socially isolated from other adults whether they want to admit it or not.

          The same SAHMs I see “complaining” about how busy they are will be the same who post questions they could easily google (“Does anyone know what time Target closes on Sundays?”)– I think both are attempts to start conversations with other adults.

          1. VintageLydia USA*

            I will say as a SAHM myself, it’s definitely a defense mechanism. “Well what do you do all day?” type comments, especially when you say you can’t, say, finish an art project. My real answer is “Well, YOU try doing detailed work with a toddler in the room who can climb and and is doing everything in his power to commit accidental suicide every second of every day!” but it’s a heck of a lot easier and socially acceptable to just sigh and say “Well I’m just so busy, you know?”

            And I’ll tell you why all those moms spend time on Facebook. Facebook, and the internet in general, is easy to take quick breaks from and watch the kid(s) out of the corner of your eye. It’s why I’m on it now. I’m in the playroom, angled to watch the kid, sitting on the couch with the computer on my lap. If he starts climbing in the fireplace I can stop him.

            2 (The “2” is his contRIBUTIon To THE conveRSATION AND So iS the RANDOM CAPSLOck. He says hi, apparently.)

            1. Arbynka*

              I once saw a great commercial. A guy is walking to his house, pipes are bursting, water is spraying, there are toys and other items all over the lawn, kids are running around screaming, he walks inside, stuff everywhere. His wife is just sitting on a couch. he asks: “Honey, oh my god, are you all right ? What happened?” And she says: “You know how you always ask me what did I do all day long ? Well, today I didn’t do it.”

      8. Anonymous*

        Also, choice. You picked it, you made that decision. I picked the things in my life, and yes sometimes I’m less than thrilled. But I don’t complain about the fact that I have the POWER TO CHOOSE multiple times a day.

        Choice is the bestest thing ever. I just wish people were more comfortable with both the things they chose and the things others chose. My decision to not have kids isn’t an attack on your decision to. My decision to stay home and read all weekend doesn’t prevent you from making the same decision. If it was what you wanted you’d make that decision. Prioritize your life and make decisions based on that.

        Now I’m going to go home and take the dog for a long walk because I want to and I have time to. (And it’s only like 25 degrees instead of -3billion…)

        1. Arbynka*

          I agree but want to point out again that sometimes the “choice” isn’t about the person but about their circumstances. I wanted to return to work much sooner but my youngest has disability and I could not. He could not be cared for outside of the home until he was 7 and started a first grade and even then he only started half day. My friend would love to be SAHM but her husband lost his job and they cannot afford for her to quit. And I think sometimes that resentment about others comes from the unhappiness about one’s own situation.

          1. TL*

            I would argue that making a choice entails accepting the risks of that choice – I don’t want to have kids partly because of the extreme commitment having a special needs kid would entail.

            There are some situations that you are forced into, I’ll agree, but a lot of situation aren’t forced so much as the extreme ends of the choices you make.

            1. Arbynka*

              Very good point, TL. You’re right. You know this might sound stupid, but while I fully understood that there is always a possibility of child having a disability/having special needs, it never really concerned me that it, in fact, it can happen to me. I don’t know why. I really never thought it could actually happen. I hope I didn’t sound like I was complaining in my previous posts, I didn’t mean to. As you said, having kids was ultimately my choice and I accept all the responsibility that goes with it.

              1. TL*

                Sorry – that was an abstract thought and definitely not about your situation specifically. I didn’t think you were whining and besides, you definitely have the right to whine now and then – that is probably one of the most difficult things in the world to do and I can’t imagine that anybody really sees it coming.

                I don’t think it occurs to most people that it could happen to them, honestly. I just think I would be really resentful if I was in that situation – even the thought of having a normal child going through the baby stages squicks me out. And I think having such strong feelings about it is a good reason not to chance it.

                But the risks are very, very small so it’s understandable not to think it could happen to you, (though I do think it is something that should be considered beforehand.) I have a worst-case scenario mind, though, so it’s something I think about every time someone tells me they want to have children.

                1. Jen RO*

                  I never wanted kids either, so having a regular child seems extremely hard to me – a special needs one must take a huge toll. If I ever got pregnant, I am sure I would have nightmares for the entire 9 months – what if my kid is sick or what if s/he *gets* sick? I was even worried about friends’ pregnancies!

      9. Cat*

        That is my least favorite thing ever. I particularly hate it when you mention a book you read or a movie you saw and the reply is a patronizing “oh, it’s so cute you have time to read books, parents never get to read books, we’re just too busy shaping new lives and doing work that really matters in the world!”

            1. tcookson*

              Yep — I recognize that childhood. Every single bit of it. I still try to raise my kids mostly that way, minus the smoking and the Tang :-)

        1. some1*

          That’s bull anyway. My mom was a SAHM til I was in school and she was always in the middle of a book. She read when we were sleeping, or at swim lessons or whatever.

          It’s like the parents who bring infants to late night movies claiming they can’t get a sitter. If my parents could not get a sitter when I was little they stayed home, they didn’t bring me somewhere children clearly don’t belong.

        2. Windchime*

          I guess I did the mom thing all wrong. I did stay home for about 3 years when mine were little (they are 1 1/2 years apart). I had nap times coordinated so that I had 2 free hours in the afternoon to read or to knit while I watched soaps (yes, I actually did watch soaps….three of them, in fact). So yeah, it was a busy time but there was also time to sit and read stories to them, time to sit while folding diapers, and time to take them on a walk. So …….I was obviously doing something wrong.

          Once the kids got bigger and I returned to work, my then-husband and I decided that each kid could have only 1 activity a week. Part of the reason that people spend all their time being busy is because they are rushing their kids back and forth to ballet, soccer, karate, swimming, scouts, etc every night of the week.

      10. neverjaunty*

        Sometimes this is one-upping, and sometimes it’s because the same culture that thinks “I’m so busy!” is bragworthy also views at-home moms as stupid, lazy cows who lie around eating bonbons all day instead of busting their butts at a real (i.e., full-time paid workforce) job. Griping about never having a minute to oneself is a way of saying yes, I too have value because I’m busy.

        BTW, a lot of moms are on FB when they’re doing other things, like nursing.

  5. Katie the Fed*

    I really think you’re only OMG SO BUSY if you want to be. And I say that having worked real, honest-to-god, international crises where I was doing shift work and working 7 days a week and so on. I got myself really burnt out by making myself indispensable, because I honestly LOVED being the go-to person on everything. I was also conveniently not having to address gaping holes in my personal life, etc. It was a socially acceptable way to be completely off balance in life, if that makes sense. Anyway, I got super burnt out, and I finally told my boss I was looking for another job and he was really surprised. I told him I couldn’t work that pace anymore and he told me that nobody was making me work as much as I was, and that if I’d wanted a weekend off I could just ask. Oh.

    I’m a much happier person now that I stick to a reasonable schedule and ask for help when I need it. You almost always have the power to reduce your schedule or workload – it’s a matter of whether or not you want to give up the prestige, give up the feeling of being indispensable, etc. But I’m far happier now having a healthy relationship, hobbies, friends, etc.

    1. Anon*

      I was in an eerily similar situation at my last job (except replace “international crises” with “event planning”) — the only difference was that when I went to my boss and said that the 80 hour workweeks and constant demands/complaints from co-workers and clients were wearing me down, he basically said, “suck it up, that’s just what work is like here” (btw, totally not true, people that didn’t work for HIM had normal workloads).

      There’s a reason I left that job for one where I now work 40 – 50 hours/week, can actually use my vacation time (and am encouraged to by my boss), and actually have time for a significant other! Oh yeah, the 50% pay increase wasn’t too shabby either :)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        My current job I leave at the end of a regular shift – no overtime unless absolutely necessary, in part because I want to send the message to my employees that I neither expect nor want them to work extra time. They’re more effective when they’re not killing themselves for the job, and it’s just a job. When I leave every day some of my fellow managers are in and stay late, and I have no idea what they’re still doing there. I have to think they’re just not managing their time that well if they need to work that much. But maybe there’s something I’m missing.

        1. Anon*

          Yes! It’s all about the boss setting an example — my boss uses his vacation time and comes close to scolding us if we don’t use ours too. I have one employee who always works until 9pm and is constantly complaining how busy she is — yet she’s producing the same amount of work (and actually less in some cases) as others at her level. I just don’t get it. I’ve tried to help her manage her time better, but at this point I’m giving up and not feeling guilty about it — she’s the only one that can change her time-management skills!

          1. Clever Name*

            I worked with a woman who would humble-brag about the long hours she worked and the all-nighters she pulled to get stuff done, and I thought, “wow she’s a really hard worker”. Until I noticed she spent HOURS talking on the phone with her best friend. No wonder she had to stay late to do her job, she wasn’t doing it during the working day.

            1. Noelle*

              I just posted about that upthread! My coworker was constantly talking about working until 3 in the morning, but he and I had similar workloads (and at one point after he left mine got a lot heavier) and I managed to get everything done in a normal working day. I didn’t have quite as much time for grabbing lunch with friends, getting coffee, or running around panicking, but things got done and I got to leave at 6.

        2. Celeste*

          I’ve seen a lot of people who do that because they don’t want to go home and deal with issues there. Work feels better to them. Even if they don’t get extra money for staying longer, they perceive a reward for being “seen” as a somehow harder worker.

          1. Ethyl*

            Oh yeah, I worked with a guy while his marriage was failing, and he was there from 7 am to like 8 pm every day. I am fairly sure he wasn’t working that ENTIRE time, but like you and Katie the Fed said, it was a socially-acceptable way to avoid dealing with the rest of his life. (I hear he’s doing a lot better now, which is nice.)

