"Busy" is a four letter word - October 2015
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Just A Minute with Laura Vanderkam
Please stop saying you're busy

I caught myself using a 4-letter word the other day. No, not those. When someone asked how our family was doing, I answered, without thinking, “busy!” 

I suppose we do have a lot going on. In October, I’ll be in Michigan, Chicago, London, and New York (four times), with my husband no doubt traveling too. Our four kids are in swimming (two of them), soccer (two of them), piano (ditto), Lego Club, and dance. That list is only as limited as it is because the 9-month-old is too young for such things. We have the general buzz of multiple schools and their schedules. I’m running a half-marathon at the end of the month. Just for fun, I thought I’d remodel my bathrooms. 

However, I’m trying not to say I’m “busy” for several reasons, and you might want to think about banning it from your conversations as well. 

First, all that fills my life is freely chosen. It’s really a good thing that people want to hear me talk about my ideas! The kids are healthy and active and they want to explore their world. I don’t want to fill time just to fill time, but when there are great opportunities, I’d rather do things than not. I believe in maximum sustainable progress. “Sustainable,” yes, but maximum is a goal too. This month I will do my long training runs on early weekend mornings amid the colorful leaves. I will (I hope) visit my 100-year-old grandmother. I will push my speaking career in new directions. “Busy” sounds like the world is making myriad unwanted demands. I’d like a word that implies a good busy. 

Second, I could probably be busier. I am struck, even during the weeks with the most moving parts, that there is still open space. Someone is reading the pile of magazines that shows up every week. The kids find time for Lego building and video game playing. I am often up in the morning snuggling with the baby, letting him crawl around rooms and admire himself in mirrors. I’ll eat lunch with my daughter more weekdays this month than I won’t. 

Finally, there’s a social reason to stop saying “busy” and substitute “blessed.” I know many of my readers are like the women I profiled in I Know How She Does It: professionally successful, and taking the juggle in stride. A new study done by researchers at Harvard Business School finds that young women and men view high-powered positions as equally attainable. But women list more life goals than men do, and they are more inclined to assume that big jobs will introduce negative trade-offs into their lives. So they are less interested in “leaning in.” They think such careers are attainable, but not desirable. 

I’ve interviewed many executives who I know are annoyed at the “how do you balance?” question. Yet showing that it is possible to have a calm and full life even as one seizes work opportunities pushes others to see that the trade offs are not what they think. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work 60 and sleep 8 per night, that leaves 52 hours for other things. That is the equivalent of more than 7 hours per day. Being harried is not inevitable. Banning “busy” reminds us that life has space -- space for all we desire. (click to tweet) 

All the best,


flickr courtesy of photosavvy

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