Sep 5

Banning the B word

(With apologies to Andrew Marvell)


This fall, I am banning the word busy from my vocabulary.

It’s crept into my lexicon as both a catchall response and a go-to excuse – and it’s beyond time to give busy the boot.

“Busy” should never be the response when friends, family or clients ask, “How are you?” But I find myself all too often starting my reply with “Busy!” followed by a breathless to-do list that no one really cares about.

And “busy” should also never be the answer to a request for attendance or participation as in, “Gee, I would love to join you for BLANK but I’m busy that day” when your calendar is clear but the absolute LAST thing you would want to be doing on that day is BLANK.

Let’s face it, we are all busy – or at least we THINK we are busy. But the primacy we place on our individual schedules may be contributing to our increasingly un-civil society.

For example, I’m watching more drivers who clearly have stop signs or red lights dart into traffic rather than waiting their turn. I also hear more grumbling and inpatient sighs when I’m queuing at the grocery store-post office-hardware store, etc. “I’ve got things to do,” I overheard one exasperated shopper say to no one in particular. “I can’t wait here all day!”

And I regularly watch co-workers, clients and colleagues only half-listen in meetings or on conference calls because they are sneaking peeks at their cell phones or smart watches for fear of missing that critical email or text.

I’m often guilty of these actions, too. I find it challenging to be fully focused when meetings that should take 15 minutes drag into an hour. Or when the driver in front of me hesitates one too many times before making that right-on-red turn.

I’m acutely aware of “Time’s wingèd chariot hurrying near” my ever-expanding to-do list. And I find myself taking short cuts, growing impatient, skimping on a commitment here to catch an event there. I worry that I’m never fully present in whatever moment I’m supposed to be in because I am worried about the next task, the next phone call, the next press release.

So enough.

I’m saying bye-bye to busy. When colleagues ask how I am, I’ll reach for the truthful answer – “worried” about my younger brother’s health or “delighted” over the media response to a client’s special event.

I won’t scroll through emails on my phone during meetings nor scan for media headlines when I’m supposed to be listening for a conference call. (But I will keep my phone near my side in case of a client crisis so I don’t miss a “911” text that is our universal shorthand for “HELP.NOW.”)

And, perhaps hardest of all, I won’t use “busy” as an excuse to decline an invitation. Instead, I’ll reach for the honest – yet gentle – response. “I so appreciate your invitation to attend-support-donate to-meet with-otherwise affirm your event-program-worthy cause-fundraiser-meeting but I’m not interested.”

So bon voyage, busy – hope to see you on the Lake Superior State list of banished words this fall.

6 thoughts on “Banning the B word”

  1. Robin Keith says:

    You have inspired me!

    1. Mary Ann Sabo says:

      Day one, hour 14 – this is harder than I thought it would be!

  2. Stephanie Harvey says:

    This is so TRUE! I consciously try hard not to make my ‘list’ to show all how busy I am. Being busy is also a choice — and for those that state, “I would love to but I am….”, Busy is a choice for all of us. Breathe and enjoy the day!

  3. Bruce Ling says:

    Ok, sounds good, I’m on board.
    I’m sure it will change my perspectives, having eliminated that go-to word from my defensive postures, and leaving me having to be bluntly honest.

  4. Denise Sherwood says:

    Mary Ann,
    This is a home run. Thank you for the inspiration!

    1. T.J. Hamilton says:

      Thanks, Denise. I’ve gotten a lot of feedback on this one.

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