  6. BB*

    I really resonated with using ‘busy’ as an excuse for not doing things you might be afraid of. How many times do you hear ‘oh I’m just so busy now, I don’t have time for a relationship’ or ‘I know I’ve always wanted to learn how to do x but I just don’t have time’

    I will admit I use being busy as an excuse for a lot of things. To get out of a lunch with someone, the reason I haven’t bought a nightstand, the reason I haven’t called the cable company yet to switch the name on the account. It’s funny- last week I finally got around to renewing my annual city parking permit which I’ve been putting it off for months. It took 15 minutes. Afterwards I actually hung my head and was a little ashamed. It really took that long for that?

    1. businesslady*

      yes, this too. it can be a useful dodge for accepting responsibility for your own prioritization. after all, if you’re “busy” you’re busy doing SOMEthing–so why is that “something” not organizing your photos/buying new clothes/calling your grandma/hanging the framed art leaning against your walls/working on that personal creative project/doing your taxes/etc. etc. etc.?* because you don’t WANT to, right? so just own that.

      *& by “you” I mean “me” in all of the above examples.

    2. Leslie Yep*

      Yes! I think this is absolutely it. Being “too busy” to take a step back also means you never have to really assess your work, or you can cut yourself some slack because, hey, I was super busy! How could I have gotten that done with fewer errors with all the other stuff I have to do?

      “Too busy” on my team means that we never really set clear policies or processes, or take the time to really investigate a problem before we try to solve it, or document much, or set clear objectives or priorities, all of which also reinforce that overwhelmed “crazy busy!!!1!!01!” feeling because you’re constantly reinventing the wheel or hobbling together a piecemeal strategy as you go, have no north star to prioritize against (so EVERYTHING is a priority), and never know if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. It’s inefficient and a total morale-killer.

      But once you set clear priorities, really commit to answering a question correctly, etc., suddenly it becomes a real big deal and you don’t have that excuse of “Oh, we’re just moving as fast as we can so of course things are going to be a little shaky!”

      I remember this feeling in college, I wrote everything at the last minute, precisely because if I spent more time on it, I started getting anxious that it wouldn’t be good enough. Once I was bound by time pressure, some of that perfectionism was relieved because I’d have the excuse to myself of it being just the best I could do in 12 hours, as opposed to the pressure if actually having to represent the best of my thinking overall.

      1. Eden*

        I did the same thing in college, starting papers the day before. I never thought about it this way though! I think you’re exactly right.

        I also read an article years ago I thought was interesting, on time management and procrastination, the gist of which was, your brain knows exactly how much time you really need to accomplish most tasks, and permits you to procrastinate only up until that limit is reached. I definitely need to see the deadline looming to get moving on lots of things.

    3. TL*

      Oh, hahaha. I say I’m “not adult enough” when that kind of stuff happens.

      I’m pretty good at managing my time and knowing how well I can function at what levels, but that doesn’t always mean I’m enough of an adult to get things done.

    4. the_scientist*

      Ugh yes. the “I’m too busy to have a relationship” trope is something I’m all too familiar with, as I did a fair bit of online dating before meeting my current SO- you’d think people actually on a dating site would be interested in making time for a relationship, right? I agree with Katie the Fed- artificially inflating your busy-ness, pulling all nighters and hiding in your office are often socially sanctioned ways of avoiding having to address some gaping holes in your emotional maturity or well-being.

  7. businesslady*

    I’m still ruminating on this after reading it yesterday–I hadn’t fully registered the strange cultural shift to “constant overwhelming busyness” until I had my attention called to it, but it’s definitely prevalent.

    there are probably a lot of contributing factors, but I imagine part of it is that it’s an easy middle-ground small-talk area: you don’t want to actively BRAG

    1. businesslady*

      [whuups, somehow accidentally hit “submit” while disengaging caps lock. anyway…]

      you don’t want to actively BRAG about how great your life is, but you also don’t want to COMPLAIN, so “I’ve been busy” becomes a catch-all for “I have an active life but it’s not all rosy.” the follow-up article, which mentions the “I’m busy!” “me too!” call-&-response certainly suggests that this is part of the phenomenon. & I definitely agree that I work much less efficiently when I let myself get stressed out about the volume of tasks I’m trying to undertake, vs. just addressing them one-by-one.

      on another note, a family member (who’s constantly mass-emailing the extended clan with religious podcasts & other pass-alongs) just sent one that suggests “busy” is an acronym for “Being Under Satan’s Yoke.” that’s definitely not within my personal belief system, but it reflects the same idea that “I’m too busy” can lead you to miss out on valuable personal & emotional experiences.

      1. Fish Microwaver*

        “Being Under Satan’s Yoke”! I love it. The do say the Devil finds work for idle hands…

  8. Kai*

    I also hear people say things like “I’m busy, but it’s better than the opposite” quite a lot at my institution. There’s this weird understanding that busyness is somehow better than non-busyness. It’s better than slacking off, sure, but busyness for its own sake is not inherently good to me and it always sounds so bizarre to me when I hear others say it.

    1. Anonymous*

      I’ve always thought that “the opposite” (of busy) meant either un/underemployed, or not having enough work to do and thus being in danger of getting laid off. In that sense it makes *more* sense to me…but then it connects to this idea that everyone should accept an outrageous workload or horrible job conditions, because hey, at least you have a job! We do all need incomes, but it’s not as simple as that.

      1. Anonsie*

        Same, or just being bored. I’d rather be busy than bored, all other things being equal.

        1. Elysian*

          I agree with this – I was just talking the other day with a coworker, and he asked if I was doing ok with the additional work I’ve been getting lately. We both agreed that it was much better than the alternative: not getting assignments would mean my work isn’t good/can’t be trusted, and then I would be in danger of being let go.

          Plus, a lot of my friends are unemployed, and I’m sure they’d love to have the “busy” problem. That’s how I would interpret that comment.

    2. Jamie*

      I think that’s just shorthand for knowing that if we’re not busy at some point we won’t have jobs. At least that’s how it is for us.

      In my industry not being busy gets everyone very squirrley – downtimes in manufacturing are far more stress inducing than being busy could ever be.

    3. Sharm*

      Yes! I say this to people because it’s so culturally acceptable — even though I don’t mean it!

      I think many people have a hard time with doing nothing these days. I’m guilty of it too. Instead of a quiet moment, I pick up my phone. I don’t want to turn this into a technology/”well back in my day!” thing, but I do remember before smartphones and computers everywhere that I would just sometimes sit with my thoughts and nothing else. For a while. It wasn’t a bad thing.

      Also, haven’t studies shown that you can experience a lot of growth and skills accumulation after a period of quiet? That is, you work really hard for some time, then take a break to let your brain process your work and build neuro-pathways and all that good stuff. And then you find you’ve improved at your task.

      I also want to state that I think this is different from slacking off too. I don’t have much tolerance for that, especially if you have legitimate stuff to do. But it’s the fake busyness that I take issue with. And I also believe that it’s really okay to have nothing to do sometimes too.

    4. LBK*

      I actually do like being busy at work, in the sense that there are slow periods at my job when I have literally nothing to do and I don’t like it. It means I have to try to find ways to look productive. I also gain most of my motivation and positivity from accomplishing things and feeling productive, so when I don’t have anything to complete, I get bored and I don’t like coming to work as much.

      I don’t like having a huge, overwhelming workload, either, but if I were to choose between a day where I have no tasks to complete so I’m stuck sitting at my desk twiddling my thumbs for 8 hours or a day when I have a number of tasks to complete that I can easily get done in a day without having to carefully budget my time, I would always choose the latter.

      1. Nicole*

        Same here! It’s hard in most jobs to find the right balance but ideally I like to have enough work to keep me occupied all day but not so much that I’m totally stressed out. Having nothing to do is stressful, plus the day drags.

  9. Jamie*

    Unfortunately the state of being this busy is still considered the goal in a lot of organizations.

    In places where stressed and constantly hitting what’s pitched is what’s rewarded…with money, praise, promotions…it will remain the status quo.

    1. Anonymous*

      Yes because the goal is to always be busy producing things and making money and getting things done. As you said above, in some industries not being busy translates into the business not doing well, and that becomes cause for great concern.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      That’s just plain silly though. There’s a reason the standard workday is 8 hours. Businesses don’t do that out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s actually the limit to effective work – after 8 hours or so it’s about diminishing returns – people make mistakes, are less productive, etc. I mean, I can put in 12 hour days from time to time, but I’m certainly not as good as I am when I’m working reasonable hours and getting enough rest.

      People are silly.

  10. Kobayashi*

    I have one friend who is constantly lamenting about how busy she is and how she has no time. She is a single mother, and she owns her own business, so I get it, but I also know a lot of it is through choices she makes. Myself, too. I have a lot to do almost every day, but that’s because I work full-time and choose to volunteer with a nonprofit, so i try to not lament about how busy I am. I could instantly free up 20 hours a week if I just stopped volunteering. But I do think that using the ‘busy’ excuse is sometimes best. For example, if someone invites me to something or asks me to attend their outside work function, sometimes the “I’m busy” excuse is better than saying, “I value the limited time I can spend sipping a glass of wine with dark chocolate and watching Next Generation re-runs,” and I’d rather do that on Friday. Scheduling in uninterrupted “veg time” is really important to one’s mental health–that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it!

    1. Ali*

      I agree. I only have one day off a week right now (tried to ask my boss for a five-day week, but someone else agreed to change their schedule so I’m stuck), and I savor every minute of that day. It’s taking me all I have to go out tonight with a friend who was insistent on my presence for an event. Since she’s a good friend, I didn’t want to insult her by going and not hanging out with her, or not going at all. But it really took me some time to decide to go because I mostly like having time to myself when I’m not working.

