You’d be much happier if you stopped saying you’re so busy

There is a motto of unrest in our society. If you ask most people how they’re doing, at least half the time you’ll get a response that they’re busy, or some variation on that theme. Unfortunately, in America, being “busy” demonstrates value. It’s a status symbol all sorts. We have fed this myth that activity equals value equals value.

Over the past two years, we’ve been riding a hamster wheel constantly. A never-ending cycle of change, juggling and anxiety. Between COVID, working from home, the divisive political environment and now the war in Ukraine, it’s impossible to keep up. It’s hard not having time to do anything other than react to everything around us. While we have struggled to maintain our sanity and morale virtually, the stress of all this turmoil is leading to major public health issues. Indeed, according to American Psychological Association, anxiety and burnout from our occupations are at an all-time high, with 71% of Americans reporting stress during their workday.

But here’s the thing. When we think we are busy, we victimize ourselves. In many ways it means, “I have too much to do and it’s all out of my control. I am overwhelmed.

Let go of the idea that activity equals importance

A recent series of studies by harvard business review confirmed that as a society we give higher status to those we perceive to be busy. It turns out that as Americans, we perceive ourselves as living in a mobile society, which leads to our need to work as much as possible in order to achieve higher social status. On the other hand, other cultures that see themselves as less socially mobile tend to relax more and enjoy their free time more.

Like many working parents, I juggle being the mother of a toddler and the stepmother of a teenager with my responsibilities as a corporate president and everything that I do professionally. I personally reached a point where I just felt like a victim. I was always so busy; my calendar was full at the end of each day and I could never finish my to-do list. I never made enough progress and always lost the ball. I just didn’t know how to prioritize or make decisions. I was constantly underwater. Sound familiar?

Changing our perception

As someone who is really focused on messaging and language, and how to frame things, I know messaging and language really changes the way you think about things. I started thinking about my life and how to handle it all differently. I realized that if we could shift our mindset to view our schedule as “full” instead of “busy”, it puts us back in control and reframes our entire day. You see, when you are “busy”, you are always running. It’s non-stop. But the full is rich, it is happiness, it is contentment. When I started thinking about things this way, I could see how full my life was.

Here are three ways my mindset changed:

I became grateful for all the different roles that I play

I realized how lucky I really was instead of thinking about all my responsibilities in my roles. I am becoming a mother of a beautiful daughter who will soon be three years old, I am more often at home for my son-in-law who is going to university next year, I had the chance to spend more time with my husband recently who I have for years because I was always traveling for work before the pandemic. I’m incredibly lucky to have a career I love and clients who have meaning in transformative work.

I learned to prioritize

I started looking at my calendar and evaluating everything on my to-do list. For each item, I thought about how it would add to my day of being full or decrease it. I realized that I didn’t need to do certain things. And I could see everything differently. Some items were just a loaded job, not a complete job. I got a better understanding of what really needed to be on my calendar versus what wasn’t.

I took back control of my life

When you live a busy life versus a busy life, you have control of it. You are happy with it. And this change is really valuable. And so, as we all continue to navigate these tough times trying to juggle work, family, life, politics, a war across the ocean, and whatever else we have to balance, a simple change of mindset can really change the way we view our day, the way we view our work and the way we view our lives.

So the next time you answer the question, “how are you?” make a mental shift and respond. “My day is not only busy, it’s incredibly full.” Think of all the things you must do, not the ones you MUST do. This small change in the way you think will make a huge change in the way you see the world around you.

Lee Carter, President of maslansky + partners, oversees a diverse range of communications and language strategy work for Fortune 100 and 500 companies, trade associations and non-profit organizations. Its main objective is to promote behavior change through the effective use of language. She’s a word geek, messaging guru, mom, and author.

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