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I Am Not Busy

I have been thinking about busyness since my Randi Zuckerberg post as well as Raven Rambling’s post about realizing why she overschedules herself.  She writes about how she overcommits in order to feel needed, and I realized reading it that I do the exact.same.thing:

It makes for a very busy life, but I like to be busy. Nothing makes me more content then getting shit done – even if I’m sick, I keep on trudging. It makes me feel useful, and I need to feel useful … I don’t actually enjoy being so busy…but I need to be busy for my own peace of mind. And I need to be busy because it makes me feel useful… and I need to feel useful because I usually feel like a useless, infertile, non-mothering woman.

That is me.  Except that I would say that I need to feel useful because it staves off this feeling that if I’m not useful, I’m without worth. If I’m super busy, it means I’m worth something, right?  It means people find value in me and my skills.  It turns me into the equivalent of a dollar.

You know, dollars: you put dollars in your wallet and would feel bummed if one fell on the ground and was lost to the wind.  Whereas if a penny dropped to the bottom of your purse or out of your pocket… oh well… not a big deal.  Being seen as a dollar is so commonplace that it’s totally attainable.  I’m not looking to be the best or the biggest or the brightest: just someone with some basic value.


Image: Moneyblognewz via Flickr

I mean, yes, hopefully to Josh and the twins and people like that, I am more than just a dollar.  Maybe I am a million dollars or priceless.  But to the rest of the world, the greater world, I want to be a dollar.

So I try to make myself feel valuable by saying yes a lot.  Sometimes it feels like I don’t stop from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep.  But I also know that’s how I want to see my life.

It’s the story I tell myself about my day.


Because I’m not busy by Randi Zuckerberg’s definition of busy.  I can fit everything in.  I get some me-time.  If I want to grab dinner with a friend, I can make that happen.  I do a half hour of yoga every morning.  I have a lot of time with the kids.  I mean, we still have time to sit down and read books together in the afternoon, an activity that takes a shitload of time when you think about it.  Josh and I take two hours or so of downtime every night to watch television or read a book or… do other things.  And I work about 9 hours a day.

I go through busy periods, but I would never tweet about the Writer’s Dilemma.  Busy periods, like first-pass, are all limited in scope.  Two busy weeks where I have to buckle down and put in more hours, and then… back to normal life.  Which is apparently not busy.

And yet, Raven Rambling’s post spoken volumes to me because prior to reading Zuckerberg’s tweet, I would have said that was overcommitted.  But am I, really, if I can fit in many different facets of life?  Maybe not.


I don’t think most people want to live with their life battery on empty.  Few people have the stamina of someone like Barack Obama whose every second is accounted for and squeezed for its possible usefulness.  I mean, the man can’t even change into his pyjama bottoms at 4 pm.  What sort of life is that — wearing real clothes until night time?

In a Daily Dot article on busyness, the author states,

Busyness has become a status symbol of sorts, one that we use to promote our worth to the rest of the world. “Almost everyone I know is busy,” wrote the New York Times’ Tim Kreider in 2012. “They feel anxious and guilty when they aren’t either working or doing something to promote their work.”

Yes, it’s a status symbol regardless of your job — everyone wants to appear as if their existence matters and their presence is needed.  Would people have sat up and listened if Randi Zuckerberg said, “Hey, people, I’m not busy at all right now.”  Nope.  She wouldn’t have sounded like she mattered.  I mean, if you’re a someone of value, you must be busy, right?  So the moment she says, “I am so busy,” we all nod and answer, “Me too.”  Because if not, aren’t we sort of saying that Randi Zuckerberg is more important than the rest of us?

Maybe she is?  I don’t know.  I’d sort of be okay with that.


The point of that Zuckerberg post is that we all need to take a long, hard look at how we spend our time and be honest about it.  Can we really not spend time with our friends, or did we spend so much time on Facebook one afternoon that the day got away from us?  If we hadn’t checked into Facebook at all, could we have grabbed coffee with a friend for an hour?

I can say, with my life, the answer is almost always yes.

I loved Northern Star’s comment on the last post about the old Wall Street Journal article on busyness:

Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point.

There are times when I get busy and I can’t return a phone call or see a person.  I work during the day, so many of my hours are spoken for, and I live by the twins’ schedule in the hours after that.  But if the other person is flexible and the commitment isn’t time sensitive, I can shift things around and figure out how to work it all in.  All five of those things are a priority; it’s just that sometimes one thing on the list trumps other things on the list.  But yeah, if you look at my week overall, I get to all of my priorities.

