How Attached Are You to Being Busy?

by Katy on July 1, 2012 · 42 comments

Do you ever feel like your worth is tied to how busy your life is? Well then, I highly recommend the NY Times blog piece, “The Busy Trap” by Tim Kreider.

I’m a lot less busy than most anyone else that I know. I choose to work 16 hours per week, and at 14 and 16, my kids are pretty independent. However, I closely guard my free time, and am not looking to fill my days with obligations and tasks.

I like not being busy, and hardly ever feel that I should justify my days.

Here’s the opening paragraph from the article:

“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.’ “

Click HERE to read the entire article.

Do you feel that you need to stay busy at all times? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Katy Wolk-Stanley

“Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without”

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Not Beehive July 2, 2012 at 4:02 am

I don’t feel I need to stay busy, but I do feel I need to stretch the truth about how non-busy I am. It’s as if busy-busy-busy people look down on those of us who appreciate lots of non-scheduled leisure time.


Jess July 2, 2012 at 6:24 am

Definitely! I work from home and can usually get my work done in 3-4 hours (vs. the 8 we are “supposed” to work), but my colleagues are always complaining about how busy they are. But, they do a lot of unnecessary work, have children who interrupt their work and usually have a lot of interruptions (I hear their phone ring, deliveries made, etc.) so I don’t feel bad, I just keep quiet.


Molly July 3, 2012 at 5:13 am

YES! I feel judged about how I want to go home after work most days and hang out with my husband and my cat and read a book. Those simple (and free) things make me happy – why wouldn’t I choose to be with the family I’ve chosen?


Mary Ann July 2, 2012 at 4:45 am

Oh my gosh, yes. All my siblings (nine) are the same way. In fact, we consider it some kind of disease. But my father was the same way, so I assume we got it from him. It’s not that I have scheduled time, it’s just that I always have to be doing something “productive”, as my father would say. And I would like nothing more than to work part-time, but then my husband would say that it wasn’t fair and that he should be able to work part-time also (not that either of our jobs would allow that) and two part-timers would not be enough income. So I just dream about the days that I can retire. Not a good way to live.


betsyohs July 2, 2012 at 5:53 am

I love his sentiment that the absolute best use of his time is to spend it with the people he loves! Yes yes and more yes. I am lucky enough to work for a company that recognizes that keeping their employees happy is the best way to get good work out of us. So they let us choose how many hours we want to work, and (within limits) where we want to work. I’m about to go spend 2 weeks with my far away family, working my 20 hours a week from my laptop in my old childhood bedroom. And the other hours, I’ll spend basking in family time.

WanderingScientist has been having a really interesting discussion about work/life balance (see I think this being busy and pushing our companies to allow us to work part time so that we can be as unbusy as we’d like is something we as a society need to work on. Because many companies won’t allow people to choose.

Phew…this comment is getting long. This is a topic that is near and dear to my non-busy and very content heart! And I love it when my disparate bloggers line up (more or less) like this.


Lisa S July 2, 2012 at 6:18 am

Not too long back I had stopped at the grocery store on my way home from taking the kids to school. There was a small problem with the transaction with the person right ahead of me in line that took a couple of minutes to get fixed. Shed turned to me and apologized for the delay. I replied, “That’s okay, I’m in no hurry.” She looked at me a moment and said, “You must be the only one.” She wasn’t being snarky, she just sounded surprised.


Bonnie Beamish July 5, 2012 at 7:30 pm

My goodness… this happens to me too! I have even had Doctors apologize for keeping me waiting when other patients have taken up an unusual amount of time. The Doctor I am speaking of is 98% punctual so I cannot justify complaining. He was surprised when I said “I am fine with waiting today”. He still tried to apologize and I let him… why argue. That would make me cranky.
So glad others are able to feel this experience the same “I’m in no hurry”attitude. We Rock!


Lili@creativesavv July 2, 2012 at 6:27 am

I find I need the quiet, in-between times to get me revved up again for new projects. Being “productive” all the time actually reduces my total “worth”. I burn out. Taking rest on the 7th day works for me.


