A ban on busy

Over lunch, over the phone, over email, and some simple eavesdropping, I’ve noticed a pattern. Because the social constructs of a greeting includes a banal how-are-you salutation, people tend to answer abruptly. And recently, I’ve heard people answer most often using a single word: “busy.”

The conversation, which might have otherwise had potential, immediately takes a dive into deadlines, procrastination, loose ends, and anxiety, the individuals comparing notes on the pace of busyness in their respective schedules. Before the conversation reaches the second paragraph, both are anxious to leave and get things done.

Strike “busy.”

If everyone is busy, then the topic of conversation is dominated by busy-related chatter. It’s empty. Answering with “busy” is not unlike ignoring the zeros in a complex multiplication problem. Cross them out. They’re just noise getting in the way of a point. If busy people compare notes about being busy instead of talking about what truly matters, they’ve wasted the valuable time they wanted in the first place. I say ban busy.

Use training wheels.

I’ve been trying an experiment. Whenever I want to use the word “busy,” I substitute another word instead. I’ve been trying “excited” with mixed results. “I’ve been too excited with these projects to give you a call,” works. But it breaks down when trying to use it instead of saying no. “I’m too excited to speak at your conference,” hasn’t been as effective. Regardless, “excited” becomes a busy detox, the training wheels you need to get off busy. After a while, speaking of busy — perhaps even being busy — won’t feel as natural.

In the meantime, I’m still working up an alternate word list.