(Remember, you may look at those six categories in the other post and say, “Feh, exercise is something I just don’t care about.”  So then you’d only have five priorities.  Or the six you come up with may look totally different from mine.)

Back to Randi.  Does Randi Zuckerberg really never have time to see friends?  Or does she look at the friends she has and think, “I can get more out of life right now going to a cool event for work than I can having yet another slice of pizza with Mary.”  Poor Mary.  But the point is that we all make decisions with our time, and sometimes I think those decisions are the kind I speak of above: to make ourselves feel busier than we actually are in order to stave off some other feeling.  And other times, it just feels yucky to think that we’re not making someone or something we love a priority, so it’s easier to say that we’re just too busy for it.


You know how some restaurants tape their first dollar to the wall? (You know, the classy joints.) They do it to remind themselves of how far they’ve come.  From one dollar to a thriving business.  Maybe I need to do the same thing: tape a dollar bill over my desk because it’s all perception.

I know I am a dollar.  I know I do my job well.  I’m not the best or the biggest or the brightest, but if someone hires me to do a job, I complete the task and turn in a strong product.  I think I have value when it comes to my friends and family and community.  Sometimes I have a lot to do, sometimes I don’t.  Sometimes I’m in a period of time that is more thinking than accomplishing.  It’s all part of the process.

I don’t know if I’m busy or not.  I suspect that I’m not based on other people’s answers.  But I’m also okay with that.  I sort of like not being too busy.  It means that I get to do all the voices for Hunger Games while reading to the kids, and I do an awesome Effie Trinket.  It’s worth at least a dollar.


1 a { 03.09.16 at 8:08 am }

I try not to be busy. Being overscheduled stresses me out, so I don’t do it. If I have to go to Family Skate Night, I am exhausted by the time I get home (at 8:30…and I don’t even skate!). As far as work goes…I suppose I’ve been burnt out for a number of years. Fortunately, I haven’t really had to exceed my limit of time I’m willing to give. But I learned early enough that my only reward for hard work was…more work – usually the stuff that other people didn’t feel like doing. And the only one who values my time properly is me. So I hoard my time like it’s gold and spend it doing things that relax me or entertain me, or I donate that time to my family. My daughter says it’s not enough, but she would only be satisfied with my every minute, waking or sleeping.

In other words, I completely agree that it’s a matter of priorities. If you want time to do something, you make a place in your schedule.

2 illustr8d { 03.09.16 at 10:30 am }

Getting hurt changed my life like this. Now I’m forced not to be busy a certain amount of time every day. It is not a choice.

But I never really equated being busy with being important, so it’s not really causing me to question my value.

I have a penny story, and I think I will tell it on my blog, because it is such a wonderful (and slightly lengthy) story. But suffice to say, I’m very content with being a penny. 🙂

3 Raven { 03.09.16 at 10:55 am }

Thank you for the mention! I wouldn’t have equated that feeling busy makes me feel valuable – but you hit the nail right on the head. It absolutely does make me feel like I’m worth something.

Having said that: I think busyness is more a feeling than anything else – so someone else can’t define it for you (like Zuckerberg). I am busy because I FEEL busy – even if I do a lot less in my day than you (or someone else). I also sometimes wonder if feeling too busy is actually a trigger to our minds that something is off balance – somehow we’re not meeting our emotional/physical/social needs. I have some good friends who do SO MUCH MORE every day than others but never complain of being busy because they have great balance in their lives. It’s such a common, yet interesting topic!

4 Charlotte { 03.09.16 at 11:58 am }

You know, years ago I worked at a place with a girl who was married with one child. We were in a group discussion and she asked if I had decorated for Christmas yet, and I had answered yes, that we had done that weeks ago. She lamented that she wished she could, but she was just too busy and had not yet found the time to decorate. And I remember finding that sad. Sad for her, and sad for her child. That she wasn’t making time to do something she had spoken about being so important to her and her child. Funny enough, I didn’t even like or get along much with this person, yet I go back to this conversation in my head every time I start to get super busy and lose focus. I don’t want to be the person who couldn’t be bothered to decorate (or whatever else it is) because I was too busy. So I definitely have times where my life is so jam-packed. But I refuse to over schedule myself. I can’t live like that, because to me running from here to there nonstop is not living. The only people I care about knowing my worth are my husband and kids, and my co-workers at work for work-related things. Everyone else can suck it.?