    2. Sharm*

      I actually totally understand this. Perhaps there are two types of busy — one that falls into the humblebrag category (“I do SO much, you could never handle it”) and then the type you describe, where sometimes you want to do something else but don’t want to state that outright to someone so as not to hurt their feelings.

      1. AMG*

        There’s a third type–me. I’m super busy (clearly, you can tell because I barely have time to read AAM and post) and I admit that I use it as an excuse for why I am kind of a mess everywhere in my life. But look at everything I have to deal with!!

        Do I have a lot on my plate? Sure. But so does everyone else and they DON’T have 5 loads of laundry on the couch, don’t have 1000 emails that need to be read, kids who didn’t eat something made by Hostess for breakfast, etc. etc. It goes back to my desire for perfectionism and my struggle with the knowledge that I am so far from perfect that it’s ridiculous. So I laugh it off. “But look–I made it here wearing both shoes. *sigh* I’m just so busy, you know?”

        I don’t mean it to be humblebrag…it’s just a lame excuse. Don’t judge me, ok?

    3. Nodumbunny*

      Yes this. I hope I’m not doing the humblebrag sort, but I know (and don’t feel apologetic for) I’m using “I’m too busy” as a more polite way to say no to things I don’t want to do. It’s hard to just say no (and in my community, I’d be labeled a b&%^$ if I did so very much) so saying I’m busy is better/easier.

    4. Ruffingit*

      I don’t think the “I’m busy” line is an excuse in that instance though because you are busy – you’re busy attending to your mental health via chocolate and re-runs. Seriously, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s good for you.

      1. Tina*

        I’ve managed to get away with saying things like “oh, I won’t be able to make it” and leave it at that. Few people if any bother to come back to me and say “well what are you doing?” Using “too busy” would make me feel too guilty, because my life is pretty quiet and that would be too obvious.

        1. rollcake*

          Agreed, and I think in this case “I’m busy” would imply “I’m busy…at the time you suggested because I have other plans” as opposed to “I’m busy literally alllll of the time and I just can’t find any time at all to schedule a meetup with you!

    5. C average*

      I tend to use the “I’m too busy” excuse as an all-purpose out for ongoing obligations and friendships that feel like they could become high-maintenance. It prevents me from being asked again, because it conveys an ongoing condition rather than a one-time excuse for saying no. I don’t love lying, but it’s more expedient than repeatedly making various excuses or confessing that I really just don’t want to be a Girl Scout leader or serve on a committee at church or hang out with the needy-seeming neighbor, you know?

      Objectively, I do enough that it sounds plausible, so I don’t get much push-back.

      The truth is I spend HOURS reading comments on AAM, going for long walks no particular place, hanging out at the library, sitting on the deck with my husband watching the squirrels in the yard behind our house, and watching terrible TV. I like the amount of busy I am and don’t wish to change it. Which is why I lie about being busy so my beloved unallocated time doesn’t get allocated by someone or something else.

      1. Nodumbunny*

        Yep – I just used “I’m too busy” to get out of attending a weekend event to rally people (and raise money) for an issue I care a little, but not a lot, about. I could have attended the event, but I didn’t want to because weekends are down time I fight hard to preserve. It was more mature than saying “I don’t wannnaa.”

  11. Robin*

    Like some of the other folks in this conversation, I’ve made some lifestyle decisions that mean I have a lot more flexibility in my life than a lot of people. It has definitely meant some sacrifices, but there was a time in my life when there was no such thing as too many commitments, and it took a real toll on my relationships, my personal happiness, and my sense of accomplishment (to always have so many undone tasks hanging over my head). These days, I’d rather do 4-5 things well than 25 things poorly (or more like 15 things poorly, and 10 things not at all even though I said I’d do them).

  12. MaryMary*

    I used to work at an organization where 60+ hour weeks were the norm, and 70, 80 hour work weeks were not unusual. How late someone stayed in the office or the number of consecutive hours worked was a point of pride for some people, or at least something they felt the need to call attention to. I used to tell my team: there are no winners in the “who worked the most!” competition, only losers.

    That being said, the overwhelming workload and constant under staffing was the key reason I left that job.

  13. The Busiest Anon*

    I think one of the issues with this mentality is that many businesses still seem stuck trying to do more with less. When you have insufficient staff to meet demand it really feels like an uphill battle. That stress easily translates into your personal life and eventually you just always feel rushed.

    1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

      I sympathize but I do think the article has a point. Busyness is a mindset. If you work on your attitude towards the busyness, I think that ‘rushed’ feeling will subside, even if the demands don’t.

        1. The Busiest Anon*

          Definitely. And I think this busy = good idea started when businesses decided that if they were busy and their people were busy then they were doing something right because they were making things, they were getting product out, making money. And we took that and ran with it in our personal lives.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      And that is part of the reason why I did not particularly care for the article.
      It seems that if a boss expects me to do the work of 3 people, I cannot say I am busy, according to this approach. That means saying yes OR saying no and not giving a reason.

      There are a lot of people out there that are facing some real struggles at work and at home. I think the author fails to consider that.

  14. Anonymous*

    I think it really depends on whether you have any control over the busy, and whether you get any mental breathing room. There have been studies that show that offering people too many choices can lead to paralysis. I think what is overwhelming people and making them feel too busy is that many factors of life that didn’t require endless decisions in the past do so now. And each decision can’t be made lightly; so it requires research, time and effort to arrive at it. Things like insurance (car, house, children, elderly parents, disability, long-term), retirement (IRA, company match, pension, stocks), schools (public, private, magnet, charter, religious, home), housing (rent, buy, condo, apartment, mortgage, equity line) and so forth. And then the endless little stuff – support this fundraiser, what cel phone plan saves me the most money, which dentist is in my network, do I have eye coverage? Does my vet take my dog’s insurance? etc. There are folks who work 12 hour days and come home and have to handle major life decisions and research between the hours of 9 – 11 p.m., after cooking dinner and handling the end of day routine with their families. It’s very hard to unplug where there are so many decisions to make, and each one has an impact on your budget. That’s my two sense.

    1. The Busiest Anon*

      I totally agree. We have complicated life in ways that I suspect it didn’t need to be complicated, some for the good and some bad.

    2. Ruffingit*

      I agree there are too many choices. I think one of the things that can combat that though is to just make a choice and move on. You may pay a little more for the insurance or the car battery you had to pay, but you’ve saved yourself six hours of research. To me, that’s worth it. I also think the power of the network is not mined enough in these areas. I have friends who work in insurance (for example) and I talk to them and ask questions. They give me the straight skinny without trying to sell me stuff because we’re good enough friends for that. I help them out in my areas of expertise in the same way.

      Overall I agree with what you’re saying about tons of choices, but I also think people need to get OK with certain things like maybe paying a little more, but saving tons of research time and also by splitting up the work too. It’s been my experience that some people in a family put all the research/buying decisions on one person and that person feels overwhelmed. Sometimes it’s good to break up that work and say “Ok, teenage son. You’re responsible for the family cell phone plan, do the research, get back to me with what you find.”

    3. Sunflower*

      This is exactly how I feel. My busyness is based around the fact that there are so many different things I can do that I feel busy just thinking about it.

      I’m slowly discovering though that at some point, you have to decide what’s important and then bite the bullet and move on. You can’t make yourself miserable figuring these things out. As someone who is terrible at making decisions, I research everything before I commit and even then, I get anxiety over whether I made the right one. I graduated from college and I really needed a car. I did some research and could have done years more of it then I said ‘You know what I need a car. I have to make a choice and live with it’. You have to balance out the things that are really important and just decide and forget on everything else.

      1. Ruffingit*

        I did some research and could have done years more of it then I said ‘You know what I need a car. I have to make a choice and live with it’. You have to balance out the things that are really important and just decide and forget on everything else.

        Yeah, exactly. This is what I was trying to say above, but you said it really well here. You have to decide what’s important and you have to decide to decide and then be OK with that choice.

        1. C average*

          There’s a wonderful book called “The Paradox of Choice” that talks about this at length. It defines two basic types, optimizers (who have to have all the facts before making a decision) and satisficers (who set some basic requirements, make a choice, and move on). It’s a quick read and it changed the way I think about making decisions. I highly recommend it.

          1. Kate in Scotland*

            I was just going to recommend that book, it is the one book that I can really say changed my life. I’m a real maximiser by nature and just giving myself permission to take some shortcuts and make ‘good enough’ decisions was a fantastic lesson.

          2. Anonymous*

            And key to this – the satisficers ended up happier with their choices, if I recall correctly.

          3. Windchime*

            Sounds like a perfect book for me. I can get paralyzed by simple choices, such as buying sofa pillows. I’ve lived for 2 years with a bedspread that I don’t like because I can’t decide on a new one.

            I’ll order it when I decide whether or not it’s something I want. (Kidding…..going to put it on my Kindle now).

    4. Sigrid*

      “The best is the enemy of the good,” as Voltaire reportedly said 250 years ago. I.e., don’t let your search for “the best” prevent you from just making the damn choice and moving on, as long as you go with something that isn’t obviously bad.

  15. Mike C.*

    This attitude of worshiping “work” over all else metastasizes itself into garbage like this:

    It’s funny, back around the last turn of the century, it was believed that industrialization and automation was going to lead to a four hour work day, with more time for hobbies, self education, the production of art and the like.

      1. Mike C.*

        Come on now, I’m a huge proponent of the sciences and would love to see more funding go back into ground breaking research. What I object to is this idea that you are only productive if you never have any leisure time. Many of our great discoveries happened only because those discoverers were able to waste time doing things like looking at the stars or wandering around the woods.