Molly July 3, 2012 at 5:17 am

I completely agree. I had a very, very busy weekend, and I’m now exhausted and am going to need a ton of time to get recharged. My “7th day” is actually going to be tomorrow, because I have off, and that’s when I can manage it.


Holly July 2, 2012 at 6:28 am

I too enjoy working part-time (25 hours per week and summers off). My husband is completely fine with this thankfully. I make up for the shortfall in family income by using my non-work time to save money by cooking and baking from scratch, repairing things around the house, thrift store shopping, etc.
I also enjoy spending time with my children. Others in my family (sisters-in-law, mother) are always extremely busy. Rushing from one thing to the next constantly. They leave their children at daycare for most of their lives. Sure they all have more money than me but I do not envy their life styles.
I feel very blessed and happy with my life which I know others would not say.


Valerie Heck Esmont July 2, 2012 at 7:08 am

My parents and sister have this need to be insanely busy all the time. I’ve had to work hard to learn how to relax and that it’s ok to do nothing or goof around. It’s still hard for me, and I tend to keep busy but am learning that it’s fun and ok to goof off and relax!


Megyn @MinimalistMommi July 2, 2012 at 8:01 am

I think there are people that NEED to be busy as there are people that NEED a lot of down time. As someone that needs the busyness, I have a hard time with The Hubs’ difference of opinion. It’s hard for us to find that balance because I see it as laziness where he sees it as a need being met. I totally understand needing some downtime, but a consistent lack of busyness (other than the busyness of having young children–I’d like down time from THAT 24/7 lol) drives me through the roof. I just can’t do it. It’s not for me!


hmbalison July 2, 2012 at 8:08 am

I’m currently writing this from Samara, Costa Rica. We are here for a month, and what am I doing in this warm beach town? Not much. I’m reading, relaxing, writing, walking–and taking a yoga class a couple times a week. I work from home and since my work goes thru cycles, there are weeks where I work more than 40 hours, but many more where I don’t. And even when I’m busy with work, I take time each day to walk our dog at the beach and to spend time in the morning doing my own writing and reading. My husband is a teacher, and years ago, we lived and worked in Costa Rica for a year. We have also taken many month-long trips to Mexico–a very lucky situation, I know. But what the trips in the past and this trip right now reveal to me is that I love simple things and I feel totally ok with doing nothing.


Elizabeth Mork Hollender July 2, 2012 at 10:08 am

I think it would be a very great service to spread this idea to as many people as possible! I too, function much better when not over busy. I have come to accept that I am a person who needs quiet time alone in order to be happy. But I struggle with feeling guilty. This article and conversation are a breath of fresh air for me and a meaningful validation that it is okay to have down time, even if most of society doesn’t get it!


Mary July 2, 2012 at 11:01 am

Yesterday (Sunday) I spent the day relaxing & reading a good book but at some point in the afternoon I started to feel a little guilty because I wasn’t cleaning or running errands or out “doing” something fun! I’ve also noticed at work that it’s not enough to be really busy all week, one of my co-workers likes to tell us how BUSY she was all weekend and then wants all of us to tell her about our EXCITING weekend.
Thanks for a great post & the link.


Linda in Indiana July 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

I think anymore if you aren’t “busy” you are considered weird! Before I retired I went at a pace that almost had me down….definitely burned out. I wasn’t able to enjoy my life, because there was always one more thing that “had to” be done. Well, thankfully, I was able to retire young, and I haven’t looked back. “Busy” is fashionable, “in”, and a badge of honor in our society. What a shame! We are making our selves sick, depriving our children and our friends. When we get ready to leave this world, we will not be concerned about all that busyness…we will be thinking of all the experiences we had, the people we love, etc. I love being able to live and love in the moment I am in. I am sad for the people that feel they have to be in constant motion….and a society that pushes for that!


EcoCatLady July 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm



EcoCatLady July 2, 2012 at 12:29 pm

I think that business is our national disease. Well actually that’s not true, I think that business is our collective way of medicating our national disease.

I think we live in a culture that is not very accepting of human emotions. We are all taught that we’re supposed to control our emotions, and that certain feelings are OK while others are not. Oh, the legacy those Calvinist fore bearers left to us!

