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The Burden of Busy

Photograph by Getty Images/Vetta

During the daily life small talk involved in a social gathering or preschool pickup, I often find myself giving the same stock response to the common question of “How are you?”

“Busy,” I say, in an exasperated tone. It’s like a knee-jerk reaction, where others might simply say, “Great! How are you?” I say “Busy,” or sometimes a more dramatic and weighed-down version of “Ugh, so busy.” And then, of course, I ask them how they’re doing and what’s happening and all of that polite banter, because though my back and forth may be boring, I’m certainly not rude.

Regardless of how mundane the common chitchat we all experience can be, I began to notice how my reply of being so busy all the time a) made me feel incredibly overwhelmed and stressed out, and b) wasn’t always particularly true.

As a type A, self-employed mother of one, I, like many others, try to do it all. My plate being full is just not sufficient. To really feel like I’m being productive, I have to pile so much on there that it makes a Las Vegas buffet feel like a cleanse. Between being our own boss and trying to maintain a “have it all” façade, as modern-day women, we have been trained to believe that busy is better and being so busy that you are on the brink of losing your mind on a regular basis must mean that you’re really accomplishing big things.

I have been the biggest culprit of perpetuating this idea, but several months ago, I started to hear how stagnant, inaccurate and (ironically) unproductive my robotic response was. I decided to change it, if not only for being a better conversationalist, but more important, how it’s made me feel to have a much healthier perspective on productivity and be a better example for my son.

I consciously made the move to the other side of busy (the brighter side) by realizing that I am super lucky to do what I love for a living—right up until I cloud it with this 4-letter word of "busy," to the point that it’s all just a big burden. I don’t have to project the image of being crazy busy all of the time to be successful. People aren’t actually impressed if you’re busy and frenzied; instead, they are shut out by the proverbial wall you're building from busyness.

These days, I reply more genuinely; the majority of the time, my answer to how I'm doing is still “busy,” but in a different context. More like, “I’m great, things are good, work is busy. How are you?” Nothing groundbreaking, but the slight shift from being a total sack of potatoes kind of busy—where I would basically spew my to-do list out at the poor person listening—to having a lighter, more balanced outlook helped my perspective on what it means to be busy. Basically, busy isn’t always better.

I technically still do as many things in a day as I used to, and I'm just as busy, but rarely does anything on my to-do list feel like a chore now. I realize that overpacking a schedule will only make me feel insane, not accomplished. Plus, being in a less frenzied state is obviously better for my health, for my son’s well being, my husband’s sanity, and my relationships with friends and co-workers.

I would never call myself calm. It’s just not my nature and I’m fine with that. But placing myself in a consistent state of frenetic and "dark cloud" kind of energy because I think it projects an image of success and productivity is just tiresome—and not just for me, but for anyone getting the same “busy” signal every single time they tried to say a simple hello.

Melissa Magsaysay is co-founder of The Hive.

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