        1. Sunflower*

          It’s hilarious too because when you look at the world’s most successful companies, they are the ones that reward employees with vacation time and flex schedules

          1. Mike C.*

            Not to mention all those successful French car makers, a country where 4-6 week vacations are standard. Renault, Peugeot, Citroen and Bugatti all come to mind.

            That comparison becomes even more one-sided when you look at racing pedigrees.

        2. the_scientist*

          This is a huge, huge problem in the sciences. The “publish or perish” culture means that scientists and academics are often too busy to explore creative ideas that may not lead to a publication. Related, the push to be generating new data for publication at incredible speeds means that scientists are too busy to do real, productive thinking- the kind that only happens when you’re free to let your mind wander. Creativity requires that undefined, unconstrained thought that only happens when you’re not worrying about the next thing you need to get done.

          1. Rye-Ann*

            I’m still an undergraduate student (in chemistry), but up until recently I always assumed I would go on to get my PhD. However, after observing my professors and graduate students I know, I’m left with the impression that grad students and professors work ALL THE TIME (or close enough to it, anyway). My advisor told me that when he first started as a professor he was constantly working 80+ hours a week. I dunno if they “have to” do this per se, but that seems to be the expectation. I’m shying away from the idea of a PhD because of this…I just don’t sense that I can be balanced and live up to the work expectations which come with it. :\

            1. Zelos*

              I did three stints of research in the academic labs when I was in undergrad…and yeah, you’re spot-on. I pulled 7-9 hours every weekday with occasional working weekends on top of full-time classes in the mornings. The grad students were generally in there for 9-11 hour days, 5-7 days a week.

              I abandoned thoughts of grad school after that.

        3. Cuppa*

          I totally agree with this. I think this is exactly why I come up with ideas in the shower — my mind is relaxed enough to actually come up with ideas and solutions.

    1. Sigrid*

      People still believe that. There was an article about how we are all going to be replaced by robots in the next fifteen years on the Guardian just last week.

  16. Mints*

    I used to read an article series called Bullish, and once the author said her goal is to only do things that are very productive or intensely fun. So the goal is to get paid $1000 for an hour of consulting then drink wine while playing with kittens.

    It’s basically a theoretical goal, but I do try to be conscious of wasted time (like online shopping when I have no intention of buying) and instead do things that are more purpose driven, and it’s fine if the purpose is fun/leisure, but own that choice, and decide yes, I will devour this novel while eating cake because that’s the most fun thing for me right now

    1. C average*

      I am going to start listing “get paid $1000 an hour for consulting, then drink wine while playing with kittens” on my resume as my career objective.

      (I’m kidding, Alison. Of course I don’t list a career objective on my resume! But if I did, I think this might be it.)

      1. Mints*

        Ha! Her example was slightly different (drinking scotch and doing something else I can’t remember). But I made it accurate to me, my actual life goals (:

        I’ll see if i can try to remember on Friday to post in the I open thread “honest objectives”

  17. Mallorie, the recruiter*

    I think NOT being busy while still accomplishing things is an even bigger win for the individual. During my most recent performance review, my boss listed all the things I did over the course of the year and my response was, “And I wasn’t even that busy!” I was kidding, but it’s true. I left earlier than most, never really took work home, etc. That to me feels like a bigger win than someone with those same accomplishments who felt BUSY all year. I at least got to enjoy my time :-)

    1. neverjaunty*

      That is awesome! Unfortunately a lot of bosses don’t like that. They want to hear that you were a worker bee and if you weren’t “busy”, well, you should have taken on extra work or something so that you were.

      1. Mallorie, the recruiter*

        Very good point! I am not one to shy away from helping out whenever I can. But I also think that people like me end up doing way more work than others BECAUSE they can handle it. Now that I am a manager, I can def say I am guilty of relying a lot on my superstars. Its just easier too… they can handle so much more than some of the others.

  18. ZSD*

    I really love the study of the changes in families’ holiday letters over the years. I think that’s a brilliant use of previously untapped data.
    (In case you can’t tell, I’m trained as a social scientist. ;) )

      1. Mints*

        The author referenced in the Slate article is Ann Burnett, but googling “Burnett holiday letters” makes it look like the study isn’t published yet

  19. Ruffingit*

    Being busy is seen as some kind of badge of honor. Personally, I find it ridiculous. If you truly are running at top speed from one activity to another with very little time in-between and you’re stressed out, I don’t admire you, I think you’re stupid for taking on too much. It leads me to believe not that you’re superman/woman, but rather than you have an inability to say no and/or set appropriate boundaries in your life.

    Where this really gets sad is people who do this to their kids. The kids take piano, swim and jazz dance lessons followed by tutoring six days a week and they’re exhausted, but the parents refuse to let them have idle time where they sit outside on a swing set or just play in the grass. It’s sad. Enough with the Culture of Busy. It’s not doing anyone any favors.

    1. Jamie*

      What about the instances where living life the way you describe, while stressful, is rewarded by their employer to a degree it’s worth the trade off.

      Judging everyone caught in this cycle as either taking on too much or not setting boundaries doesn’t take into account that in some instances this behavior has significant financial rewards and the stress of living like this is worth it to have less stress financially.

      Not everyone falls into this because they aren’t strong enough to say no. For some it’s a conscience trade off because maybe they need the extra money this provides more than they need a calmer lifestyle.

      Everyone needs to make choices based on their own needs and circumstances and it’s not fair to put everyone in the same category based on what you see from the outside. IMO.

      1. Jamie*

        Sorry – I do know the difference between concious and conscience – but apparently my fingers don’t.

        And yes, I tried not to post this self correction and I usually let my typos lie – but I can’t when it looks like I don’t know what words mean.

      2. Mike C.*

        That certainly helps. Going from an employer who didn’t to one who does really changed my previous attitude on this issue. But part of this reward has to be the understanding that those crunch times need to be finite and cyclical, and that when time off needs to happen, it needs to happen.

      3. Ruffingit*

        I’m not talking about employment here though where the choices aren’t as clear cut because they involve financial gain and loss. I’m talking about the people who are so busy because “sure, I can bake 100 cupcakes for the school bake sale, no problem I’ll do the newsletter for the 15th volunteer committee I agreed to chairing this year, yup I’ve got that fundraising dinner covered I’ll plan it, no problem…”

        That is what I’m referencing and there are SO MANY people who do this. They overload themselves because they have an inability to say no or to set boundaries. You can’t be everything to everyone.

        1. Jamie*

          Oh, gotcha – I totally misunderstood.

          Yeah – everyone makes choices. I just try not to judge someone for the non-optimal choices they make trying to support themselves and or their families…but since you weren’t saying that…I am apparently doing my Rosanna Rosanna Dana impersonation.

          Nevermind. :)

          1. Ruffingit*

            :) No problem. I’m with you on not making judgments on people’s employment/financial stuff because I’ve been in the position of having to make some choices in those areas that others were judgmental about, but they worked for me given my circumstances at the time. When it comes to putting a roof over your head, you do what you have to do and I’m not going to say a word about that because I know how tough those choices can be.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        It’s a question of what you value. In my 20s, I valued money and esteem – from working overtime and getting recognition. In my 30s, I value my time a lot more. I’m financially comfortable. Not rich, but I don’t need to be. What I want is time to enjoy life.

        If other people value money over time, that’s their choice. But understand the opportunity cost of that decision.

        I think the heart of the matter is that complaining about being busy makes it seem like you’re a victim of circumstance. You’re not. You’re making a choice.

    2. Mike C.*

      I’ve been thinking about the last bit as I see my peers have children that are starting school. The amount of homework that is sent home (sometimes as early as elementary school!) is just nuts. The worst part is that students can’t plan in advance for it, so it’s feast or famine.

      Throw in all the activities, clubs, sports, music, community service, work, “senior projects” and so on that someone trying to get into college needs to do to be accepted and it’s really out of hand.

      At least as an adult there’s some ability to set boundaries. As a kid, you’re along for the ride.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Well said. My nieces have an insane number of outside commitments (TONS of sports), to the point that their parents have had to hire someone to handle the overflow as far as driving and supervision. I think among them they participate in something like 14 different teams/clubs in a given season. They’re all really well rounded, but they’re also really tired.

        1. TL*

          That sounds awful – and I say this as someone who did band, sports, FFA, livestock show, academic decathlon, piano, and UIL academics throughout the entirety of high school. And maintained really good grades – though my high school was ridiculously easy, so that didn’t actually take any effort on my part.

          (I choose to do all of those, however. My parents didn’t pressure me to do anything but piano and livestock show.)

      2. TL*

        There were a lot of kids at my college (fairly competitive, good to great academics) who came in already burned out on school from high school, what with all the APs and homeworks and trying to get that perfect 5.0 or whatever – it was crazy!

        These were the same kids that couldn’t ever sleep – seriously, I knew kids who subsided on 3-4 hrs/night during the weekdays and just slept the weekends away – or couldn’t ever go out because of all the studying they had to. But really it was mostly cases of wasted time and inefficient studying.

        1. Mike C.*

          Yeah, I remember the folks who went to the local high end private college prep school were really burned out. High school was really easy for me, so I was like them in college – I really could have used some pointers on how to actually study rather than optimizing my effort to do just enough to get an A.

          1. Mike C.*

            I’m not kidding about the last bit either – 95% was an A in my school district, so all of my caring stopped at 94.5%. It was a rather perverse game.

            1. TL*

              My major’s department had a rule of 1 A/15 students (or 30, depending on the class size) and I just stopped caring about grades entirely at some point.

