I’m relatively obsessed with the word ‘busy’, in particular how frequently (and, in my opinion, thoughtlessly) it gets used and how consumed, in today’s society, we seem to be with existing in this state.




  1. having a great deal to do
  2. actively and attentively engaged in work or a pastime

I’ve chosen these two definitions as they seem to imply quite different things.

The former seems to carry a negative tone, one of obligation and duty and that this person could be quite overwhelmed and perhaps frustrated by being in this state.

The latter suggests something quite positive, a state of flow where satisfaction is gained through engaging in these activities and that they’ve been chosen, rather than having been imposed by some external source.

My personal fixation with the word ‘busy’ has cultivated itself from a number of recurring conversations that I started noticing, probably about five years ago:

  • At work:

Me -“How are you?”

Colleague – “So busy. But I’m sure you’re just the same.”

{Once I started noticing the regularity of this patter}

Me – “No actually, I’m not really that busy.”

Colleague – look of bewilderment and confusion as if I’d just said something in Martian.

  • When arranging to see friends:

“We’re busy pretty much every weekend until September.” In June.

  • When commenting on not having seen someone for a long time:

“Oh yes, I’ve just been so busy.”

  • In my own head:

“Why am I rarely overwhelmingly busy at work?”

“Why am I not busy every weekend until September?”

“Why have I not been so busy as to not be in touch with some people?”

“Why do I find myself wishing I was busier?”

Now reader, before you descend upon me with a tirade of abuse, I fully accept that I approach this debate from a relatively unique and perhaps controversial perspective: I am a single 35 year old female with no children, who lives on her own and has had a series of jobs where I’ve not found it particularly difficult to get what is required done to a high standard in less time than seems to be expected by my employers.

Some aspects of my experience may appear desirable (and they are), some may not (and they aren’t).

I also accept that we all experience periods of life when things are genuinely busy because a number of significant events unexpectedly coincide. I’m in no way suggesting that the state of ‘busyness’ does not exist or is in some way imagined but I don’t believe it’s an aspirational steady state or norm.

I feel that it’s a word and a state of being that is massively overused in conversation, that is over relied upon as an excuse for having neglected something/someone and, more concerning, is something that we increasingly associate with success.

It felt like one of the reasons why I got the bewildered looks at work wasn’t because they felt it was unfair that they were so busy and I didn’t perceive that I was (which I could have understood), but because they directly associated busyness with high performance and they found it somewhat surprising that I was effectively confessing to being a poor performer. I think they were also shocked to hear these words come out of someone’s mouth because they were so used to hearing, probably several times a day, exactly the opposite.

When it comes to friends, if someone tells me they haven’t seen or spoken to me because they’ve been busy, then firstly it feels like this is their autopilot/get out of jail free card and secondly (because I’m paranoid about my lack of busyness) that I just haven’t made it near enough to the top of their priority list.

What I’d rather hear is that they agree that we haven’t been in touch enough and that they’d also like to do something about that going forwards. Saying “I’ve been busy” just doesn’t really cut it and I don’t genuinely feel this is what my true friends mean – it has just become the stock, unconscious response.

My other preferred response to the “I’m busy/have been busy” statement is “Good busy or bad busy?”. In line with the two definitions quoted above, I think we can mean quite different things by this word and it’s important to me, whether as a friend or as a colleague, to understand which camp the person is in. I also think this clarification tends to lead to a more interesting and useful conversation which is perhaps more likely to reveal any real underlying problem/stressor than is gained through the mutual grunting about our collective busyness.

We all have exactly the same allocation of time in each day, week and year. We each make our own choices, consciously or unconsciously, what we do with that time.

If you spend 30 minutes a week ironing your bedsheets (apparently there are people out there who do this) but, as a result, don’t then have 30 minutes to go for coffee with a friend then you’re effectively saying that ironed bedsheets are either more important or pleasurable for you than spending time with that friend. There is no problem if that is the case but, if it’s not, then you might do well to review how you’re spending your time.

I have purposefully been somewhat facetious with this example but many of the choices that we make about how we spend are time are actually quite simple. Some of us just don’t realise it because we either don’t take conscious control of the choices we make and subsequent impact upon our time, or we tend to forget that the way that we currently use our time is the result of a very good conscious decision that we made in the past.

For some of us, if you added up all the 30 minutes we spend doing things which aren’t truly important, necessary, aligned with our goals or enjoyable then there might be a whole lot of time available for other things which would ultimately make us happier.

On the flip side, I know a handful of people who are genuinely busy – prime examples would be women who simultaneously work full-time, raise children, run a household, have a social life and attempt to maintain their sanity. In my eyes, they are nothing short of Superwoman and I find it exhausting to just observe their lives. The most interesting thing here is that you very rarely find these people commenting that they are busy – they may say that they are exhausted or reaching their wits end, but rarely busy. They are very aware that their time is precious and therefore they ensure their choices are very conscious.

So, if you asked me, right now, how I’m doing…..I’d say that I’m delighted with the pace at which my new business is gaining momentum, I’m very much enjoying filling my time with other goals like yoga and reading more, I’m trying to be more conscious about how I spend my time but that I’m sometimes more lonely than I’d like to be so would prefer to spend more quality time with people with whom I have a great connection.

Whether that constitutes being busy or not is irrelevant to me – the same number of hours pass by in my day as in yours, regardless of how we choose to spend them.

My concluding suggestion is that we start to notice how many times a day we, or those around us, use the word busy – how often is it genuine and how often is it masking or excusing something else?

And, much more importantly, that we ask ourselves whether we’d like to be using our time differently, more effectively and/or more efficiently?

Finally, if you feel justified in continuing to frequently refer to yourself as “busy” then be prepared that your gravestone might look like this:

Hana Manthorpe



She deserves the rest.

She was really busy.