The thing is, emotions just don’t work that way. They are inherently out of control and often times quite uncomfortable. Being busy all the time gives us all a convenient and societally acceptable way not to have to deal with ourselves.

But “busier than thou” is not a very satisfying way to live in my opinion. Face the void, I say. In the end, our feelings and emotions are the only thing that’s real anyhow.


Bauunny July 2, 2012 at 6:41 pm

I agree. Sometimes being ultra busy is an excuse not to deal with issues or people or situations in our life. I often feel the need to be “productive” but have grown to realize that serious and I tensional “downtime” is very healthy for me.


EcoCatLady July 2, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I can relate. I fight the “I should be more productive” voice in my head on a daily, and sometimes hourly basis. Fortunately I’m getting much better at letting the “I want to relax and do nothing” voice win. I wasted WAY too many years being “productive” and “important” and “busy.” At this point in my life, I’m striving for laziness and irrelevance!


DustiMc July 2, 2012 at 1:11 pm

I worked full time nights while my husband was in nursing school. My days off were spent trying to clean and spend time with my 4 kids. Shortly after he graduated, I went part time and when we moved out here, I became a SAHM. It’s been difficult to get over feeling like I don’t contribute and that it’s ok if I don’t do everything around the house and run around micromanaging my kids lives. They get to choose one activity and I limit my volunteering with those activities. As much as they may need more people, I can’t run everything and my kids need a non harried mom. When I was working, my supervisor needed people to fill in a lot of holes in the schedule and I felt guilty for not jumping in and being a “team player”. A coworker who had run a daycare for years and whose children were all grown told me, “nobody else is going to raise your kids.” A lot of people could take care of them and love them but my husband and I are the only ones who will make sure they grow up with the values and experiences WE value.
Fast forward a few years and I am now reminding myself that there are various aspects to my work. Playing in the tent in the back yard IS in my job description just like researching the best deal on groceries and finding new, healthy recipes that will encourage my kids to (or trick them into) eat more veggies. My husband works every other weekend plus 2 week nights. This means that he ends up working 4 night shifts in a row. I am solo parenting and everything else for 96 hours (hats off to single parents! I have so much respect for people who do this 365 days/yr). I decided not to feel guilty if my house isn’t perfect or other unimportant things because, assuming we all get 8 hours of sleep (hahahahaha!), I’ve put in four 16 hour days. I don’t have to stay busy all the time. Paid workers get breaks. I am on call 168 hours a week. If I want to spend the day reading while my kids are in school, that’s my “day off”.


Trish July 2, 2012 at 1:56 pm

These comments are so spot on! It does seem like a badge of honor to be busy. I detest a frenetic life. I managed to scale back our expenses and opt out of work in my 40s (no kids, and my husband can’t imagine not working). With just 2 of us in a household, plus 4 dogs and 2 horses, I am plenty busy with household chores such as hanging out laundry, and cooking from scratch. But in a pleasant way, not a frenetic way.

I sometimes ponder our cultural evolution in the United States, too busy to cook, to take care of ourselves, to recycle, to hang laundry on the line etc. From reading books by Frances Mayes and Peter Mayle, it seems like people in rural parts of Italy and France ALWAYS have time to talk to you, to help you, to advise you how to cook something. I have a friend who loves fruit and vegetables and when I told him how much I enjoy eating cherries from my tree when they are ripe, he said he simply doesn’t have time to plant a tree. Whatever!


Jenny July 4, 2012 at 9:28 am

This made me think of last week when I was in line at the grocery and there was some computer glitch. The manager announced it would all be back up in a couple of minutes and asked for our patience to just hang tight. At least 80% of those waiting pulled out their phones and started dialing or texting–when did we get so busy that getting home 5 minutes later from the store requires immdiate communication? And too busy to just exchange a few words about the weather or kvetch about the computers with the person actually standing next to us? And I live in a small town–not New York City!


Katy July 4, 2012 at 11:07 am

I hate how people can’t stand even a moment of being out of touch.