              But a lot of kids from competitive schools came in like you did – good at getting As but rather bad at learning.

  20. LauraG*

    We went through a period where we had over-extended ourselves and we were busy, but you know what? After a couple of weeks, we got used to the schedule and made it work. I do find myself falling into the busy-ness trap and agreeing with people that we are, when, really, our whole family thrives when we all have regular activities planned that involve leaving the house.

    At work, I do better with regular work; down times drive me nuts because it takes me forever to get back in the groove.

    I’m going to try to watch how “busy” I am in the next months and see if I can do a better job of not saying I’m busy.

  21. Ruffingit*

    I can’t be the only one living the kind of life where a lot of the “busyness” has been eliminated by letting go of certain things. Anyone else do any or all of these as well?

    1. I don’t own a smartphone. I have a regular old Nokia cell that I can make phone calls with and receive texts on. That’s it. It doesn’t allow me to stay connected 24/7 to everything.

    2. I drive a 2008 car that doesn’t have 500 gadgets on it. Just a standard get from A to B vehicle. It’s paid off and wasn’t that expensive to begin with so I’ve eliminated the need for a car payment.

    3. I do not have a TV. This is not a statement on the evils of TV, I just realized I don’t watch it enough to pay for cable. I have Netflix. This has eliminated the very full DVR that I need to find time to watch.

    I’m not saying what I’m doing would work for everyone or is the best idea. But it’s been great for me to eliminate some of the modern day distractions and conveniences. I don’t need to work my ass off to pay for a 2014 vehicle and I don’t need the latest smartphone that is also costly and allows people to be in my face 24/7. It’s helped me to realize those things are not actually necessary to life and it does cut down the busy factor in life.

    1. Just a Reader*

      #1 I would actually love to see a standalone discussion thread on this. I have a personal smartphone and one for work that are with me at all times.

      I have to force myself not to check my work email in the middle of the night because there’s inevitably something in there that ticks me off. And if I pick up my personal phone to peek in on something, it takes me a couple of hours to get back to sleep.

      It’s a crippling addiction and I bet I’m not alone.

      1. Anonsie*

        I’m always surprised when I hear this from people. I have a personal phone that gets work messages. I turned the notifications off so it doesn’t ping me (for everything, not just work) because I find that extremely annoying, but it still loads them so I can look at them any time.

        I am occasionally tempted to go over them on the weekends or evening before bed, but then I think “naaah I shouldn’t do that” and the urge goes away pretty quickly. I don’t ever feel like I’m chained to my phone or anything, it doesn’t stress me out.

      2. TL*

        I have a smartphone and the addiction bug doesn’t seem to have gotten me. It’s on silent most of the time (it’s kinda broken) and if it has to be out for some reason, it’s facedown so I can’t see the notifications appear.

      3. Jamie*

        I can ignore the stuff that can wait now, but I am incapable of waking in the night – even if just to turn over – without checking mail on my phone.

        I have it on a docking station loud enough to wake me if I get a call or text.

        I think for some like me that contributes to a feeling of business even when we’re not actively busy…the sense that you’re never really dialed out and you could be instantly busy at any time.

        I’ve been doing data migration at night. Busy? Nah, watching TV and goofing on the internet while I have a monitor up and glancing every couple of minutes to check progress and make sure nothing timed out. Not really work – but the threat of work if someone went weird hanging over me like the sword of Damocles so not really relaxing either.

        I think this is what they referred to in the article as contaminated time. Not really full on working all the time of course, but always either doing something, thinking about something, or knowing one of those loved devices in the pretty pink cases can toss you back into it at any time.

        It’s a weird time we live in. I miss uninterrupted time, but I don’t think I’d be comfortable with it at this point. It would be great to feel as unbusy when not working as I really am and not holding a part of my brain in reserve for the next problem.

        1. Elysian*

          +1 on contaminated time. I love that phrase when I read it.

          Sometimes I’ll “work while watching tv.” Honestly, I know I can’t do both at the same time. In the end, it takes me longer to do the work, and I don’t get as much pleasure from the TV. It’s lose/lose.

          We live in a culture of multitasking, and honestly, no one (no one at all) is as good a multitask-er as they think. I think it just eats up focus and contributes to this idea of contaminated time. I think we all would be better off giving our work and our relaxation all of our attention.

          1. Jamie*

            I absolutely agree with that in most cases.

            But sometimes, and maybe this is just an IT thing, where you’re migrating data or running a routine update and have to do it with users out of the system so night or weekends it is….and it really just amounts to watching a progress bar.

            If I turned off the tv and just stared at the progress bar for hours at a time my husband would have grown quite concerned. :)

            So BS housekeeping tasks where you’re only role is checking on it and willing it not to time out aside…absolutely. Finish the spreadsheet while watching tv? I didn’t enjoy the show and it took me way longer to do.

            That’s why it’s so much easier for me to work in the office. Home is full of too much entertaining and adorable (in the form of fur babies) distractions so if I have to knock something out I come in – focus – and then go home to slide back into contaminated time. :)

            1. TL*

              Some things you can “multitask.” The robot at OldJob was supposed to be press play and walk away – but as soon as you walked away, it would drop a plate or not eject tips or something. However, it was fine as long as you sat and watched. So I saw and watched the robot while catching up on TV shows.

        2. nancypie*

          I have a no portable electronics in the bedroom during sleep time policy. For my kids, I sweep the kids room for phones and tablets at bedtime, and my husband and I don’t bring phones into the bedroom at bedtime. If there is truly an emergency that deserves to wake me up, they can call my house phone. I do sometimes have an ipad in there with the sound turned down.

          And I have had to train myself to do it, but I can leave my work phone at home for a weekend outing or not check it for long periods of time, unless I’m in the midst of something and on high-alert.

      4. Elysian*

        Count me among the two-phone crowd. Work issued me one, and I’ve kept my personal one. I have no desire to consolidate.

        At times it can be cumbersome, but it is 100% totally worth it when I can toss my work phone into a drawer, or let it run out of battery, and be disconnected from the office for a while. And I can do that and still have a phone to do stuff with. My parents don’t need to know my work number. My clients don’t need to know my personal number. I can create separation in my life when I need it. It is excellent.

        1. Just a Reader*

          Right? Don’t mix the chocolate with the peanut butter. That, and I don’t want my company monitoring my personal device, which they would do if it had work email on it.

          I got to turn my work phone off during maternity leave and not think about it until I went back to work. Glorious.

        2. Ethyl*

          Also, we once had an……”incident” where someone accidentally sent a naughty text to their boss, so you know, there’s a lot of reasons to have 2 phones! I mean, even aside from that, I am not comfortable blurring that line, because as we’ve seen here at AAM over and over, work owns your computer and any ideas you have while working, and I’d really rather not have any kind of situation where IT would have to go looking around in my personal phone. They don’t need to see my doctor’s appointment reminders, texts from my husband about HIS doctor’s appointments, my sisters’ relationship problems, or even objecting to the language I use when discussing the Steelers (I work for a religious institution after all!). I mean, maybe that’s not likely to happen, but I’d rather not have the potential issues out there, you know?

          Plus, we often use our phones as hotspots, which I’d rather not have to go through the trouble to get reimbursed for, let alone trying to figure out my calls vs work calls on the bills every month.

        1. Judy*

          I have my personal android smartphone set up with smart actions to put the phone on silent (except for specific phone numbers like my mom, my husband’s cell, etc) and disable wife and data at night. It’s a reminder to myself that it is time to go to bed, along with prolonging battery life.

      5. VintageLydia USA*

        Last night I moved my phone charger from my bedside table to my dresser across the room. I’m addicted to checking here, reddit, my G+ group, Facebook, and a few other sites and even when there is nothing new I refresh refresh refresh until something comes up. It was getting to the point that I’d be on the computer until midnight then come to bed and be on the phone until 2 or 3AM. I hope that keeping me from being able to reach my phone in the middle of the night will help train me to actually go to sleep.

        I did discover I really need a clock now since I can’t just check the time on my phone (my husband’s clock is always buried in stuff.)

    2. Tinker*

      I blocked Slate, so there’s that.

      Seriously, though, being cautious about what I read has been a thing for me lately — I have, literally, blocked a small set of news sites that are clickbaity in a way that I’m susceptible to, and I flat quit a forum I used to be heavily active on because the culture ran in a direction that was persistently grinding my gears. It’s not so much the time as the aggravation, although time is definitely a thing.

    3. neverjaunty*

      No, you’re not alone. But you are getting dangerously close to swapping the moral oneupsmanship of Busier Than Thou for Wiser Than Thou, which is exactly the same game, just the pieces are shaped differently. Instead of “I’m better than you because I fill more of my time!” you’re saying “I’m better than you because I buy less and cheaper stuff!”

        1. Throwing Stones*

          Actually, to correct myself, I wasn’t speaking directly to this part of the thread about gadgets and devices . . . just thinking in general that all these articles coming out lately about how people should stop saying they’re busy is trading Busier Than Thou for Wiser Than Thou.

          That said, I am trying to stop saying I’m busy. :-)

    4. tcookson*

      Ruffingit — this describes my life almost exactly!

      No smartphone, just a regular one that receives texts and calls. I complained to my husband the other day about not having a smartphone and that I was ready for one, but it was just to play games and have a fitness-tracker/weight-loss app. Then I thought about how, if I had a cell phone, I would see all the emails from everybody at work and my time at home would be contaminated. Can you have a smartphone and NOT get your work email associated with it??