5 Sharon { 03.09.16 at 12:40 pm }

I am way too busy most of the time. It’s not something I actively choose, and I definitely don’t over-schedule myself: it’s something necessitated by my work (demanding) and parenting two small children. I often wish I could be less busy. But that seems impossible for the foreseeable future.

Pre-children I had a fair amount of free time, and I can say that I rarely do (or did) things just to be busy or to feel valuable.

6 Working mom of 2 { 03.09.16 at 5:41 pm }

Me too.

This discussion kind of reminds me of articles on saving money. They’re all “you can save tons of cash by brown bagging it 3x a week.” Uh, I brown bag it every day. Similarly, telling me I can save oodles of time by cutting back on Facebook (not on it) and not being busy just to feel important (not doing that) is also not helpful.

7 Ana { 03.09.16 at 1:53 pm }

another laura vanderkam mention (the wall street journal article). Actually I read an article by vanderkam around the time my son was born and it REALLY struck a cord. I stopped saying I was “too busy” to do something important, like take care of my health or call my mom, because it is nothing but an excuse. I have 10 minutes to read this post & type this comment, I could call my mom or schedule a dental appointment or do a quick meditation exercise or run a mile in 10 minutes. Sure, sometimes your schedule doesn’t permit you to use small chunks of time efficiently (I can’t actually go for a run right now, at work, in my work clothes, before a meeting) but ultimately how I choose to spend my time is a choice that I alone can make. If I don’t work out its because I didn’t MAKE time, not because I didn’t HAVE time. We all have the same time.

8 katherinea12 { 03.09.16 at 3:37 pm }

Oh, this one hit home. Yep, I think that a huge part of the continuous busy-ness of my life at times has been a sort of subconscious need to justify my worth. I remember this summer, which I spent in a haze of trying to acclimate to a new job and juggling doctor’s appointments/early intervention/feeding issues with my preemie (on monitors) and trying to explain to my husband when he got home *exactly* what I’d done with my day. Not that he demanded to know or chastised me for anything, I just felt for some reason like I needed to explain how busy I’d been and that even though the dishes weren’t done, etc, I’d been doing *something* ‘worthy’.

One of the biggest things I’ve had to tell myself is that a certain chunk of time doing things others might find wasteful (zoning out, being on facebook, etc) is necessary for me. I’ve discovered that when I take breaks and intentionally disengage from whatever my main task is for even a short period, I am generally far more efficient, creative, and able to deal with whatever frustrations I need to face in the task. The trick, of course, is to find a balance where I’m neither zoning/facebook/etc too much nor totally exhausted by what I’m trying to get done.

I’ve gotten to the point where I’m very careful about my schedule and make sure I don’t over-schedule myself. When I do, I’m miserable. Better (at least for me) to do a few things well than a lot of stuff without putting my best into it.

9 Valery Valentina { 03.09.16 at 4:36 pm }

Smiling here. My manager called me today and said: “You have to help me. Tell me what your current project is about. Because I’m updating your resume. Because I know it is not a priority for you.”
I love my new company and how they understand me and my priorities.
(Current project will end in 4 weeks time)

I don’t need so much to be or feel busy, but I realise it makes me feel good if people need/want me. The flip side is I had a hard time admitting I need other people as well. Being independent is important to me! Hope you will write about that too some day.

10 Ekhlas { 03.09.16 at 6:03 pm }

For me is the same busy from the time I weak up until the time I go to sleep but there is a difference between I am busy or driving myself crazy by booking too much in to my day, that would be insane and unhealthy!
I work from 8-5 every day and go home clean, cook and test my recipes. Our kids all grownup and KIND of moved out but most weekend filled hanging out with them and doing things with the granddaughters. (we are very young to be grandparents 🙂 )
Spend time with the hubby, talking about politics, our jobs or watching some TV, well most of the time the TV is watching him, he falls a sleep and most of the time I am yelling at him to get up hahahahaha but that’s how we spend time after a long hard day at work!
So I think life should be busy in order to accomplish something but not to drive yourself crazy and drained!!

