“I’m Just Really Busy”

im just really busy

I’m too busy to chit chat with you in the hallway.

I’m too busy to go out for lunch – eating at my desk, or just eating at 4pm is fine.

I’m too busy to pause before I snap at my kid. . .or my spouse.

I’m too busy to look up from my email while I’m responding to your question; it should only take a minute right?

I’m too busy to train you how to do it right – it’s faster for me to just do it.

I’m too busy to respond to your email that you need more information. I’ll respond once I’ve done the research and have an answer for you.

I’m too busy to write this article. . .

Does any of this sound familiar?

Lately I’ve found myself, my friends, and my clients pulled into the cult of “too busy.” It seems temporary at first – just a busy “patch” you need to get through before you breathe more deeply again.

Then you start to realize that the busy patch has become a month, a season, maybe even a year. And sure there were vacations, short pauses where you were able to catch your breath again. But then you arrived back at work and the busy restarted again.

And then, perhaps it feels like you are too busy to even address the problem of being busy. When you have more time to think about it – you’ll figure out what you want to do. .. right?

This would usually be the time in my article when I insert “Dr. Jo’s top 5 ways for dealing with ‘too busy’:”

And really, I’m not too busy to do that. But I too, find myself trapped in the busy cult.

So I won’t advise ––but I will tell you the only things I’ve found that help.

I think the very first thing that you need to do, and I don’t think anything else works until you do this, is to decide deeply within yourself, that it is possible to live another way.

Because trust me, if you think this is just the norm in the 21st century, or this is how everyone lives, or even that busy is the only path to success, you won’t be able to shake it. Almost guaranteed.

But let’s assume, for the sake of moving forward, that you truly, honestly believe, deep down, that there is a better alternative to busy, one that could even be possible for you.

Then what?

Then you pause. Not just once. Often.

Maybe a few times a day, before each meeting or whenever you go to the bathroom – whatever works as an anchor for you. Maybe there’s even one longer pause in the form of a short meditation. It’s not important what that pause looks like, just that it’s there.

And once you start to sink into those regular pauses, well then that’s the time to ask yourself, “what is the busy replacing right now?”

Sometimes my busy replaces sadness, loneliness, doubt or fear. Sometimes my clients find that the busyness replaces dissatisfaction or even disconnection from others, and from themselves.

(I notice in my kids that busy replaces boredom – what’s so wrong with boredom anyways?)

Because let’s be honest. It’s not easy to feel sad, fearful, or unhappy. You probably would never CHOOSE to feel that way. So perhaps that’s why you’ve chosen busy instead.

Do you know why you are choosing busy?

Jo Ilfeld, PhD

An executive leadership coach, Jo helps C-suite leaders, executives, and high-potential managers develop the flexibility, skill, and frame of mind to meet the challenges of the next five, ten, twenty years…. and beyond. She works with individuals, teams and organizations on four core areas of leadership development. Check out Jo's bio page for more information.


  1. Rachel S on October 25, 2016 at 10:15 am

    It is very insightful that we might be replacing a negative emotion that we are feeling in our lives with being busy instead. I can see how I have done that in the past on multiple occasions. Often, we prescribe that very remedy to those who are suffering loss. We tell them they need to get up and move. We tell them they need to take their mind off their pain and put it on something constructive or cathartic; preferably both. While that advice has its merits, people today often apply this new behavior to their lives when they are experiencing less difficult times. I believe too often we avoid facing negative emotions and experiences because we are told that we deserve better or because life should somehow always be pleasant or happy. And while we certainly do want a pleasant life, it does not mean that we should disconnect from the reality of what we are experiencing, negative or not. For we all know that becoming busy for these reasons doesn’t erase the issue. It merely pushes it down deeper in us. Rather, we should face our negative emotions, grieve, cry, even stress to some extent. As Daniel Goleman points out in his book Emotional Intelligence, those experiences imprint on our brain in very specific ways. In particular, it drives future behavior by avoiding the kinds of behavior that may have lead us to distress in the first place. I can see from your other articles that you understand all too well that being busy may not allow us sufficient time to face to those issues, which in turn throws us on a hamster wheel that never gets us anywhere, ultimately leading us to repeat those same mistakes again and again. I would not say, “So I won’t advise…” Your advice was spot on and absolutely acceptable. If there is one thing we need more of in this world, it is moments of pause and self-reflection; the kind that allow us to mindfully move through our thoughts and overcome our initial reactions. Great article Dr. Ilfield.

    • Jo Ilfeld on October 26, 2016 at 10:54 am

      Thanks for visiting and commenting Rachel. I completely agree with you that emotions surface even if we push them down – they might just surface in ways that feel very uncomfortable such as stress, physical ailments or depression. I also agree that feeling sad or anxious doesn’t mean we are depressed or that anything is wrong with us, we are designed to feel the full emotional rainbow. Thanks for your thoughtful addition here!

Leave a Comment