      I have a 2008 vehicle — recently paid off, woot! — that was just the most basic model at the time. We still have payments on one other vehicle: we went to the Honda place and said, Show us your cheapest vehicle. They showed us the Fit, my husband is 6’3″ and it was to short for him, so we said, Show us your second-cheapest vehicle, and bought the basic, no-frills Civic.

      I do have TV with the very lowest level of basic cable on it, and NetFlix. That’s all. I have found that NetFlix has ruined my attention span for a full-length movie. Watching 20-minute, no-commercials episodes is like crack.

  22. Colorado*

    Apparently, I am not busy, as I have time to read AAM multiple times a day! :-) And just in reading the comments it reminded me of something my boss said to me as if he were bragging or making a point to compare my using vacation time with another employee. He said “Well Bill hasn’t taken a vacation in 3 years”. My first words back to him were, “Wow, that’s really sad for him and his family”. I don’t think boss expected that reaction but c’mon, you don’t brag about how your employee’s don’t have time for a freakin vacation!

  23. Anonsie*

    I gotta sing the praises of the “stop thinking you’re busy” bit in there to eliminate the contaminated time feeling. I read this when it was posted in the comments yesterday, and started doing that for the rest of my day, and I felt so much better. The idea of “contaminated time” perfectly explains how I’ve been feeling recently, much better than the explanations I’ve been trying to give to people.

    I’m not someone who relaxes easily– a day off or a coffee break or a long bath don’t make me feel better (just as they say in the article). I am totally incapable of meditating, and normally when I see “try this to manage time/relax/etc” I just snort at it. Call me a big curmudgeon, I guess. But bringing up a new task and just telling myself “only think about this now. Do other things later. Take this time now. You have plenty of time later,” really cleared out that mental tape of junk and made it easier to focus. I relaxed a lot, and all that brain fog dissipated substantially.

    1. tcookson*

      I’m going to try this. Way back in my first office job, my co-workers and I implemented a spontaneous “no-complaining” policy and we actually felt much better about doing our jobs. I suspect that an internal “no busy-ness whining” policy would have a similar mood-uplifting effect.

  24. Leslie Yep*

    It’s funny: in my circle the pendulum has just started to swing in the other direction, where instead of constantly talking about how “crazy busy” we are, we’ve replaced it instead with mocking people who are “crazy busy” and talking about how much leisure time we have. Before long it’ll go meta and we’ll be mocking people who mock crazy busy. Who knows.

    Crazy busy isn’t great, no question about that, but I think what’s undergirding the entire conversation–just like what undergirds things like the “mommy wars” and the recent obsession with how terrible Millennials are, and how we’re ruining children by not letting them fail, and whether we should eat eggs or not eat eggs, etc.–is this sort of cultural preoccupation with judgment that occurs in a really atomized, individualistic society like we have in the US. We have an entire industry that exists only to create entertainment out of human trainwrecks (or people who are willing to act like human trainwrecks) so we can judge them. That kinda says something.

    We’re preoccupied with “personal responsibility” and find it really hard to talk about structural conditions that inform (or create, depending on your politics!) individual life chances and choices. We’re preoccupied with people “getting away with” things that we don’t think they individually deserve. And most of all, we’re preoccupied with making sure our own choices are seen as the deserving ones.

    1. Ruffingit*

      Wow. This is seriously one of the best encapsulations of the judgment issue I’ve ever seen. Thanks for posting it!!

  25. Sunflower*

    When people are constantly so busy I start thinking ‘They have to be doing something wrong’ or ‘They’re being treated like slaves’. I have 2 friends who work at the same company, same job. Both tell me that they have pretty full days. However, one seems to have time for other activities and says she loves the company. The other is always complaining about how busy and miserable she is and has no time for anything but she likes the company. There is obviously a disconnect here. Either the second one is lying or she has no idea how to manage her time.

    Also call me crazy but the people I respect the most are those who go to work, work hard while they’re there and are rewarded fairly with compensation, vacation time and benefits.

    1. Mike C.*

      Also call me crazy but the people I respect the most are those who go to work, work hard while they’re there and are rewarded fairly with compensation, vacation time and benefits.

      The folks working aren’t usually the ones who get to determine the compensation, vacation time or benefits.

      1. Just a Reader*

        Right? I think we all know people who work hard and aren’t fairly rewarded.

        My former company lowballs salary, doesn’t let people take vacation and works them to the bone. I don’t have less respect for my friends who are still there because their packages are crappy.

      2. Sunflower*

        I meant that in way that the people who work and never take a break seem to think other’s look up to them and respect them because they work so hard

  26. Malissa*

    There are two side to the busy coin. I have always been laid back and rolled with what ever comes across my desk. There have been times I’ve been extremely busy, but nobody really noticed. This actually back-fired on me. I was in charge of a major project, and I was calmly making my way through having twice the workload and four times the normal amounts of meetings. I was also booking a lot of work from home time on evenings and weekends.
    Coworkers complained to my boss because I wasn’t taking the project serious enough or putting in enough effort. I wasn’t doing everything they thought I should be doing.
    The boss called me on my anniversary–the one day I’d taken off in 5 months because of the project and asked me to think about something.
    We had words the next morning. Turns out he was listening to my coworkers and not paying attention to the fact that everything was on-time and getting done properly. He said he questioned it because I never complained about being busy. I took him through a list of what I had done in the past week and how many meeting I attended. I got an apology.

    1. Jamie*

      This is exactly what I’m talking about.

      In an org where hectic is the default culture showing signs of this kind of stress is a badge of honor and being competent and calm isn’t as flashy – and hence less visible.

      1. C average*

        Unflappability is waaaaaay underrated.

        I have a couple of colleagues so unflappable they can change the weather in a room. Never hurried. Never stressed. Never overwhelmed. Just calm, competent, and methodical.

        It’s a thing of beauty.

        1. Jamie*

          Best description I’ve ever heard was at a former workplace…

          “That guy wouldn’t jump if he were stung by a bee.”

          (as opposed me me and my crazy startle reflex that has me jumping if you simply walk by my office…but I digress.)

        2. Malissa*

          Oh you just ran the company car into a house? Yeah I’ll be there shortly.
          Hey insurance guy, you might want to come see this. No I’m not kidding.
          True story. After that nothing could phase me. ;)

        3. Elsajeni*

          I had a friend in high school who was like this — just magically calm. He could defuse any argument just by going and standing near it for a few minutes. I wonder if he’s ended up in a career or a workplace where he puts that superpower to use.

        4. saro*

          I applied what I learned as a waitress, “Never look stressed, you’ll bother the customers,” to my first ‘real’ job out of college. This nearly backfired on me when a slightly senior co-worker told me that I obviously wasn’t as busy as everyone else because I didn’t look harried or stressed all the time. I told my direct supervisor what she thought and she advised me to say, “I guess I’m just more efficient than you are.”

          I must admit that in subsequent jobs, I did ‘pretend’ to be crazy busy because that’s what was expected from my job. I tried to fight against that culture but I was afraid it would cause me problems. I’ve just started my own business and am trying to set the work-life balance culture early. This article was a good read and reminded me to change my mental self-talk too.

      2. Sharm*

        I get your point, but it seems like Malissa communicating her tasks resulted in a positive outcome. So maybe going forward, she has to be even more vocal in her meetings with her boss to outline all the projects she’s working on. Since she got an apology and her co-workers are being more cooperative, she might be in an environment where that might be enough.

        I do believe there are other organizations that wouldn’t be so generous, sadly.

    2. Trillian*

      I hope your boss then told your coworkers that if they had time to police other peoples’ work, they were plainly not busy enough themselves, and found something to keep them occupied.

      1. Malissa*

        Well the coworkers got a whole lot more co-operative about the project after that. And their level of complaining went way down.

  27. AAA*

    While I was writing my dissertation a few years ago I came up with what I called the “infinite time hypothesis”. The premise is basically that you have enough time to do anything and everything you want to do, as long as you actually schedule it in and stick to your schedule. As a grad student, I was working with a huge workload, but a flexible schedule.

    I have failed at proving my hypothesis many times, but it was almost always because I failed to schedule in the “downtime” (and sometimes the sleep), or if I did schedule it in, it was the first thing to go. The key to the infinite time hypothesis is that you need to *prioritize* “unbusy” periods. This is hard for me, because I have a hard time justifying taking a break, especially over doing something “productive”, but I’m realizing more and more that if I don’t force myself to take one, I’ll totally burn out. And I’m not talking about a vacation, I mean 1-3 hours every day of “leisure time”–in which I can read AAM, go on FB, watch trashy TV, read a novel, take a nap, etc. and not feel bad about it one bit.

  28. NEP*

    I’ve got a friend who truly follows her heart and has always made a living in work that is an extension of her passion and creativity. Her schedule is always quite ‘full’ with work and just giving of herself. I once said to her, just using a common expression, ‘You must be quite busy these days’. She said she doesn’t see things that way — doesn’t consider herself ‘busy’. Her time is filled with what she loves. It was refreshing and some food for thought. Again, it’s all down to choices and as the smart comment above said, owning one’s choices.

    1. Sunflower*

      I also prefer to use the term ‘full’. It conveys that yes there is a lot going on and you don’t have a ton of down time but you aren’t stressing to do everything. I always thought of busy to be used in small increments. Like I was so busy for a couple hours that I forgot to eat.

  29. Piper*

    At my company they actually give out awards (like monetary awards at an annual awards banquet) to people who appear to be the busiest. Not those who get the job done or who are efficient. Just who are battered and worn out and working insane hours. One guy got a “burning the midnight oil” award because he routinely works from 8am until all hours of the morning (“we can call him any time and he’ll answer!”). Note that it is not necessary for his job or the company to be working those hours. Another person got an award for spending 125 days of they year away from his family because of work. Another for celebrating his birthday with a client instead of being at home. It’s twisted and I hate it and I probably won’t be at this company in the longterm because I refuse to take part in that insanity.