11 Mali { 03.09.16 at 9:02 pm }

I wrote a post on A Separate Life almost five years ago called The Martyred Slaves of Time about busyness. I confessed, “My name is Mali, and I am Not That Busy.” https://aseparatelife.wordpress.com/2011/04/10/busyness/

I’m even less busy these days, though I still don’t have time to do some of the things I want to do. I just don’t equate busy with being worthy. You can be both, but there’s no correlation there as far as I’m concerned. There’s so much more I would like to say, but this is your post not mine.

Oh, and I was struck by a comment you made at the beginning. If you feel over-committed, then maybe you are. Period.

12 Jjiraffe { 03.09.16 at 11:18 pm }

I have been thinking about Randi’s tweet too (thanks for the h/t) and here’s the conclusion I have come to. I am busy-neutral. I don’t think either being busy or not busy is better than the other. I don’t think I am better or worse than anyone else because my job keeps me so occupied. I don’t think someone who has more time is lesser or better than me, either.

I personally liked Randi’s tweet because it was targeted to entrepreneurs – which is a crazy nuts profession. Again, not better or worse than any other career, just super time consuming. I work at a start-up so it resonated.

Sometimes, balance just isn’t possible. When I know my days are jam packed from dawn to 10 pm, I don’t want to hear some guru from Oprah or something tell me I need to add more stuff to my life. I have enough guilt and stress as it is. So Randi’s tweet resonated. It was refreshing to hear someone in that position say that.

There are lots of ways we can value ourselves. And I think those ways should not be fixed, but agile and applicable to many different situations. Because women are not a homogenous block of sameness but a rainbow spectrum of different situations. Therein lays the rub but also the beauty.

13 Apluseffort { 03.10.16 at 12:28 am }

I love your take on this. The phrase that popped up for me was humble brag. Being busy is often the humble brag of being important.
I do enjoy keeping myself busy (probably because I have had undiagnosed ADHD all my life, ahem) and love the satisfaction of accomplishing things. But I’m totally fine with Randi being more important than me too.

14 deathstar { 03.10.16 at 11:08 am }

Busy is what I do when I want to feel like I’m living a life of purpose. Of value. Not necessarily of monetary value though that is certainly a great feeling. With money comes power to have choices in life. Without choices, the scope of your life is narrowed. If you have more than enough money to satisfy your expectations of what you think society demands then you can choose to channel your time for philanthropic causes. Yet you actually don’t require a lot of money to do that. Just enough to buy you time. When I got a chance to mother a child, I took it and my time to do certain things evaporated because well having a child does take an inordinate amount of waking hours and mental energy(at least when you don’t have help).

When I am busy, I do feel important, I feel like I am creating value and money and creativity. It also helps me from feeling inadequate, insecure and negative. Comparing yourself to others is a source of misery. I know, cause I do it a lot. When I’m not busy.

15 deathstar { 03.10.16 at 12:14 pm }

I remember being witness to a woman in a group who kept talking about how busy she was a mother. She was the only person who didn’t have a paying job and while she was prattling on about how SO busy she was managing her kids, I could see how people were annoyed with her and wished she would shut up. I knew she was just lonely, insecure and unfulfilled. And yet Randi talks about being so busy being a titan of industry and philanthropic causes and she’s insecure and unfulfilled because she’s infertile. Not that much difference in a way.

16 deathstar { 03.10.16 at 1:34 pm }

Sorry, I attributed Raven’s comment to Randi. My bad.

17 Lori Lavender Luz { 03.10.16 at 8:10 pm }

I like to keep my ToDo list doable. If it gets too busy, I feel crummy. If it has not enough on it, I feel untethered.

I love what Northstar said, and also the comments on this post.

18 Jess { 03.10.16 at 8:16 pm }

I feel like we live in a culture that demands and rewards busy. Where people constantly share how little sleep they get and how many hours they work and how everything is go go go, and that’s rewarded. It’s so true that there’s this feeling of busy=important. I am super busy at school, but when I come home I am desperate to NOT be. I want to put pajamas on early. I want to read a book. I want to read blogs. I want to sit back with a glass (or two) of wine and talk with my husband. I don’t do a lot of “extracurricular” activities like joining clubs or things like that because that downtime is super important to me. I loved what Raven said in her post about having eyes open to just how busy she was when she was forced into downtime with the double pneumonia…it’s so hard when facing something awful like infertility to be alone with your thoughts. Busyness takes that opportunity away, shelters you from your own thought process. I tried knitting as a busy activity at the height of our infertility madness and it was just too much thinking for me (I never got good enough not to have to pay attention and count, but your mind wanders even when counting stitches and rows). I think looking at why people are busy and maybe valuing the NOT busy, the prioritizing of time for yourself, time for nurturing friendships or relationships or quiet activities like reading would be an interesting shift. In the meantime, my facebook feed is full of people telling me just how busy they are, and I am grateful to be posting pictures of snowdrops instead of how little sleep I got the other night.