Lilypad July 4, 2012 at 8:20 pm

I agree. I have a cheapo prepaid cell and only use it for emergencies. When I take it out of my purse, it’s to see what time it is. It seems like everyone else I know is glued to their cell phone constantly—they’re playing games, checking mail, reading articles, etc. I always think of a line from Emily Dickinson: “My own thoughts are my companions”. I like peace and quiet and just thinking or observing if I’m in public. And if I’m home (and not interacting with my family IRL, “in real life”) I can be found snuggling with the kitty and reading a book.


Shannon July 2, 2012 at 3:08 pm

We have one and four-year-old I can’t pretend I’m not busy. So I’m always amazed when people at work wonder why I don’t want to take on more responsibility there than I already do. It’s hard enough to get everything done well working part-time, I can’t imagine how I would ever get things done if I worked full-time. And while I would make more money, what kind of lesson would that teach my kids? It’s better to just hire everyone else to do the things you don’t have time for? That they aren’t as important as money? No one ever turned around and send when their children were grown “I wish I’d spent less time at the park my kids”


AnnW July 2, 2012 at 3:13 pm

I am sixty five and enjoy doing Absolutely Nothing all day. Some days. This busy-ness is often a cover-up and a justification to be thoughtless, careless, and negligent with money. I go in spurts when I get a lot of things done, and then do nothing. I have been a caregiver and guardian for my parents for the last few years. But it is nice to have no obligations. Does anyone remember when families used to go for Sunday drives? Those drives usually ended in an ice cream cone at a rural dairy. We are too fast paced with meaningless stuff these days. It’s a shame.


michelle July 2, 2012 at 3:16 pm

Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time. – john lennon

I enjoy my life, and am never to busy to enjoy it!


Mara July 2, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I tell people I am busy. What I mean by that is that I am busy reading, or cooking (for pleasure), or watching a movie, or playing with my nephew. I jealously guard my non-work time. I enjoy not being as busy as my co-workers. Let the rest of the world help it spin faster. I’m okay with my pace.


Rachel Gillespie July 2, 2012 at 6:12 pm

I so agree with you, Katy! I’m a stay at home mum and my children are now teenagers. I love the pace of my life. These days I write, blog and study French. It’s hard financially and I may need to go back to work at some point. We certainly don’t try to keep up with the Joneses!
Some times I just like to sit and daydream. I think it primes the well of creativity.


Shannon July 2, 2012 at 6:28 pm

Because I feel so at home here I’ll share a secret: I sometimes fib about being “so busy.” usually it is in conversations without people who are trying to steal some of my time. In fact when I use the phrase “crazybusy” it is my “tell” —I’m lying my butt off because no, I don’t want to volunteer for the whatever-it-is. There, that felt good 😉


EcoCatLady July 2, 2012 at 11:25 pm

Ha! I do the same thing. I am self employed and I have a “client” who conveniently becomes very demanding whenever I need an easy way out of some obligation without hurting someone’s feelings. I just never tell people that this “client” is me!


Indigo July 2, 2012 at 7:13 pm

It fluctuates. As a teacher, during the school year I don’t have a ton of free time, during certain parts of the school year there is no such thing as free time. On the other hand I save up and choose not to seek summer employment so that I am free to travel, spend time with friends and family, work on the house, or just sit around a read a book from cover to cover because I can. Unfortunately that means a lot of folks will try to give me something to do.

This summer is turning out very different though. I have very little free time as I am taking on a lot of additional responsibilities as my family members are struggling with a lot of things between changing life situations and my Grandmother’s sudden illness, and what I can to do help most is volunteer my time and abilities as well as my couch and spare room for all the over night guests. At this point I would mush rather be busy and distracted by it than have free time to dwell.


Maria Goodwin July 2, 2012 at 7:34 pm

What a great article! I’m retired and I still feel guilty if I just sit down and read a book in the day time. How sad is that!