    I’m calm, I get my work done when it needs to get done and I don’t need to work insane hours to do it and fortunately my team and my manager see that. Meanwhile, one of my coworkers who routinely brags about how busy she is and how she was at the office until 1am is constantly missing deadlines and handing in incomplete work. But people think she works so hard because she screams about being OMG SO BUSY! It’s ridiculous and I refuse to participate.

    1. Sunflower*

      Kind of on this page, I never understood why kids with perfect attendance got awards in grade school. Sorry but there is absolutely NO WAY a child never got sick during the school year. It’s really kind of screwed up and sick when you think about it. and it’s probably why some company’s are run the way they are

      1. Sharm*

        YES. I hated that award as a kid. What does it even mean? Even if the kid didn’t get sick, is that his/her personal achievement?

      2. Sharm*

        Whoops, hit post before I meant to. I was going to say — this is where all the face-time BS starts.

      3. JustKatie*

        Thankfully, most schools have stopped giving out attendance awards for this exact reason. In my district, they stopped when Swine Flu was making the rounds a few years ago.

    2. Snarcus Aurelius*

      I had an ex-coworker who was constantly “working” late. Or rather it just looked that way. She was really just hanging around to get in on after hours meetings or see if she could poach an assignment from someone else because the boss worked late.

      Even though she literally spent more time at the office, her work was rarely completed on time and error free. Seriously, I never saw anyone do all the last minute work like that woman.

      And yes the boss bought all of it hook, line, and sinker. “Oh but Susie works so hard! She emailed me at 3 AM today!” I wanted to say, “Yeah. She emailed you stuff that you needed at 9 AM today even though she had two months to do it.”

      The rest of us got our work done during regular work hours yet we never got the recognition that woman did.

      1. Piper*

        Do we have the same coworker? Because this is exactly what my coworker who always talks about how late she works does. Her work is shoddy, incomplete and always done at the last minute, causing entire projects to suffer and others (me specifically) to pick up her slack. She’s not busy. She’s lazy and a procrastinator.

  30. Victoria*

    My new mantra is, “Being too busy to pee does not make me important. It makes me stupid.”

    1. Jamie*


      Seriously everyone right now putting it off until you do one more thing…just go. You’ll feel better. Go before you want to jump out of a window if someone is in there and you need to wait.

    2. Call Girl*

      I worked in a very busy and short staffed inbound call center. 5-8 people trying to answer 500 inquiries a day. Outside of breaks and lunch the only time I was not talking to a customer was if I had to log out of my phone to pee. Oh it was the most wonderful, relaxing three minutes of stolen time away from the never ending queue.

    3. Kelly L.*

      OMG, I sometimes have to smack myself out of waiting to pee because I’m HOOKED ON READING SOMETHING ON THE INTERWEBS. Jeez, self, the interwebs will still be there after you pee.

      1. Kate M*

        To be fair, teachers usually don’t get to go to the bathroom not because of how busy they are, but because they just aren’t allowed to leave their class, and there’s no one to cover for them (or they have to call the front office for someone to cover, which gets old if the 30+ teachers in a school call down there even once a day).

  31. Noelle*

    The “always behind and always late” part resonated with me, because I’ve worked with a lot of people who were always late for EVERYTHING. They’d routinely show up at meetings late, interrupt everyone, and talk about how they were so busy, they were caught up in another meeting/report/project etc. and they just couldn’t get away. Once my coworker showed up 20 minutes late to a meeting he was supposed to run, but somehow he’d had time to get a cappuccino at the Starbucks two blocks away before the meeting started. To me it doesn’t show that you’re busy, it shows that you can’t manage your time well or respect other peoples’ time.

    1. Colorado*

      THIS! Yes, please do not show up late to a meeting and give me one hundred excuses while you are holding an obviously fresh beverage. Or, show up late, be quiet and polite about it while secretly relishing in the fact you have a fresh beverage to get through the next hour (only if it’s not actually your meeting) ;-)

  32. ND*

    One of my co-workers loooooves to talk about how busy he is. We’re all busy mind you; sometimes more busy, sometimes less. Finally one day I pulled out the mutual assignment list and asked him what he needed help with. Shockingly he couldn’t figure it out. He’s hasn’t complained to me about busyness since!
    I used to be so stressed about busyness, that I was on my way to an ulcer (seriously). Finally, I changed my mindset and have started to just accept that the work would still be waiting for me when I got back in the morning…as in don’t stay at the office all night dealing with it. If it’s urgent, I just try to figure out the reasoning for the urgency, which gets me more on-board with the challenge, instead of just being annoyed by it.

  33. Snarcus Aurelius*

    Here’s my full on rant, as promised from yesterday.

    I echo the similar comments about the “I’m so busy” crowd humblebragging or trying to emphasize self-importance. And I get it. If you don’t play a defined role in this world, then what exactly are you? The number one question when you meet someone new is, “What do you do?”

    I take umbrage with this phrase because it’s rarely about the person saying it and more about, “I just don’t want to do whatever it is you’re asking me to do.” Where we spend our time is a direct reflection of our priorities — all the way down to yapping over coffee right after we’ve told a coworker we don’t have time for whatever it is he needed. And yes we alone decide how to spend our time. (Seriously, if everyone were devoted to his job all the time, Alison wouldn’t get most of the letters she does.)

    Hence yesterday’s rant against my former coworkers who never had the time to work with me but had time to do whatever self-serving activities they had set up for themselves. That’s why it smacks of BS, and that’s why people like me have nothing but eyes to roll. And that’s why that LW got the email she got (even though it was for a scam anyway).

    It’s a cousin of, “I don’t have time for a relationship.” Guess what? Even the President and most world leaders have time for a relationship.

    So no…I don’t buy the busy excuse because it has been overused so much that it doesn’t mean anything anymore.

  34. Steve G*

    I know more people that are too busy to do a certain thing, rather than just busy in general. I hate it at my job, when people claim to busy to do something, then they go an hour for lunch, spend 10 minutes on the phone changing their car insurance, etc. etc. It sounds like a cliche complaint, but I still can’t believe it, every time it happens. I want to wring certain folks by there necks sometimes because of this!

    1. C average*

      The I’m-so-busy thing is obnoxious, and after reading this thread I’m going to work harder at NOT falling back on this all-too-easy complaint.

      But there’s a thread of judginess through some of these comments that’s pretty obnoxious, too. If someone tells you they’re too busy to do a particular non-essential or non-urgent thing and then, God forbid, you see them spending some leisure time, unless you are their boss, you are NOT entitled to conclude, “He didn’t have time to do me this favor, and yet now he’s sitting there reading AAM! Or taking a whole hour for his lunch! He must be a very poor time manager with improper priorities.”

      I have enough work on my plate that I could, technically, spend all day every day doing it and still not be done. I have enough people who would like to claim some of my time that I could allocate every lunch hour to brainstorming, doing coffee, networking, etc. Most days I choose to take a full hour and go for a run on my lunch break, and I would be furious if the people asking me favors gave me the side-eye about it. That hour keeps me happy, fit, and productive for the other 10-12 hours of my workday. (That’s not a humblebrag, it’s just the numbers.)

      If I am too busy to do something you think I should do (and, again, we’re not talking about my actual deliverables here), it does NOT mean I’m too busy to ever have leisure time to do other things I enjoy. That’s not how this equation works, at least in my mind.

      There’s a certain amount of work time, a certain amount of leisure time, a certain amount of time for sleep, etc. When “work time” is full, I’m too busy for more work. “Leisure time” and “sleep time” come from separate time budgets. This is sane and sensible and not a reason to judge someone.

      1. Windchime*

        Such a good point, and I appreciate you giving this perspective. I love the idea of different time budgets and I think this will be a really helpful way for me to re-frame the issue.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I don’t judge anyone for taking leisure time, I think they SHOULD do that. My side-eye goes to people who claim they are so busy all the time, but the truth of the matter is that they simply refuse to set boundaries or learn to say no. That’s the problem I have with people. And actually, I don’t have a problem with it if they’re not complaining about it. It’s the “I’m so busy, I can’t think straight, life is soooo hard” people that get me. OK, well you wouldn’t have this problem if you stopped agreeing to chair 1000 committees and make 100 cupcakes for the PTA and and and and…

        If you want to do those things, go right ahead, but the incessant complaining about how it’s making your life so crazy that you just don’t have time to even breathe is what becomes annoying.

        I think it’s great you take time to run on your lunch hour or read AAM or whatever. That leisure time is as necessary to your life as the time working on actual deliverables because you’re delivering mental health time to yourself by doing those things, which then makes the rest of your life easier. Keep on with it! :)

  35. Bluefish*

    Ok, so I haven’t read the article yet (or the comments), but this is always my biggest pet peeve! People telling me how busy they are ALL the time. They really aren’t! The problem is they spend 90% of their day chitchatting and being off task. Sorry. I had to get that off my chest. I’ll read the article now :)

  36. Not So NewReader*

    I have to get something off my mind, too.
    The article fails to consider the people that are really struggling- working 2-3 jobs, taking care of kids and dying parents, plus the ordinary household things.

    I do agree that one chews up precious time and energy talking about how busy they are. But I have to tread with caution. A person who works all day, runs home fixes dinner then runs to the hospital for an ill family member (or similar scenario- this is just an example) is actually super busy. A person who is dealing with difficult situations doesn’t only lose physical energy but also mental energy.

