How Are You, Really? Why Busy is a Bad Answer

Raffa Financial ServicesRaffa Financial Services on 06/07/2018

Remember when you used to ask someone how they were doing and they would say something like great, fine, or not-so-good?

Ask the same thing today and you’re much more likely to hear how hectic everything has been. It seems as though “Busy!” has become the new knee-jerk response to the classic “How are you?” question.

And that’s not a good thing.

What are we really saying?

Busy is nothing more than a socially acceptable way of saying “I’m not fine.” Which could mean one or all of the following:

  • I’m stressed
  • I’m exhausted
  • I’m overwhelmed
  • I’m overscheduled
  • I don’t know how I feel
  • I can’t even answer you
  • I’m barely holding it together

And yet most of us are guilty of responding in this way. The “Busy!” reply pops out of our mouths before we even realize it’s happening. And we all too willingly accept the same answer from others.

You’re busy? Sure. That makes sense.

But does it?

Busy is not fine

Somewhere along the line, we jumped on the busy bandwagon, buying into the notion that the busier someone is, the more successful they are. And if you’re not busy? Well, you must just be lazy.

But let’s consider the various definitions of busy, shall we? A quick Google search yields all of the following:

  • Having a great deal to do
  • Not at leisure; otherwise engaged
  • In use by a party or parties and not immediately accessible
  • Cluttered with small, unharmonious details
  • Foolishly or intrusively active
  • Full of distracting detail

Now let’s stop for a moment and ask ourselves a few key questions:

Are these the qualities you look for on others? Or aspire to have yourself?

Does this sound like the kind of person who is able to think things through and make good decisions?

Would a person with these characteristics make a good manager, leader or employee?

Do you trust this person with your child, your business, your money, or your health?

Let’s face it. Our obsession with being busy has gone too far. It’s time to stop confusing busy with productive and overworking with overachieving. These things are not synonymous.

Reset your expectations

So how do we go about retraining ourselves (and our teams) to recognize that busy shouldn’t be the new normal? It all starts with you.

If you currently worship at the busy alter, it’s time to ask yourself why. Do you really perform at a higher level when you’re busier? Or is that when things start slipping through the cracks?

Don’t fall for the busy-is-better hype. People who work 18 hours a day are not better people. Or more productive employees. In fact, research says they are less focused, less accurate, and more prone to mistakes. Plus, they may not have seen their loved ones in weeks.

If this is your definition of better, you need come up with a new one.

Find a new answer

The next time someone asks you how you’re doing, don’t bust out the busy response. Take a few seconds to re-frame what you are really trying to say.

  • I’m stressed – “I’m taking up yoga to help me relax.”
  • I’m exhausted – “I’m trying to carve out more time for myself.”
  • I’m overwhelmed – “I got a promotion and I’m afraid I’m in over my head.”
  • I’m overscheduled – “I’m good, but I’ve missed our coffee dates!”
  • I don’t know how I feel – “I think I need a personal day.”
  • I can’t even answer you – “We should catch up over lunch.”
  • I’m barely holding it together – “Thanks for asking. I’m a work in progress.”

Yes, this may take some effort. We’re all so well trained! But a simple self-check-in is the first step in getting back in touch with how you really feel, and how you really are.

Get less busy

It’s okay to cut things out of your schedule. The world will not stop spinning if you take some time for yourself. Decide what you are going to give up and let people know when and how it’s happening. You may run into some resistance, but don’t let that stop you. If you want to be less busy, you’ve got to give yourself (and others) permission to let go.

Having a hard time doing this? Treat it like a very important task.

  • Schedule downtime on your calendar
  • Give it your full, undivided attention (no multi-tasking!)
  • Ask a supportive person to help hold you accountable
  • Reward yourself when you make progress
  • Encourage others to follow your lead

Still not sure how to break out of the busy cycle? You can find more ideas here and here. After all, a little light reading never hurt anyone.

So sit down, kick off your shoes, and don’t worry about being busy.

Just be.


At Raffa Financial, we provide long-lasting benefits strategies to take care of your business and your employees. Located in Rockville, Maryland, we identify and manage complex employee benefits challenges for businesses all over the greater Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC area.


Photo by Gino Santa Maria


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