Laurel July 3, 2012 at 10:20 am

My family considers me lazy because I don’t have every single waking moment scheduled. When I was married, I quit work and became a full-time housewife. We had no kids, but my days were full and rewarding. I kept “busy” according to what *I* wanted to do and not what others felt I should be doing. I was often asked, “What do you DO all day?” and when I told them things like working in my extensive gardens, canning and freezing, cooking meals from scratch, working on my hobbies (knitting, crocheting, painting), playing with my cats, riding my horse, cutting our huge lawn, etc., I got the big sigh and the rolled eyes, like I wasn’t REALLY busy or productive, but being totally selfish and lazy. They’d tell me my life was boring since I never really DID anything or went anywhere. The joke was on them because I loved my boring life.

Now that I am on my own, I still love my boring, unstructured life. After work, I go home and do whatever I want to do and if I don’t feel like vacuuming or making my bed or going to the grocery store, I don’t! I never feel the need to take a vacation because I make as many hours of my non-work life into a vacation as possible.


Linda in Indiana July 3, 2012 at 11:26 am

Laurel, I totally understand the rolled eyes and people not understanding what you do with your time. When I retired and now, people that are still chasing the proverbial rat in the rat race ask what in the world do I do with my time….I have a firm and pat answer that I do not elaborate on…I tell them “Anything I Want!”.


Katy July 4, 2012 at 11:08 am

I hope you scream “Anything I want” like Napoleon Dynamite would.



Kelly July 3, 2012 at 11:00 am

This article was so refreshing to read! It reminded me quite a bit of what Leo Babatua writes about in Zen Habits (a fantastic blog if you’re looking to simplify).
I work part time and mostly from home, and I am also a SAHM of a two-year-old boy, so I think at this point in my life I can’t help but feel a little busy. But I don’t feel guilty about saying no to things I don’t really WANT to do. Having a two-year-old makes every spare moment precious.


Kate in NY July 3, 2012 at 1:15 pm

Just today, my 13 year old daughter asked me: “Mom? Are you a “type a” person or a “type b” person?” I told her I thought I was a bit of both. I hate being “busy” and having every single minute structured – it makes me so cranky and stressed out. When I know I have a really “busy” day ahead (i.e., non-stop suburban mother-of-4 schlepping – – – but hardly back-to-back shifts in the ICU) I often cannot sleep! On the other hand, I love to work. I am terrible at just “being” and relaxing. I am happiest when I have a day at home full of baking, cooking, cleaning and gardening. I love to get stuff done! I guess I am a “type B+!”


Ann July 3, 2012 at 6:04 pm

I am 60 and have worked full time all my adult life. This “busyness” is something I fight every single day because, as an accountant, I have billable hours to log and deadlines to meet and it is up to me to schedule my workday to accomplish said tasks. This, unfortunately, tends to roll over into my free time. Must accomplish this, that, whatever. What to DO next?
About 27 years ago I had my son…at noon…and by 3pm I was in my room, he was in the nursery and DH was out with the new grandparents having a beer. I sat there (lay there) and thought…well, what now? And I realized that I had really done ENOUGH that Monday morning and I didn’t have to DO another damn thing all day. Lasted one afternoon.
My friends tell me that I need to retire. Maybe I do. But, then, what would I DO all day?


Bauunny July 4, 2012 at 4:55 am

I totally hear you. I am increasingly intrigued by the concept of retirement and the freedom it brings. However, I also know that having some structure in my days is something I need. I am hoping to design an “encore” career that will give me both – more flexibility, some structure and the ability to help other people. I’m thinking of doing daily financial management part-time. I’m an accountant too. Check out the American Association of Daily Money Managers website…..might be perfect transition for you too.


Angela July 7, 2012 at 3:22 pm

It’s definitely a sickness! My issue is with friends being “too busy” to get together. Most of my friends are SAH mom’s like myself – I have 5 children (which keeps me busy enough) + I homeschool, but I have “certain friends” who have less children and who do not homeschool use the busy excuse on me. Too busy to call. Too busy to talk on the phone when I call them. Too busy to keep in touch by email. Too busy to get together. HUH??? Honestly, the busiest person I know is my sister. She runs a cancer clinic. She and her husband are involved in football, baseball, soccer, and cheer with their 3 children. She runs 5k races. She works out at the gym. And she has time to call me and email me and get together!!! What a great sister! So guess what? Any so-called-friend-of-mine who says she is too busy for me is LYING.


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