I have about half a dozen or so podcasts I listen to regularly. Most have a new episode once a week. There is one that has a new edition every weekday – the Before Breakfast podcast. Time management expert Laura Vanderkam provides a time management tip in a podcast that is typically 5-8 minutes long. It is becoming a part of my early-morning routine, along with the cup of coffee and Bible study. Some of the topics have been to plan your week on Fridays, spending less time on email, how to stop being late, and how to stop forgetting things.

In one of these little episodes, Laura challenged the listener to stop using the word “busy.” The word is over-used, and that it is used in place of “good” or “terrible” when people ask you, “How’s life?” There’s quite a bit to unpack here, so let’s look at some of the true meanings behind using this word. Some of this is Laura’s and some is mine.

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Laura used an example of a colleague asking you, “How was your weekend?” Most of us will answer that it was busy. But if you offer something specific, other things can spring from it. “It was great! We tried that new Mexican restaurant near the mall, and it was fabulous!” Your colleague might mention (s)he loves Mexican food, and word spreads around the office, and then a few days later, the entire team is going to lunch as a group to a nearby Mexican place. Or if you gave that answer to a neighbor, your neighbor might say that he knows the owner and he’ll tell the owner you liked it. Next time you and the family show up, you’re getting free margaritas. The point is that by using something specific rather than the general “busy” term, you have a chance to better connect with the person you’re talking to, and any number of good things may spring from that connection.

Perception Becomes Reality

Laura is a big believer in the concept that since every person has the same 168 hours in a week, we all have the capacity to maximize great benefit, and how we perceive things plays a big role. The more we say, “I’m busy,” the stronger we believe it, and the more convinced we become that we really don’t have time for the things that matter most to us. This also makes it very hard to relax, as we will think, “I can’t relax, I should be doing (insert task here).” In many cases, that task is not one that should be at the top of the priority list, but something that just appears in front of us. But relaxation and leisure time are just as important as work and other things, but if you’re wedded to the idea of “I’m a busy person,” you’ll always feel bad for slowing down, and won’t get the rest you need.

It Keeps People At Arm’s Length

Many times, we say we are “busy” because we know the other person is probably busy as well, so they will simply agree, and that will pretty much be the end of the conversation – and that’s just fine with you, because you really don’t want to talk to anyone anyway. This can be very bad for your well-being. You could miss a connection as mentioned above, or you could miss the chance to get a remedy. If you say, “I had several things planned, but my 8-year-old has had a nasty bug for a week, and looking for adequate treatment pretty much sucked up the entire weekend.” The other person might say, “My kid had that too; we found a great treatment,” and then tells you about it. If you’re generally overwhelmed, perhaps this other person has been in that spot and has some excellent advice you could use.

We’ve talked a lot about being an introvert, and that I am one myself. What introverts can be tempted to do is simply say, “I’m an introvert,” and pretty much shut everyone out for a while. That’s not really effective. To be introverted means you gain energy in solitude, whereas extroverts gain energy externally. So introverts need their alone time. But once the energy tank is full, you can then use it to better interact with people. You should use your alone time to charge the batteries, then when you go to work, school, church, networking event or whatever situation will require some external energy, you can use the energy you have built up to make it an effective day or outing. Then you can avoid generic terms like “I’m fine” or “I’m SOOOO busy!” Humans are built to have other people in our lives. If you use words like “I’m busy” to keep everyone at an arm’s length, that’s a signal to examine things and find the necessary time and space to charge those batteries so you can have meaningful interactions.

When time feels abundant, we make wise choices with it. That’s why Laura likes to use the phrase, “I have all the time in the world.” While we all know time is not limitless, developing the mindset that it is abundant will aid us in how we use it.

Do you use the word “busy” a lot? How do you think things could change by dropping that word in favor of other, more specific words? Feel free to drop your thoughts in the comments.