The Word Of 2019: Busy


Everyday / Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

The other day, the Dog Mamma was asking me about my word for 2020. I misread her message and thought she was asking me about 2019. “Busy. That’s my word,” I said. “Ya. I want to be busy, too,” she replied. I was horrified. That’s not what I meant. Not at all. 

Busy was the word of 2019 for me because last year, I feel, saw an epidemic of busyness. We seem to be perpetually busy, using that word as a humblebrag, as a mark of social status. To be busy is to be trendy. To feel useful. No one and I mean no one ever told me, “I am just sitting under the tree and reading,” or “I would like to spend more time with you. Shall we meet?” 

These days, with our ‘busy’ lives, the mere act of meeting has to become a finely coordinated dance of Google calendars. Not that we don’t have stuff “to do,” but if we are so busy doing all the time, what are we being? I asked a friend to meet because I have a gift I picked up for her, and the earliest date she can give me is in February. 

What are we so busy with that it pulls us away from building meaningful connections? 

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

Here’s the thing: We all have things to do. We have kids to feed. Families to nurture. Jobs and careers to take care of. Friends to maintain on social media and off it. But the culprit is we have become part of a system that just encourages more. We have to be ceaselessly productive, our value derived by the output spewing out from our life. And the saddest thing is we think we have no choice. I should know. I go into spiralling guilt traps on days when I don’t work quite as hard as I think I ought to. 

The funny thing is the people I think would be truly busy have never told me that. How ironic. They write emails with care, with or without broken wrists, and make friendship a priority as well in their life. (You know I am talking about you if you are reading this!)

The only time I never had to hear the word or its sentiment is the one month last year that I did nothing but walk on the Camino. There we were, a community of like-minded souls who just had to get up every day and follow the arrow along the trail. We walked at our own pace. Some fast. Some slow. But at the end of the day, when we gathered over wine, no one ever said, “I am so busy tomorrow, I have to walk 35 km!” The walk was part of our process. It was a choice we made to get here and if listening to birds and walking with no purpose made us sound absolutely useless, so be it. 

The thing about being busy all the time is that we don’t like it much ourselves. It’s not that we all want to live like this, just as no one says, “I love being in a traffic jam.”

So why do it at all? How do we stop sounding so busy? 


My answer is not to meditate more, take long walks, or feed the kids oatmeal all day, and tell the boss to take a vacation. I am not asking you to add more to your already busy to-do list. 

My answer is simply this: Stop telling yourself and others you are too busy. We simply aren’t. 

We are not too busy to meet someone once in a while. We are not so busy that we can’t respond to a message for days. We are not too busy that we can’t answer an email for weeks. (My email procrastination has to do with sheer laziness. And I am changing that). We are not that busy that we can’t just pick up the phone and talk to someone for 10 minutes when we take a break from all the “things we are doing.” 

Telling ourselves that we aren’t that busy can make us breathe deeper, acknowledge our priorities, and not cram our lives with things to do. Every time we brush off someone with a terse, “I am busy,” can we take a deep breath instead and say, “I can make my life fuller, richer, and more beautiful?” Because busy is a sickness. And I want you to be healthy. Let’s stop defining our lives by time. Let’s stop defining our lives by what we do, but instead by the experiences we are bringing into our lives. Let’s share those experiences and watch that time expand, instead of constricting. Because just like the heart, time expands too when we make it fuller. 

Now, I should go. I need to be busy. I have invoices to bill, expenses to pay, a portfolio document to edit, a workout, two writing projects, create more marketing campaigns, need to cook, do the laundry, pack for my upcoming trip, take a client call, buy groceries, take another call, meditate, wash the car, fix the lighting, come back and edit another client report, recover money from an absconding friend, …oh god, I am busy! Who has time? Can I meet you in January 2021? For an hour? 6PM?

8 Replies to “The Word Of 2019: Busy”

  1. I worked with a full blood Creek Indian in Oklahoma. As a Native American, he would express the frantic ping ponging of Anglos by shaking his head sadly and saying, “Ugh, busy, busy, busy.” The message was loud and clear.

  2. I was just reading a book about time and how we perceive time. There is a wonderful quote that mirrors what you have written. But in my typical flakiness, I can’t remember the direct quote or who said it. Arg!

    Modern culture is making us less connected physically. We need to remember to make time for face to face communications. Loneliness is epidemic in the states. Young and old alike. Virtual friends is not enough for our souls.

    Thank you for eloquently writing about this destructive behavior.

    1. Haha, Karen, that’s my problem too. Can hardly remember what I read. Makes me sound quite dumb most of the time. You are right – the substitution of virtual communication for ‘real’ ones deadens the soul. For someone like me who doesn’t really like using the phone, I feel I am slowly being strangulated, one message at a time.

  3. “Stop telling yourself and others you are too busy. We simply aren’t.” This is so true.
    If we can make the time to brush our teeth, take a shower and eat:we can jolly well make the time for the people we have chosen in our lives.
    I think people have just substituted the casual answer of I am fine, to I am busy. How are you? Asks anyone who pretty much passes our path. Pat came the answer ‘fine’, even when people were at their unfinest. Today hardly any one says they are fine, they prefer the word busy. Like the word fine, it is said without thinking most of the time. Being ‘busy’ seems to make people feel better about themselves. Instead, if we can revel in the fact that we are not busy and sometimes mention it, I feel we would all be getting somewhere.

    1. You know, I am agreeing with everything you have written here! Do you think this is the new us in this New Year? You are so right – most people just say “busy” when you ask them how they are. Busy is like the cover-all excuse for most things -it’s sad because there’s so much space every day when you think of it.

  4. I loved this meditative piece on busyness. I feel these lines are absolutely true – My answer is simply this: Stop telling yourself and others you are too busy. We simply aren’t.

    I think the more we tell ourselves the word ‘busy’ we end up reinforcing it in feeling and thought.

    It’s time to breathe deeper.

    1. We are so tired of being busy, aren’t we? Just think of all the people who tell you, “Smitha is always busy!” Like they come to complain to you! 😀

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