Recently, I noticed my tendency to use a particular four-letter word quite often, and I’m starting to wonder whether this word might be worth a reevaluation. What is this word, you ask? Naturally, it’s “busy”. I hear myself frequently answer the question “How are you?” with that word attached almost as a punctuation mark at the end of my reply: “Oh, you know – I’m really busy.”
It is a reasonably accurate word to use since the daily schedule includes plenty of activities with work, home, kids, friendships, etc. Yet it does very little to communicate how I am feeling in the midst of all the things that occupy my time. It also seems that, more and more, hearing myself describe how busy I am allows me to get caught up in the feeling that life is coming at me with all sorts of details and all I can do is try to keep myself afloat in a sea of everyday activities.
Perhaps most importantly, describing myself as “busy” tempts me to forget all the choices I have when, in reality, I am more in charge of where I direct my energy than the word “busy” would lead me to believe.
More often, I try to think a little less about being “busy” and a little more about the absolute gift of having so much to do. My father, having just turned 90 and spending a lot of time in his retirement apartment would no doubt jump at the chance to go to the grocery store, attend the little league game, or even clean out the basement storage room. I know a few people battling serious illnesses and I imagine their goals might include the ability to be “busy” with some of these more routine things.
Truthfully, spending too much time thinking about all we have to do can give us the impression that our plate is not only full, it is completely spilling over. It helps to remember that the tasks, errands and activities that comprise our “to-do” list exist because we live completely independently and, as such, they reflect our ability to enjoy everyday life.
Along with helping my perspective, focusing less on being “busy” helps me to concentrate more on what is currently happening instead of worrying too much about the future. It can be absolutely overwhelming to think too far ahead, and usually the current project suffers when we spend time thinking about what we have to do next.
In the frantic morning rush to leave the house on time, I have been known to put two unmatched shoes in the cross country bag or give the lunch with the peanut butter sandwich to the one who can’t stand peanut butter. I suspect my tendency to see myself as behind before even getting out of bed contributes greatly to the stress of these mornings. If I take a few seconds and a few deep breaths, I can slow down and save myself from mistakes. Slowing down even more may help me have the presence of mind to delegate packing backpacks (including the last minute lunch inspection) to each backpack owner, producing benefits for all of us.
Staying away from being “busy” gives me a better chance to keep to that regular exercise routine and stop making excuses for why I did not return a phone call. Again, as with most people, I often have more than enough demands competing for my time. Yet, with growing realization, I acknowledge that I make time for many activities that might not always be as important. More often than not, I have time to drive by the coffee shop for a latte. I manage to check social media daily and find out what keeps other people occupied. Shifting a few of these priorities opens up time to send a quick “thinking of you” message to a struggling friend, actually spend that 30 minutes a day reading a good book, or even sit quietly and appreciate the beautiful backyard scenery.
Overall, it is more important to think about how we view our day-to-day lives than about any four-letter word we use or don’t use. I want to be sure I remember there is plenty of time in the day to appreciate the amazing gifts life has to offer.
Laura B. joined Empathia in 2000 and is an EAP Counselor. Laura has a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from Northwestern University and a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a concentration in marriage and family therapy. Prior to joining Empathia, she worked as a case manager with chronically mentally ill adults readjusting to life in the community. Laura enjoys reading, attending kids’ activities and spending time with family.