19 noemi { 03.11.16 at 1:59 am }

I have been thinking a lot about this, and I didn’t comment because I wanted to write a post, but grades are due next week so that has to be a priority for me right now. Normally I could shove those pesky stacks of papers aside for a couple of days, but not this week. 😉 So I’m back to comment.

I am not sure if I would call myself busy, even though I don’t feel like I have enough time to prioritize all the things that really are priorities for me. I’m constantly dropping something that I truly want to make time for because something else just has to get done. I think that is partly because I’m a teacher, which is one of the more inflexible (as far as time goes) jobs around. And part of it is because I have a commute that requires 1.5-3 hours a day be spent in a car, depending on traffic. And part of it is because I have two small children with BIG needs.

But I don’t consider myself “busy” because I think of “busy” as doing things you want to do, or have a choice in doing. I don’t do a ton of that kind of stuff. If I have two commitments during the week (in the evenings) I consider that “busy,” but usually I don’t plan anything because I’m tired at night and just want to go to bed. And I don’t seem to make friends with people who initiate getting together, so if I don’t have the inclination to do it myself, it just doesn’t usually happen. Basically, I’m the person who is always asking people to hang out and they always have plans and I never do, so I feel like I’m not actually busy. Just going to work and parenting my children at night and not doing much else doesn’t really feel like “busy” to me, but seeing friends or taking a class does. Is that crazy?

I used to love to be busy, but now I’m learning that I’m actually happier when I don’t plan much and I have more time to myself. In the summers I get to experiment a little with not having so many requirements of my time during the day, and it’s amazing. I love it sooooo much. And I do find myself defending that time, like people assume I don’t deserve it, or I’m not using it in the right way or something. So while I don’t think I’m the kind of person that values busyness in the way you’re describing, I find myself defending my free time in the way someone who does value busyness in that way would do.

Lastly, I’ve been reading a lot about minimalism, and trying to incorporate it into my life, and that is one “movement” inside of which “busyness” is not at all valued. In fact, “busyness” is something all minimalists are trying to eradicate from their lives. It’s not that they don’t want to do anything with their time, but the purpose is to be intentional, and I feel like “busyness” is all about having so much on your plate that you lose the ability to act intentionally, or at least it becomes a lot harder to do so. I have really embraced that idea, and I’m trying to schedule less in my life, because I am finally realizing that doing less makes me happier.

I hope some day soon, when my kids are a little older, I will feel less pressed for time. I really, really hope that is the case.

(Finally, I wonder if your nine work hours happened outside the home, and you had a bit of a commute to get to where you worked, if you’d feel a lot more “busy.” I feel like working from home would eliminate a lot of the extraneous time sucks that really add up over the day, but I have never worked from home so I don’t know. Just a thought.)

20 Mel { 03.11.16 at 8:13 am }

If I had a super long commute that ate up hours of time, I would count that as work hours. So, yes, I’m lucky that I actually get 9 hours of actual work in per day (vs. 7 hours of actual work and 2 hours of commuting). But the 9 hours is still 9 hours, and if I had to work 9 hours and commute 2, I’d count that as 11 work hours. Which would still technically leave me with 6 hours of time each day for everything else. I think it’s just eye opening when people step back and realize how many unaccounted minutes are in their day. Where does it all go?

21 Amel { 03.12.16 at 5:13 am }

Interesting post and comments as well. I’ve always considered myself as a low-energy person (an introvert as well). Back when I was younger, I had a tight-knit group of close friends and a few of them could really fit in A LOT of activities within a day and that’s how they like it. That’s how they feel energized. Another friend and I, on the other hand, can’t follow their type of schedule. We’ve since called ourselves more low-energy type of people and we need a lot of downtime.

I love having big chunks of spare time doing nothing much. Ever since I was young, I had learnt that if I did too much, I became cranky and that never did any good to myself or other people around me. I’m grateful that I’m in a position where my husband and I can have enough without my having to do a full-time job, because my job requires me to serve people and that exhausts me if I do too much work.

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