Back in 2012, a guy called Tim Kreider wrote an opinion piece for The New York Times called The “Busy” Trap.

Tim suggests that society views those who are busy as people who are winning at life. Because look how busy they are!

If you live in America in the 21st century you’ve probably had to listen to a lot of people tell you how busy they are. It’s become the default response when you ask anyone how they’re doing: “Busy!” “So busy.” “Crazy busy.” It is, pretty obviously, a boast disguised as a complaint. And the stock response is a kind of congratulation: “That’s a good problem to have,” or “Better than the opposite.”

So why are we all so busy and why don’t I ever use the word when I describe my own workload?

Why so busy?

It’s almost as though being busy has become a modern-day status symbol because it makes us feel so good about ourselves.

It allows us to cherry-pick the invitations and responsibilities we choose to dedicate time for and therefore feeds our internal view of our own self-importance.

And thinking back to Tim’s article which was published in 2012, life seems to have become busier and busier. Now, 68% of people in the UK own a smartphone and we’re always switched ‘on’ to the world. We often become stuck in those feel-good dopamine loops linked to our need for instant gratification which we get through social media notifications and having the information we immediately want right at our fingertips.

All of this then goes on to fuel our so-called ‘busyness’.

The humble brag

Then there continues to be a misconception within the business world that if we’re not telling other people how busy we are then we’re clearly not working hard enough.

Person A: “Hey! How are you?”
Person B: “Oh gosh, REALLY busy! How are you?”
Person A: “Yeah, busy, busy!”

The busy badge of honour has turned into yet another default response no better than “I’m fine, thanks”.

Busy versus productive

We all have the same number of hours in our days and there’s a remarkable difference between being busy and being productive.

I could have a busy day binge-watching my boxset of Friends. Sure, the comedy would bring me joy, but it doesn’t get me any closer to my business or life goals. So, upon reflection, would I be truly ‘busy’?

Or I could have a productive day working through my task list and getting one step closer to achieving my quarterly business goals.

Therefore, I have to take the time to reflect on whether the actions I’m taking in life are genuinely leading me in the direction I want to go, or whether they’re simply wasting my precious time.

Freeing yourself from the busy trap

If you find you are so busy that you are no longer productive or don’t have time to pursue the things that bring you joy, there needs to be a change. Here are some ideas:

  • Gain perspective – if you’re running yourself ragged with the sheer volume of time commitments, take a step back and consider what you could give up.
  • Limit distractions – turning off social media (use an app like Cold Turkey if you need extra help) or switching your phone onto silent can help ensure focus.
  • Review working practices – have a dedicated workspace and ensure maximum productivity by making a to-do list and sticking to it. Time management techniques such as Pomodoro will help break up tasks into manageable chunks of deep focus.
  • Take on additional help – not every business owner enjoys all aspects of running a business and should never use their precious time completing tasks that could easily be outsourced.
  • Say no – it’s simply not necessary to say yes to everything and there are ways of declining without hurting someone’s feelings. I highly recommend this book by Sarah Knight which is all about how you can stop spending time you don’t have, doing the things you don’t want to do, with the people you possibly don’t even like.



If you recognise yourself in this article and would like to unpin your busy badge of honour, a VA can help. Please contact me for a complimentary consultation.