They say busy is the new black, but are people as busy as they’re letting on? Here’s what I’m Too Busy really means.

What I'm Too Busy Really Means


We’ve all been there. You’re putting together an event, or trying to catch up with someone you haven’t seen in a while, or trying to make an appointment with the family, and just trying to lock it all down. Put it in the calendar, tee up the appointment, make it happen. But alas, the person or people you’re trying to lock down respond with that line that we use all too often nowadays – “I’m too busy”. 

What got me thinking on these lines recently is how many times I’ve heard this expression used in the workplace. The nature of my sort of work is that there are multiple aspects and dimensions to delivering software in a timely manner, and sometimes there are different business directions, new features, or even just better structures that need to be put in place to further the work. It can be a nightmare seeing these things implemented sometimes as all too often the response from team members is exactly that – “I’m too busy for that”.

Let’s be honest, it’s not just others pull this line out. We use it a lot ourselves. I wonder how many times someone has tried to catch up with me or get me to do something and I’ve responded with this statement. I do live a pretty full life – I’m quite involved in my career, I volunteer a lot of hours for various causes, and I have a lot of family and friends I try to stay in touch with. In between all that is looking after yourself, looking after the house, making sure all the bills are getting paid, preparing for future events and personal and professional development… it seems like there’s a lot of stuff vying for our time. On top is trying to make sure the right amount of rest and relaxation balanced into all that.

So when people say “I’m too busy”, and when I say it, we could truly justify using it as the reason “why not” for a lot of areas of our lives.

I love this line from a Deas Vail song called Shadows and City Lights – “and we owe this to ourselves: to say what we really mean”. There are lots of times where we just pull this line when it’s not actually true at all. And sometimes there’s more than what these three words on their own are saying. So let’s have an honest look at it, shall we? Here’s what I’m Too Busy really means.

Because we like Netflix too much. I don’t actually have a Netflix account (although I keep getting told I need to get it to check out Vincent D’Onofrio as The Kingpin in Daredevil), but this is more to prove a point. You know that awkward moment when someone has told you they’re too busy for something, and you found out they’re just catching up on a TV series? Or you get busted playing video games at home when there’s something else you said you’d get to if you didn’t have too much else on? Whoops. I’m sure we’ve all done this before.

I guess the point of this one is when we’re saying we’re too busy… what exactly are we “too busy” doing? And are they things that should take up as much time as they do? I’m a big fan of ensuring you’re getting enough rest and all that, but sometimes we have too much time in our week we’re filling with long naps and nights in and time off. When we say we’re studying, we’re actually just catching up on the latest Vines. When we say we can’t get involved, maybe it’s because too much of our time is already given over to constant relaxation. We have 168 hours a week – I wonder how many of those we give to starting and finishing TV series, video games and books every week, at the expense of things we probably should be doing?

Because we’re tired. Sometimes it’s easier telling people we’re too busy rather than just saying “ah actually I’m really tired right now and can’t make it”. Definitely done this one before if I’m brutally honest with myself, and I’m sure we all have. I wonder why we’d rather say we’re busy instead of owning up to feeling worn out? Being tired is a pretty natural part of life, especially after you’re giving your best efforts in so many different areas. Maybe it’d just be okay to tell people we’re having a night in when we need it.

I think there are bigger things to consider if we’re using this all the time, though. If we work 40 hours a week, why do we feel the need to use 60 hours for recovery? Perhaps the way we’re approaching our work life or how we’re feeling about our job is unhealthy and demanding more hours in recovery than we’re putting into actually doing it.

Because we would need to replace something else. I’ve worked on a wide variety of different IT projects across a number of different government and private sector organizations, and something that is always in common in their delivery is observing the rule that we can’t put anything new into our scope of work unless we take something else out. You can’t have a scope of work that’s estimated to take the team 4 weeks, add another few one week tasks, and expect the original delivery time frame to still be achievable.

I find it the same in my life. If I give my time to something new, I have to replace something else I’m already doing. I mean, I do use my 168 hours every week. It’s just whether or not the things I’m doing are replaceable. Or whether or not I consider them replaceable. If I don’t, I probably won’t make room for it. But if there’s nothing in my week I think can be moved around, or maybe something unnecessary that I don’t need to give so much time towards, maybe I shouldn’t be saying I’m busy.

Because we’re unfocused. All of us procrastinate at times. Unfortunately, procrastination is one of the biggest robbers of our future, and of our present. The other extreme of behaviour is to just say yes to everything and do too much

Can I have it all and do it all, please? No. We can’t. We’re constantly bombarded with stories of people who seem to be able to do every single thing possible, but you’ll find that these people in truth actually only focus on a few things, and years of focus has meant they don’t need to spend so much time doing them to still do them well. Focus is a game changer for how we spend our time and how busy we are.

Because we’re bad at time management. Snap. Maybe we wouldn’t feel so busy or overwhelmed if it didn’t take us 30 hours to clean the house, or 3 hours to cook, or 20 hours to write that essay, or 2 hours to set up our work environment at the start of the day. It’s usually just a symptom of being unfocused. If we could use that time we have more effectively, it wouldn’t be as big a deal.

Because we don’t consider it important. I think it’s whatever we consider a priority that we actually end up doing. If that friendship or that task or that assignment or that holiday or that act of service isn’t something we care about, we probably won’t do it.

It’s amazing how quickly our view of “important” can change though. People say they’re too busy for looking after their health until they have a heart attack. Now all of a sudden they can make time for it. People say they’re too busy for their family until their son or daughter makes a really bad decision. Now they realize they need to be more present. I used to think I was too busy for a night off every week, until I realized how much less productive I was without at least one. Maybe we shouldn’t be so set in our ways.

Because it falls outside of what we should be doing. Sometimes, there are things we really shouldn’t be giving time to. Once again – focus. What should I be focusing on? That’s probably what I should give time to. And in those instances, yeah, I’m probably too busy for that other stuff.

Because we have no margin in our lives. I think if we find ourselves saying “I’m too busy” all the time, it’s a sign we’re burning the candle at both ends. We tell people we’re too busy because we feel like we literally have no more room for anything else.

I really loved something a pastor at church said this morning about making sure we’re interruptable. That is to say, we can’t always be so preoccupied with the tasks in our lives that we miss an opportunity to do good. There has to be some extra room in our lives that allows us to be open to opportunities like this.

Margin is a powerful thing. It protects me because it means if something unexpected happens, I’m not so trapped by my schedule and demands and expectations that I’m trapped and explode. It also protects you because it means I’ve made extra room in my life in case you need more from me.

I love looking at these expressions we so often use in life and having a deeper look at what we really mean when we say certain things. There’s usually a lot more going on than our simple statements are saying. What do you think? Have you heard or used the expression “I’m too busy”?


One Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Discover more from Walking the Shoreline

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading