Why Choosing to Be Busy Isn’t Always a Good Idea

The idea of being busy, if we’re not careful, can become a badge of honour that gives a feeling of importance for some, or a means of gaining sympathy for others.


Do you ever find yourself rushing from one thing to the next? Are you often late? Have you ever reached the end of the day with a wrenching feeling of not having accomplished anything meaningful?

If you answered yes, the chances are you’re too busy.

It was Henry David Thoreau who said, “It is not enough to be busy, so are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?” From this we can see that busyness isn’t the issue, but rather our ability to be busy doing what’s best.

Taking responsibility for our busyness

Just in these last few days, when asking someone how they were, I was met with the response, “Busy!” This got me thinking.

Why is it that we get caught in the rut of busyness? What causes us to speak about our busyness with resentment? And, who is actually in control of our busyness?

I believe that the answer to these questions lies in our willingness to take responsibility of our lives and being deliberate about the choices we make.

What I mean by this is that when presented with an opportunity or a request of some kind, in most cases it’s down to us and no-one else to make a decision as to whether we accept it or not.

For example, when recently asked to speak to a group of children on behalf of a national charity, I declined. Likewise when invited to get involved in a white collar charity event, I turned the offer down.


Because I knew that had I said ‘Yes’ to the speaking engagement, the time required for preparation would’ve impacted my other commitments, and had I agreed to participate in the charity event, I’d have had to change my training routine.

Despite both requests being for ‘good’ causes and being ‘good’ opportunities, I had to make a choice about where to give my time, and more importantly, my energy.

It’s that simple. Saying no meant I could avoid the stress of fitting more into my life.

Saying no also spared me the frustration of not being able to give my best, which in the case of the white collar charity event, most likely saved not just my male ego but my teeth!

You see, the myth is that we’re unable to make a choice about what we take on or leave alone. Sadly, this myth leads to a belief that we have to do it all.

Approaching life this way is more detrimental than we realise, as it impacts our ability to perform at our best in any given task or area of responsibility. This results, ultimately, in mediocrity and frustration, and in the worse cases, poor health.

The cost of saying yes to everything

I know first hand the affect of trying to do everything. It doesn’t pay — quite literally! I’m also aware of just how difficult it is to say no when it involves letting people down and risking not being asked again.

But the cost of saying yes to everything and living a life characterised by busyness, in the long run, is neither good for us or others, because by saying yes to some we’re inadvertently saying no to others anyway.

Sadly, some of the things we say no to are the very things we ought to be giving a resounding yes to. This is where being conscious of our boundaries is essential.

For example, taking a phone-call when your son or daughter is attempting to tell you about their school day, browsing an email while on the phone, or looking at Facebook when you should be writing.

And just so you know, I’ve been guilty of each!

These examples force us to think about how and where we divide ourselves, and though often subconsciously, the unhealthy habits we’ve formed along the way.

Deciding to make a change

So how can you be sure of giving yourself to what you should be giving yourself to and committing to the best things?

I want to suggest you begin by considering — just as I am — these three questions:

  • What do I believe to be my purpose in life?
  • What am I most passionate about in life?
  • What might I need to say ‘No’ to from now on?

There are many other questions you could ask yourself, but these are specifically aimed at getting you to start thinking about where and to what you should prioritise giving your time, energy, and resources.

Choice is a gift – don’t give it away

Except for in extreme circumstances, choice is a gift we’re all fortunate to have.

With it we’re empowered to take actions that are aligned with our values and beliefs, and through the choices we make we’re able to move towards doing the things that we believe fit our life purpose.

So next time someone asks you how you are and you’re tempted to tell them how busy you are, stop and think about which of your choices are the cause of your busyness.

And then before answering, give some thought to where it’s within your control to make a change.

What do you think about busyness? Add your thoughts in the comments below.

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