6.8.15 - On Eliminating Busy From Our Vocabulary

As a writer, I love words. I find our language rich and beautiful. There are so many exciting, insightful ways to express ourselves. Truly, there are few words that I dislike. My friends know my biggest no-no buzzword (it starts with an M) but aside from that squicky one, there is a word that I truly despise. 

Busy.

I hate the word busy with the fierce fire of a thousand suns. I hate myself for using it, because it’s such a deflection, such a cop out term. “How are you?” “Oh, I’m so busy. Busy, busy, busy.” It implies importance, excitement, a sense of belonging to our crazy society. It’s become the buzzword of our generation.

We are all so busy. So very, very busy.

And it's a term so often abused. Busy is the new No. Don't want to do something? Just say, "I am too busy," and everyone immediately understands, empathizes, and seeks to soothe. In the past, I found myself often too busy to get together with friends, too busy to talk on the phone, too busy to make dinner, do laundry, get the appropriate amount of sleep, eat well, love well, even (gasp) read.

I’ve launched a campaign against the word busy this year. This year, the busiest I’ve ever had. I’ve been underwater too many times to count with deadlines and obligations, which means only one thing. It's not that I'm busy. I am overcommitted.

Worse. I am rushing through my life.

A life that is well-lived, but going so fast. Too fast.

As I sit here with my parents, 78 and 80 respectively, I think about where they were in their lives 40 years ago. A major move across the country, to an area of the country thirty miles from the nearest town. Three children in three different schools. New jobs, a new real estate practice. New friends and parties and unpacking and settling in.

They were busy, my parents. 

But I never felt like they weren’t around. I never felt they weren’t present. My dad took me fishing. My mom took me to the library. My brothers played Pippi Longstocking with me, allowing me to throw them bodily around the house (They are 9 and 11 years older. They had such patience with their little sister.) We lived a life, a beautiful, quiet, lovely life. 

I think back to the peace of my childhood, of growing up in the woods, and realize my parents chose this place because it was away from the bustle of the city. Because nature and life were inextricably linked. Because they didn’t want the insanity of being busy all the time.

It explains why I feel so comfortable here. Why my creativity sparks. Why I feel like I can breathe. 

For the first quarter of this year, I was trying to satisfy too many masters, letting important things slip through the cracks because there weren’t enough hours in the day. Yesterday, 9 p.m. rolled around and I mourned because my day was over. So I stayed up until 11:30 watching a movie because I didn’t want the day to end. Today I have a headache, and I'm tired, and I've been working, but it's been forced. If I'd just recognized it was time to end the day instead of trying to sandwich in just one last thing, I would have been much more productive today, and felt better to boot.

I want time to slow. I want life to slow. My Year of No has gotten away from me, and it’s time to pull back again. 

I’ve been taking baby steps away from busyness for the past few months. Recognizing I simply can’t do it all, nor do I want to do it all. You know how they say actions speak louder than words? 

I’ve been showing up on the golf course. I’ve been getting to bed at a decent time. I’ve stopped piling every thought of Oh, I must do THIS, and THIS, and THIS into my Wunderlist. How many things on your To Do list are actually vital to your survival? I bet over half of them aren't important at all. 

I’m eating better — they call it eating mindfully, but it's true. I enjoy food more when I slow down enough to think about what I want to eat, then cook or prepare it, eat it, taste it, appreciate it.

If I start feeling stressed, start feeling busy, I set down my laptop and breathe. I play with the cats. I take a walk. Read a few pages from a book. Cut an apple with a knife and dip it in peanut butter. Make a cup of tea. Play with the cats. Do a few yoga poses. Call a friend.

Anything—anything—that will calm my racing heart and pull me from that scattered sense of Stress and Busy multitasking gives me.

I have a long way to go until I unyoke myself from the busy. But I’m trying. Will you try with me? Together, we can stop this insanity, and start living our lives again, instead of rushing through them, busy, busy, busy. 

Are you in?

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JT Ellison

J.T. Ellison is the New York Times bestselling and award-winning author of fifteen critically acclaimed thrillers and is the co-author of the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. With over a million books in print, Ellison’s work has been published in twenty-five countries and thirteen languages. She is also the co-host of A Word on Words, Nashville's premier literary TV series, which airs on Nashville Public Television. She lives with her husband and twin kittens in Nashville. Visit JTEllison.com, and follow her on Twitter @Thrillerchick or at Facebook.com/JTEllison14.