The Cult of Busy and How To Escape It

1Most people are glad to tell you how busy they are and how stressed it makes them, but the truth is, no one cares.
Everyone’s busy and everyone deals with some level of stress. People are not telling you about this because they truly want to talk to you about it, though. It’s because they’ve fallen in with the cult of busy people. They feel that their busyness defines them and justifies their existence.
This goes beyond corporate culture and into the household as well. People use the excuse of “I’m too busy” to explain things they’ve done incorrectly or forgotten about completely. As long as you tell yourself that you’re too busy, you always will be.

There are a few ways to escape the cult of busy, so take a minute, breathe, and read about them below.

What Being Busy Means

When someone says they’re busy, they’re actually speaking in code. “Being busy” is closely intertwined with the level of importance a person believes they hold. When someone tells you how busy they are, they’re really saying “Look at how important I am, I have all these things that people rely on me to do!”


I’m Important – The more people say they’re busy, the more important they feel they are. If you ask someone for help and he or she says “I’ll help, but I’m just so busy,” what that person is really saying is “My time is more important than yours is, but I’ll help you out anyway.” Thinking of busy in these terms really makes you not want to say it to other people.

Insecurity – Just because someone is busy doesn’t mean he or she is a jerk. Busy also works on the other end of the spectrum. There is a feeling in today’s corporate culture that if you’re not busy you’re not necessary and so can easily be removed from your current position. By saying you’re busy you’re showing everyone that you’re too vital to be let go. It’s just another way that the cult of busy can trap you. No one wants to be thought of as unnecessary, especially when it comes to their way of making a living.

As an Excuse– Even though people can make themselves look busy, most people already have more than enough “stuff” they need to do, so it’s no illusion that they have more than their share of work and responsibility. Since they actually are busy, they have to miss out on a lot of things and end up not taking care of some of their responsibilities at work as well as at home. Saying “I’m just so busy” is an excuse of sorts as to why something wasn’t done correctly or why more time and energy wasn’t applied to the task at hand.

How to Not Be Busy

Plan It Out – The first big step to not being busy is to use a to-do list and plan out goals. This helps you see what exactly it is that you need to do and allows you to apply the proper level of importance to each task. Turn this plan into a schedule and stick to it. If you can allow 20 minutes first thing in the morning for email, then only spend that much time on it and then move on.

Adjust the schedule and to-do list as necessary, but stick to the one you’ve made, making adjustments for tomorrow.


Update Your Language – Instead of saying “I’m too busy” or “I don’t have time,” try saying “It’s not a priority.” This simple change puts the truth behind your language into perspective. When a friend asks you to drive him to the airport and you would normally say “I don’t have time,” instead say “That’s not a priority for me” and see how different the reaction is. Your friend may not like that too much at first, but at least you’re being straight with him and not using an excuse, which, in a way, can be worse. (Don’t worry, he’ll get over it.) More important, you’ll get a better handle on how you use your time.

As author Laura Vanderkam says, time is a choice. You can choose what gets your attention and what doesn’t. So, if you don’t have time for something, you really mean other, higher-priority items are taking up that time. This doesn’t mean you should feel bad about not doing everything, but just realize that you always have a choice.

Remove Distractions – Time management methods such as the Pomodoro Technique and the Results Curve are all about focus. Drop the myth of multitasking and get your work done, one item at a time. You’re in control of your time, so don’t let it control you. Use systems like these to give you an easy way to cut out distractions, reduce your stress, and help your business.


The key to these systems is actually the breaks, so make sure you take them. You need to value your time, which means allowing yourself the time to relax and reset. Dole out your time as if it were a natural resource because, well, it is. Mistreating your time by not taking breaks and becoming distracted easily is a crime against your valuable time. And the worst part is, you’re doing it to yourself!


“Busy” needs to be considered a four-letter word and, like any other four-letter word, avoided in the workplace. Using systems like Pomodoro and the Results Curve is vital to removing the busy from the workday and making your time really matter.
Busy doesn’t just apply to the workplace, either. This can be applied to home life as well. Treat your time like a commodity and others will respect it, too. Once you escape the cult of busy, you’ll be amazed at how much more you can actually get done!


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