Real Life: Are you good, but busy?

Did you catch Sydney’s post on The Daybook last week about being “busy”? Alyson blogged about it over the weekend, and as both these ladies brought up, here’s a question: how often, when you’re asked how you’ve been, do you tell the person, “Good — but busy.” I do. Like probably 95% of the time.

After reading these two posts, and reflecting on why that might be, I came up with two answers: 1) just like Sydney mentioned, it has to do with the cultural equation that busy = successful and thriving, and 2), that sometimes, even when things aren’t good or whether or not they are busy, I say such a standard response in order to normalize a situation and deflect attention from myself. It’s much easier to give some vague answer about my mental and physical state, because it means I don’t have to talk about how things really are (even when they’re great!). If things are rough, I don’t want to seem like I’m complaining, and if they’re good, I don’t want it to seem like I’m gloating. But I wonder sometimes if normalizing the response with a “Good-but-busy” inhibits us from really connecting with our friends and family, so that they can truly understand and share in our ups and our downs. Sometimes, in my quest to appear like I’ve got it all together, I can be unwilling to show any kind of vulnerability. But, hello, we are all vulnerable, and more importantly, isn’t our ability to share these experiences with our friends a lot of what life is all about?

There’s a second piece to this that’s probably long enough for another blog post, but I’ll go for it anyway. It’s late at night as I write this. My fiance has been passed out on the couch next to me for the better part of 3 hours, and I’ve wished we could trade places for at least 2 of them. But between cleaning up dinner, working on wedding invitations, responding to emails, and then blogging, there’s been no rest for the weary around here. I AM busy. I know a lot of you are too. I’ve been thinking — why do I do this to myself? We already face the constant struggle of trying to find balance in our lives, and even when we know we need to slow down and take time for ourselves, we still keep adding to our plates. I think for me this behavior stems from my fear of saying no and disappointing people. It’s in the same vein (or the same chronic syndrome, if you will) of saying “Good, but busy” in order to not really share parts of our lives — we don’t put ourselves first.

My homework for myself (feel free to join!): For the rest of the week, I’m going to take the word ‘busy’ out of my vocabulary, just to see if it allows me to have a more honest conversation with my friends, and also, as a check. If I really feel that overwhelmed and busy, maybe I need to shuffle some things around and re-prioritize different parts of my life! :)

So, how often are you “Good, but busy,” and how often do you think it’s an overly vague or inaccurate description of your current state of affairs?



  1. 8.15.12

    Victoria I love your thoughtful genuine posts. Busy is a word I get sick of hearing myself say, as well as other people. I like your homework.

  2. 8.15.12
    rita said:

    i started paying attention to how often i said this after the NYT article the busy trap came out… i realized that, yes, i have lots to do, but i created that for myself and i don’t really need other people to know about it. i found i was saying it most to coworkers or my team, almost as a way to justify or validate my work… and maybe to discourage people from getting too close.

    i still feel really awkward actually telling people how/what i’m doing when i run into them at the office, so i’ve been trying to ask them questions for now… and have learned a lot and really enjoyed it! when i do slip up, i stop and correct myself and say that i’m trying not to say that anymore, and that has also elicited some great responses! good luck with your homework!

    also, you are in the thick of it with wedding planning, so you are busy, so do give yourself a little break! and have your fiancé help you with your invites!

    • 8.15.12
      julia said:

      rita- i like that you mention that yes, you have a lot to do, but you created that for yourself. that’s how i feel a lot of the time when people ‘complain’ about being busy. it’s like, if you don’t like it, fix the situation! no one is forcing you to do all these things, it is your choice. if you like being busy, then say you are busy as a positive, or expand on it and say ‘i’m good, really busy doing this exciting new project’. i do understand that people don’t want to brag either, and sometimes ‘good, but busy’ is an ok default response if you just don’t feel like getting into a big discussion with someone. ohhh the social politics!


  3. 8.15.12
    JK said:

    Wow, I just realized that I say this all.the.time. Great post!