    I think the article applies to some people at some points in their life. But I don’t think it does any service to the people who are working at their problems and their life situations. And I agree with another poster who mentioned that the economy is still not great and people do feel that their backs are to the wall.
    When I look at the individuals around me (work/home/committees/friends) there are very few people that I know this article would apply to. Most people I know are in a tight spot for one reason or another, that is not of their own making.
    I think we have to consider things on an individual basis. Personally, I have been through long spells that I would simply say “I am busy” because I did not want to explain what I was really doing. (Ill family member, losing house to medical bills etc. I needed time NOT discussing the problems.)

    1. Jean*

      Thank you for pointing out that people can be busy due to managing a life challenge (usually either a short-term crisis, a chronic condition, special needs, or the final downward curve of someone’s illness) or because they are financially struggling. There’s a reason for the saying “it costs money to be poor.” It also costs time, logistical effort, and physical, mental, and emotional energy.

      I’m not claiming true experience of poverty, thankfully–just experience in navigating middle-class hard times while running a job search in this economy. And I make this distinction not out of any socioeconomic class snobbery, but out of a desire not to seem like I’m unfairly asserting expertise.

    2. Busy As A Bee?*


      There are some people who work multiple jobs (sometimes in the same day) and they can’t accomplish things in their personal lives or entertain a social life for a legit reason like this.

      In answer to other comments (not Not So New Reader), yes we prioritize what we want or absolutely need to do. And it creates a busy-like schedule that can crowd out the least important thing we could be doing. But in my own opinion, I think this article is a bit ridiculous. Who are we to judge someone’s busy business and busy ourselves with that? It just sounds so uppity.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        To my way of thinking if a person is always busy- then find other people to hang out with OR see if the person needs help somehow.

        But really, if I reach a point in my head that I am judging other people’s degree of busyness, then I am not much of a friend to that person. I need to move on to other people.

      2. Ruffingit*

        I think the article is less about judging other people’s busyness and more about ensuring that we ourselves are seeing our lives in the appropriate perspective. Are we really busy or are we just saying that? That is what I got out of the article. So many people think they have no control over their own lives when actually they do. The Cult of Busyness in America particularly is making life hard for a lot of people and I think this article is talking more about that and how we need to make a shift from thinking busy/stressed/no sleep is appropriate and positive. It’s not, it’s harming people and my take from this article was for all of us to step back and stop thinking we need to be BUSY BUSY BUSY for our lives to matter.

  37. Fish Microwaver*

    Mindful of this thread, I took my lunch and just looked at the trees outside. I didnt even check my phone. It was very relaxing. I have discovered a Zen garden about 5 minutes walk from the office so next fine day I am going to have lunch there.

    1. Eden*

      Fish Microwaver, you are up there with Broccoli Microwaver in my pantheon of Creators of Least Favorite Lingering Office Smells. But, excellent screen name, very evocative :-)

      Oh, and Microwave Popcorn Burner, lest we forget the Zeus of this particular Olympus.

  38. Cassie*

    I hate it when people complain about how busy they are. Really, but you have time to stand here at the water cooler complaining about it?

    The only time I tell people “I’m busy” is when I’m up against a deadline and someone is asking me to do something (e.g. want to go for a walk? or can you do this extra work that’s not at all related to your job but the person responsible is clueless?).

    We’re working on this project right now, with a deadline right around the corner, that we just found out about. It’s definitely hectic, but after reading that article, I just keep reminding myself that everything will be fine and just breathe. There are just some days where the requests just keep coming in and I feel like I don’t have a moment to stop and think… this is probably why, these days, I’m doing a lot of my thinking on the bus, in the shower, and while I’m trying to sleep.

  39. Brandy*

    As a director-level full time mom of a 4 month old in a high-travel job with a husband working out if the house 6-8pm, I AM busy. But know what? I sleep 7-8 hours a night and have time for fun on weekends. I am a master multitasker and am known in my office as someone to go to if you want to “get it done.” I work through lunch and don’t spend 20 minutes chit chatting with everyone I see. I am an excellent manager of my time and I am not shy about drawing clear work/life boundary lines. There is nothing I hate more than someone with 30% of my workload complaining that they “didn’t have time.”

    I only use “too busy” as an excuse for not going to the gym, but I know that’s really just laziness. I could make time if I wanted to.

  40. Em*

    Instead of saying “I don’t have time for that,” think about it as “that’s not a priority for me.” It really changes your perspective- I’m not too busy to clean the kitchen floor, I would just rather be doing something more fun in my spare time.

    1. JustKatie*

      This is perfect! I think that a lot of our “busy” is very self-imposed, wanting to appear perfect. I need to remember this. I always feel like I have SO much to do over the weekends, and much of that revolves around making the house spotless, which is completely unnecessary. Now to combat my clean-freak tendencies…

    2. Rosalita*

      I like that shift in perspective too. My question – what if the activity that’s not a priority is something like spending time with a relative you don’t really like? Example – a relative of my husband’s will ask us to come visit or have dinner with her, which I’m not interested in doing. I know this probably sounds a bit callous, but spending time with this person is difficult and not enjoyable. But, the “we’re busy” excuse is often the easiest and the least hurtful. In truth, we could make time if we wanted to, but I wouldn’t ever say that. I’m curious to know what others think because I don’t want to pretend I’m so busy when I’m not, but in this case, it seems like the easiest excuse.

  41. LV*

    This resonated with me, as my boss asked me to forward her an email earlier today, and just came up to ask me to summarize the email for her because she didn’t have time to read it because of how busy she is…

    But she has the time to physically walk over and talk about how busy she is!

  42. Amen!*

    Thanks for posting this and the followup, so coincidental since this has been an increasingly nagging peeve for me and it’s nice to finally have it verbalized. Glad to hear I am not the only one that is irritated with the constant “I’m soo busy’ or “things have been crazy” montage. I do understand some commenters concerns that there are some people that this may seem insensitive to, ie the single parent working 2 jobs, etc. however reading this I didn’t take it that the author was referencing these individuals (and I’ve been the single working mother that had to do it all and can empathize). As I read this article and the follow it was like someone read my mind. At work and sadly amongst my social circle it seems like it’s become an increasingly popular topic to talk about how busy everyone is, there’s no time for this or that, and on and on, like it’s a respectable thing. At times I’m wondering if it’s some individuals excuse for justifying their shortcomings at work and at home. I like the point that was made that being busy isn’t a virtue nor something to respenct anymore, it’s gone on far too long . If we are all so busy then why is it that at work, we had time to sit there and discuss all the things on the never ending to do list and Saturday night we were able to go over the incredibly crazy busy schedules that everyone has been juggling while sipping on cocktails. I just don’t want to hear about it anymore.
    I will admit I’ve been guilty of slipping into this mindset, the laying in bed at midnight considering if I should get up and answer those emails I didn’t get to when I left for the day. At some point I made a conscious decision that I wanted quality of life more. My week days are full and the weekends too short but I can say that I get to use my “free time” for things I enjoy so I don’t look back and regret it later on. Rant over, thanks!

  43. JaneJ*

    This article kind of reminded me of something that happens at work a lot and always frustrates me: coworkers who act like they’re the only ones who are busy. They can’t be held accountable to remember something within their own job description (I should remind them at 3 or 4 random times), they act like they’re doing you a personal favor by doing their jobs, and they make you basically beg them to do something for you, when supporting your work is a clear part of their job description. News flash to all people in the organization: we’re all busy!

    1. Cassie*

      Yes, this. We have a manager who oscillates between constantly complaining about how busy she is, to saying “OMG, this project so easy I could do it in my sleep”. So she makes the rest of us feel like either we’re unimportant (since we’re not as busy as she is) or that we’re stupid because it takes us more than 2 minutes to complete a major project.

      I just ignore her – clearly she has confidence issues and that’s why she has to constantly “prove” her superiority over the rest of us – but it’s so annoying.

  44. AJ-in-Memphis*

    I’m busy.
    The kind of busy of that I can’t control as it relates the daily tasks, projects and little things at work.

    Do I make time for personal phone calls at work? Heck yeah. Why? Because a lot of personal business (appointments, house-related stuff, calling the student loan company, etc.) HAS to be taken care of during the work week between the hours 9am and 5pm. I don’t have anyone to do it for me (no husband, no personal assistant.) If I don’t do while I’m here, it won’t get done.

    Do I read this blog at work? Sure do. Why? I need a mental break, I might explode if I don’t take those quick brain breaks when I can’t take a real lunch.

    I don’t walk around telling my coworkers “I’m busy”, though. It doesn’t help me in anyway and just opens up the door for them to say how busy they are.

  45. Kitty*

    I have to pretend to be busy at work as everyone else is always talking about how busy they are…the strange thing is that when I cover their work when they’re on holiday I still don’t feel busy…

    I actually really hate not having much work to do and pretending like everyone else that I’m rushed off my feet. Thankfully I start a new job in three weeks where I will actually have lots of work to do and will be an asset to a company rather then just talking all the time to people about how ‘busy’ I am!

  46. Jill*

    I purposely build down time into my personal life but I have to be super careful about revealing it to others because too many people take, “I have nothing planned” to mean “Oh good – now you can do something *I* want you to do and I know you’re not busy so you won’t tell me no”. So annoying.

    No…I’m not sitting around waiting for someone to ask me for a favor. I am purposely taking time to do…nothing. And that includes doing “nothing” for you!

  47. nancypie*

    If anyone is still reading this, (because for no reason at all, lol) I’ve just gotten to this, what do you think of when others notice you’re working late, are slow to respond to questions that aren’t priority #1, or are having trouble getting onto your calendar, and declare that you’re busy? Is it ok when others observe it and draw a conclusion, if I’m not whining about it?

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