Saying “No” to Being Busy

Sep 29, 2022

It is not enough if you are busy. The question is, “What are you busy about?” -Henry David Thoreau

Everyone I know these days is really “busy.” I would bet that nine times out of ten if you ask someone “how are you?” the response will be “busy.” “I am well, thank you” or “doing great” have been replaced!

A great deal of our lives, and our precious time and energy, is spent being busy. But to what end? In my experience, not only is being busy not an enjoyable experience, but it usually doesn’t produce good results, which brings me to the two main problems with leading the “busy” life. First, it’s not fun. When I am busy I am usually stressed and anxious. I am certainly not grounded and connected and I find that my frenetic energy usually keeps me from being fully engaged in the moment. By not being fully present in the moment, I can’t enjoy the quality of my experiences and the connection to my family, work, or whatever situation or human is in front of me. For me this is not a fulfilling or peaceful way to live.

The second issue with being busy is that it’s not effective. I suppose one could make a case for sacrificing your day-to-day state of being if one were actually accomplishing more and successfully realizing meaningful goals, but I think the opposite happens. I find that in a busy state I am often accomplishing less and not getting high-quality results. Also, the “busy” work prevents me from being able to clarify and focus on what will really make a difference in my life. Days, weeks, months, and even years will go by being busy, but what exactly has changed? It’s easy to feel like you’re being productive when you’re busy, but often we are busy with mundane tasks that are not connected to any larger purpose. More often than not, our “busy” work has no focus and often has no end. We just fill our time with things that, in one form or another, we will do for the rest of our lives, such as grocery shop, eat, clean, etc… We are on the proverbial treadmill and nothing new happens. For something new to happen we need space to simply be. We need to create the opening for new insights or opportunities or a new way of living.

Recently, I have said “no” to being busy. I have come to really value my time. When I do choose to commit my time to something, it’s important to me that it is meaningful and that the time spent is enjoyable. I’ve realized that I need to replace “busy” with intention and quality of experience. (I.e. I am connected and engaged with the present moment and experiencing life fully.)

How to say no to being busy:

Don’t multitask: Instead focus on one thing at a time. Ironically, by doing this, we support ourselves in accomplishing more and with better results. Even if occasionally our multi-tasking does produce several good results, what is more important, the goal or the process? How did we feel while we did it? How did those around us feel? I think there is a case to be made that multitasking is just plain old bad manners. There’s a saying that I like that nothing is more important than what is in front of us. Certainly another human deserves our undivided attention, so returning emails while talking on the phone may not be the respectful use of time.

Figure out what really matters: Find out if you really are busy or if you just haven’t taken the time to figure out what you really need to get done. When we are not clear about our priorities, we often run around feeling overwhelmed because what needs to get done is larger in our heads than it is in reality. When we take the time to put everything on paper and be honest about what on that list really matters, we may find we’re not that busy after all.

Change your language: One of the best ways to change your life is by first changing your language. When someone asks, “how you are doing?”- refrain from saying, “I am so busy”. Stop yourself from telling people and thinking about how busy you are.  Take a moment to reflect and see what the “busy” is covering up. Really, how are you?

Don’t over-schedule: This includes the amount of things you are committed to and also how much time you allow for each commitment.  Give yourself and your commitment the respect you and it deserve by allowing enough time. Remember to include time before (preparing for the commitment) and after (time to take in the experience and process instead of rushing to the next thing).

Slow down and practice being present: Stay present with your work, your children, your food, your driving or whatever is in front of you in the moment. Even when you’re pressed for time, if you choose to stay present, relax and take a breath in the midst of it, you will change the quality of the experience. “Busy” is often a state of being, rather than a result of how much we are doing. We can have fewer commitments and go about them in a “busy” way, or we can have more commitments, but feel less busy because of how we are inside of ourselves. How many commitments we have does not necessarily determine how busy we feel. It has more to do with how we are inside ourselves- we can feel less busy with more commitments and more busy with fewer demands- all depending on how we handle ourselves.

Simplify and then organize: The more pared down our possessions, routines, homes, eating habits, exercise routines, etc., the less busy we will be. The more organized we are the more time we will have because we will not waste time looking for things, and we will be more efficient.


Reduce time spent being a consumer: How much time in your busy day is time spent being a consumer? Remember it is not just buying things that takes time, but also fixing, cleaning, organizing, storing, learning how to use, and getting rid of our stuff. Make sure these things are worth your energy and time.  You can free up a lot of time by paring down your material life and spending less time buying things.

Make space for new things: Leave openings in your life for something new to enter. If you get to a point where you feel you have spare time, resist the urge to instantly fill it. Allow yourself to be in a space of “not knowing.” Risk being bored! In this space of just being we often have new insights and creative opportunities come to us.

Let go or don’t do it: Sometimes when we let go, things have a way of getting done on their own. Try creating a list intentions or things you may or may not do. Sometimes just setting an intention or putting it out to the Universe allows things to happen without our having to do anything- it just lines up and flows.


Have clear intentions and goals: When you do choose to spend your time on something, make sure it is time well spent. If we don’t take the time get in touch with our values, set our intentions, and outline goals it is like driving without a map. This can be absolutely fine if you’re present, enjoying yourself, and fully experiencing the moment, but not particularly useful if you are stressed out and actually trying to get somewhere.

When we align our goals with our purpose we may actually be “taking on more,” but it will feel like less. At the moment, I have more going on, but I feel less busy because the time I spend is focused, productive, and fulfilling. Also, when I let the irrelevant, non-essentials take over I miss out because I then feel I’m too busy to say yes when a truly meaningful opportunity comes my way.  When these opportunities come along, we think we couldn’t possibly have time for such a big commitment, not realizing that when we replace busy work we free up space and when we engage in meaningful commitments, we often expand our minds and our ability to accomplish more. Creating inner space and clearing time for what really matters to us grounds us in purpose and replaces the meaningless, unfulfilling energy with authentic expression, intent, and creativity.

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