The dreaded reminder pops up on my phone: A friend (more of an acquaintance, really, I rationalize) is having a birthday party later tonight. “Urgh I’ve been so busy and am so exhausted. Don’t think I can make it,” I write back, resting a bag of Flaming Hot Cheetos on my stomach to briefly pause my fifth consecutive episode of The Great British Bake Off.
We all know what “I’m too busy” really means. It’s our most popular, socially acceptable catch-all excuse for getting out of just about any situation.
And we need to strike the phrase from our vocabulary altogether.
The now-ubiquitous phrase has been labeled our new aspirational status symbol, evidence of a “busy bragging” epidemic, and symptom of our paralyzingly overwhelmed culture. One 2010 study even found that people actually have an aversion to idleness, finding busyness more comforting. Hustle culture is so real that canceling plans has apparently become an act of self-care, with New Years Resolutions to “do less” replacing ones with tangible, workable goals.
canceling plans to read is ok. skipping a party for the gym is ok. staying home to cook is ok. lets encourage it & respect self improvement.
— Chance The Rapper ᶠᵃⁿᵖᵃᵍᵉ (@ChanceFrom79th) September 3, 2017
Canceling plans is ok. Running your friends over with a car is ok. Poisoning the town’s water supply is ok. It’s called self-care.
— Kevin Farzad (@KevinFarzad) September 10, 2017
For a certain class of people in America, the air of busyness has become an addiction, a way to justify our existence and assert our societal value, the crutch that allows us to avoid facing the life busyness supposedly keeps us from living. But, sorry Chance the Rapper, the answer to rampant hustle culture also isn’t just staying home and shirking your responsibilities to other people.
Don’t get me wrong: Plenty of people are legitimately too busy, whether it’s working two to three jobs to make ends meet, or single parenthood, or both. But that’s also usually not the people who are complaining about being too busy.
More often, the people complaining about being too busy use it as a comforting lie to cover up far less self-aggrandizing and socially acceptable problems. If we stopped blaming busyness, we might actually be forced to confront the real reasons why life can feel so exhaustingly impossible to keep up with sometimes.
We need to strike “I’m too busy” from our vocabulary altogether.
Let’s take my Cheeto-fingered rejection of a social gathering.
For years this was my standard response to all invitations, if I even bothered opening the texts to begin with. And I actually believed my own bullshit. Sure, I might not actually be busy in the moment, but busyness exhaustion from my demanding job justified this slight stretch of the truth. It was also why I simply just didn’t have the time for therapy — though gosh, wouldn’t that be lovely?!
After some traumatic events forced my hand a couple years ago, though, I did the impossible. I found time for therapy — not once but twice a week. It was there that I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and social anxiety. After just a week of taking anti-anxiety medication, I was amazed to discover that I was suddenly neither too exhausted nor too busy to leave the house.
Imagine how much faster identifying and dealing with issues would be if “I’m too busy” simply wasn’t a guaranteed “Get Out of Jail Free” card?
I might’ve had to admit that, while I had plenty of time to spend with Mary Berry in the baker’s tent, leaving my house felt like hard work. Obviously, I wasn’t too busy. I was too scared. But there was no way of telling my friends that without sounding reprehensibly pathetic.
Now, when I relapse and try to tell my therapist I’m too busy to make an appointment, he asks when I can reschedule, rendering it near-impossible to cancel. Almost always, his insistence leads to one of our most productive (and difficult) sessions. Because apparently, my problems still love hiding behind the facade of busyness.
At the end of the day, busyness is how we keep ourselves distracted so our minds don’t have enough time to think it through.
Some people even use busyness as a form of procrastination (aka productive procrastination), with an endless to do list of easily check-off tasks that conveniently prevent you from getting to the more over-arching projects. Meanwhile, if busyness was no longer an excuse, you might realize that you’re avoiding said project because it’s just too daunting, or you didn’t get enough guidance, or simply don’t have a necessary resource.
Ironically, forgoing that excuse will save you a lot of wasted time and energy in the end
People also often cite busyness as the reason why they don’t date or keep up with loved ones. Interrogating the real source of those excuses can get uncomfortably personal, but ultimately teach you to be a better friend, partner, family member, and overall person.
Maybe you’re in an overwhelming stage in your life, rendering you emotionally unavailable for longterm commitment. That’s a much more respectable, satisfying answer to the hopeful partner in question than “I just don’t have the time to date.” Or maybe your aversion to calling your mom more often is that barrage of guilt she hits you with when you do, making it too emotionally draining. Perhaps you don’t want to hang out with a particular friend because you’ve grown beyond them or simply moved too physically far from them to bother.
Granted, some of these conversations are probably best kept internal. Regardless, addressing them can inform your actions for the better. And while being too busy sounds a lot less ugly than any of them, ironically, forgoing that excuse will save you a lot of wasted time and energy in the end.
Getting rid of the busy excuse doesn’t mean you have to say yes to everything. But it does mean that when you say no, you’re held accountable for where your aversion is coming from. From there, you can evaluate if it’s actually justified, if these are the types of priorities you want to set for yourself, or whether or not it’s a situation that warrants going outside your comfort zone. You stop being too busy and start being productive.
Most of us are actually not too busy. The trick is just to find time in our schedules to cut the bullshit.
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