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Busy vs. full: Why being busy doesn’t make you important

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Busyness has become a badge of honor. We respond to questions about how we’re doing with an automatic, “I’m good. Life’s been busy!” And it’s completely normal to do so, since society has long glorified busyness as something we should be proud of.

Let me ask you this: Is being “busy” really something to take pride in? What does it really mean to be busy? If we aren’t busy, does it make our lives less satisfying? Does being busy make us more important than someone who is taking things slow, or enjoys living a simpler life? I used to think so, until I realized that busyness doesn’t equal fulfillment. I was chasing the feeling of importance, to feel like I had better things to do, to prove that I was significant.

Being busy can mean that we are hard workers, but ultimately, that doesn’t make us any more important than someone who doesn’t want to live that way. Anyone can choose to be busy—all it means is that we’ve decided to fill our schedule with commitments.

We use busyness as an excuse to not hang out with people, and sincerely believe that it’s our hectic schedule that keeps us from availability. But we all make time for what’s important to us. Whether or not we consciously make these decisions, saying we’re busy says something to other people.

Here are three ways to reframe busyness.

Shift the way you talk about your schedule from “busy” to “full.”

It’s funny how much wording can shift the way we feel. When I go from the phrasing of “busy” to “full,” I feel so much more purposeful about how I look at my schedule. Living a full life involves doing things that fill us up and add value to our lives. I don’t want to simply be busy, but instead fill my time with meaning, and do things that serve my greater purpose in life. It helps me choose to do things that I find joy in rather than taking on projects because I want to feel important or because it looks likes something that would be impressive to an outsider. Those projects leave me feeling busy, but not full.

Get clear on your priorities.

The shift from “busy” to “full” is also a helpful communication tool for saying no.

When we say we’re too busy to do something, we’re really saying, “This isn’t a priority to me right now.” We all find the time to do the things that are important to us. It’s an excuse that we give to people when we don’t have the mental room or desire to make it happen right now.

It may be that the person’s ask causes us stress or maybe it simply doesn’t align with our values and we shouldn’t add it to our plate. But regardless of the reason for wanting to say no, busyness is not an excuse that feels good from either side. It might be better to be honest with yourself, and the person asking something of you, and acknowledge that it’s simply not your priority right now.

If you were to ask someone to look at your calendar, would it be clear to them what your priorities are? Would they get a good understanding of who you are as a person and what you value most in life? If not, it’s time to reconfigure your schedule and take a look at how your life reflects your goals. At the end of the day, if your life isn’t filled with purpose and aligning to what you want most in life, you’re wasting your time.

If you value family, spend most of your time there. If you value caring for your neighborhood and want to be a leader in your community, take on more projects that help your city. But if those don’t align with you, be good to yourself and pause on saying yes to them. Get clear on your goals, and what you care about doing with your life. You’ll do your best work when you feel like you’re fully aligned with your decisions.

Picture your life as seasons.

Life won’t always be filled with things that light us up. Sometimes we have to walk through hard times or commit to things we don’t want to do, but we can think of them as temporary seasons. Your schedule won’t always be full. The same way that summer turns into fall, our personal seasons shift constantly and our needs change with it. We can use the harder seasons as signs to take it easier and to leave room in our schedules to breathe and care for ourselves. And in our healthiest seasons, we can create an extremely full schedule. Our lives need to be flexible, and we need to adjust when the season calls for us to change our ways.

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