A Helpful Guide to Becoming Unbusy


“Those who are wise won’t be busy, and those who are too busy can’t be wise.” ― Lin Yutang

It was in this video from Jeff Shinabarger that I first heard the phrase, “‘Busy’ has become the new ‘Fine’.” As in, when you ask somebody how they were doing, they used to answer, “Fine.” But nowadays, everybody answers, “Busy.”

Seemingly, busy has become the default state for too many of our lives.

But is the state of busy really improving our lives? Certainly not. Statistics indicate 75% of parents are too busy to read to their children at night. There is a rising number of children being placed in day cares and after-school activities. Americans are having a hard time finding opportunity for vacations these days. 33% of Americans are living with extreme stress daily. And nearly 50% of Americans say they regularly lie awake at night because of stress. This is a problem. We have become too busy.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Busy is not inevitable. Each of us can take intentional steps to unbusy our lives.

Consider this Helpful Guide to Becoming Unbusy:

1. Realize that being busy is a choice. It is a decision we make. We are never forced into a lifestyle of busyness. The first, and most important, step to becoming less busy is to simply realize that our schedules are determined by us. We do have a choice in the matter. We don’t have to live busy lives.

2. Stop the glorification of busy. Busy, in and of itself, is not a badge of honor. In fact, directed at the wrong pursuits, it is actually a limiting factor to our full potential. It is okay to not be busy. Repeat this with me: It is okay to not be busy.

3. Appreciate and schedule rest. One of the reasons many of us keep busy schedules is we fail to recognize the value of rest. But rest is beneficial to our bodies, our minds, and our souls. Set aside one day per week for rest and family. Intentionally schedule it on your calendar. Then, guard it at all costs.

4. Revisit your priorities. Become more intentional with your priorities and pursuits in life. Determine again what are the most significant contributions you can offer this world. And schedule your time around those first. Busyness is, at its core, about misplaced priorities.

5. Own fewer possessions. The things we own take up far more time and mental energy than we realize. They need to be cleaned, organized, and maintained. And the more we own, the more time is required. Own less stuff. And find more time because of it.

6. Cultivate space in your daily routine. Take time for lunch. Find space in your morning to sit quietly before starting your day. Invest in solitude, meditation, or yoga. Find opportunity for breaks at work in between projects. Begin right away cultivating little moments of space and margin in your otherwise busy day.

7. Find freedom in the word, “no.” Seneca wrote, “Everybody agrees that no one pursuit can be successfully followed by a man who is preoccupied with many things.” Recognize the inherent value in the word “no.” Learning to say “no” to less important commitments opens your life to pursue the most important.

Busy does not need to define you. Unbusy is possible. It’s okay to be happy with a calm life. And doesn’t that sound wonderful right about now?

Image: Moyan_Brenn

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. Kelly Tribble says

    Wow… this post certainly generated a plethora of diverse comments. I did agree that the “day care” comment in the original post was unfortunate. I mean, I get what the point was… but that’s a trigger point for so many.

    For me, the biggest take-away point was “the glorification of busy.” This comes from a good place (the Puritanism work ethic). But It’s not about sacrificing family time or money… and it’s not about working less at something you really enjoy. It’s about how we (as a culture) feel that – unless we present this mode of being “crazy busy” – that people will think we are lazy and unproductive. In my opinion, the opposite is true. We’ve all heard the stories of other countries that have 2-3 times as much paid vacation and family medical leave/maternity/paternity leave… and where the expectation is that you will work hard at work, but that you don’t live, breath, and sleep your job… and how they get as much (or more) done than we (Americans) do while having better life-balance.

    Of course, whenever I bring this up, people will inevitably speak of Greece and other countries who have economies that are in the toilet. But there are other countries, too… such as modern-day Germany… who are doing well (bailing out Greece, I understand) and still don’t have to walk around convincing everyone of their busyness.

    My boss is a Baby-Boomer who teaches some generational learning differences (higher education). She has spoken lots about how Baby-Boomers had to work insanely hard (especially women) to achieve, and that they continue to work very long hours. When a younger employee comes on board and wants to cut out at 5:00pm (because that’s when the work day is over), the Baby-Boomer boss is perturbed and views the younger employee as not being truly dedicated to the job. This is outrageous. All bosses should encourage the younger set to embrace their job as only a part of of their life… and to strive for that balance. Just because (for example) you made the choice to sacrifice having any relationship with your own family or community in order to climb the ladder of financial success… doesn’t mean that everyone under you should make those same choices. Most younger people embrace a better way… they want to be employed and have time for relationships and community. The job is not the life.

    Sorry for yet another long post…

    • Nancy DiMauro says

      I have to agree our culture has us perceiving that you must always be busy to be successful. I did it myself, worked extra hours, went to college (accelerated courses) after working 8-10 hours. Of course, I strived for A’s. The sacrifice, was time away from my family, I sometimes wonder what I missed; what impact did this make on my child. I ended up quitting my job after 30years and moving to a place that seemed much slower paced. I however, have struggled with a slower pace. It is something I have to learn AND not feel guilty for watching a show or reading a book instead of cleaning and laundry or taking a class. I hope I succeed in getting comfortable with taking time to sit on the beach (Myrtle Beach), hike or bike and not feeling guilty. It certainly can suck the joy out of life!
      Bravo to the younger generation…..and other countries who beleive vacation and family time are most important.

  2. says

    It seems that being “busy” has become some sort of badge of honor in our society and that makes me sad. In recent months I have changed my answer to the question “how are you?” I now answer “I am well.” This answer does not mean everything is hunky dory and peachy keen, it just means that at my core things are steady and strong. (Even if it doesn’t feel that way sometimes)

    I like to think of a hymn when I say I’m well; “It is well, with my soul. It is well, it is well, with my soul.” Because when all other things are considered. That is what is most important.

  3. says

    Hi Joshua,

    Thanks for the tips. I found that even if I was careful not to get busy, it happened slowly over the years, so much so that I was not taking time to myself and think and pray. I’ve been less busy lately, reprioritizing and I am starting to feel like I found myself again. This began with looking into how to live a simpler life.

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