  4. 8.15.12

    I didn’t catch Sydney’s post but I an completely relate to this. I hate when I use the word “busy,” I feel like to other people I am defending the fact that I run my own business, even though I really am busy!

  5. 8.15.12
    Lottie said:

    i sometimes say good but busy to make my life sound more interesting and to deflect the judgement of me not having a job. it is weird how defense mechanisms occur.

    but i too am guilty of probably spending too much time checking twitter, replying to emails and the like instead of spending the time with my other half. maybe i should start turning my phone off at a certain point so i can focus on the important things.

  6. 8.15.12

    i’m too busy to do the homework… :)

    love your thoughts per usual, V.

  7. 8.15.12

    Oh man – I could have written this post. I feel exactly the same way. First of all, I really am so busy that I can barely think, so when I see someone I haven’t seen in a while, saying “good but busy” is an easy way to just play things off vs. get into detail and risk repeating myself / stuttering from tired-ness, or boring them by talking their ear off.

    Secondly,I completely agree in that I hate complaining to people, but at the same time, I hate bragging. And lately, if I were being honest, that would be it – either feeling like I’m complaining, or sounding full of myself. I think that’s the reality fo blogging. Some days totally suck, but then you’ll get a cool partnership, hit a great traffic day, or hit a really great note with your readers. I feel lucky that I am able to share my successes, failures, complaints, and “boasts” with Stefan – and a handful of blogging friends (yourself included.) We’re lucky to have each other!

  8. 8.15.12

    Also, I did want to tell you that Sydney’s post made me a little bit angry.

    Put down the computer and the phone at 6pm? HA. I’m still at work at 6pm, let alone home, working on my blog. I totally get that it would be the ideal, but if you are able to actually put down the phone and the computer at 6pm, then in my book, you don’t get to complain about being busy. Just sayin’.

  9. 8.15.12
    ashley said:

    such a great post and i love the commitment to taking “busy” out of conversation. i’m going to try it too. i’ve actually been thinking about this topic a lot since reading this article ( it’s still a struggle, but i’m trying to be ok with missing a blog post here and there, not crossing EVERYTHING off my to-do list – just releasing this agenda i’ve set for myself and leaving time to enjoy my life, my friends, my husband.

  10. 8.15.12
    Michelle said:

    I don’t actually find myself saying this often, but I do notice my coworkers saying it a lot. What I do find is wanting to trade places with my husband during his 3 hour television watching each night while I am running around like a crazy person trying to get everything done. I can SO feel you on that account!

  11. 8.15.12

    You go girl!!! Loving these real life posts.

  12. 8.15.12

    Love this post! I agree…. I get sick of hearing myself say this, and sick of hearing others say it.

  13. 8.15.12
    alyson said:

    Thanks for expanding on this Victoria. Love your points and it’s true… I often say this or a similar response so it doesn’t sound like I’m gloating about a new client or a great blogging day, or complaining about being at work or up late at night because so many of my friends — many of them not working, stay at home moms — can’t even relate. I almost don’t want to get into it. Those closest to us should, and are, excited for all of our up moments and probably want to be there when we’re feeling a little vulnerable… I know I want to be there for them in these moments.

    And, ditto to Grace’s point: if you put down the computer at 6 pm, when I’m still at work and my husband is picking up my daughter from school, you are not BUSY.

  14. 8.15.12

    After reading this NYT article, I totally caught myself doing this several times a week. Not only do I have a full time job, but I also have a full time blog, other hobbies, food to eat, friends, family, and a random dating life. When I have an event on my calendar every night for the next three weeks…that’s busy! But I agree that it’s so overused. We’re all busy. We need to share more about our lives. So instead I’m trying to say things like “Good-I’m working on some awesome new digital projects at work” or “Good–I’ve been eating at some awesome new restaurants recently.” It’s a tough one but I think it’s fantastic homework.

  15. 8.15.12
    elizabeth said:

    I’m just curious – how many people actually ask how you’re doing and truly want to hear your answer? I think it’s become a courtesy question, thrown into daily lexicon like “what’s up?” or “love you!”.

    I’ve answered ‘good but busy’ and have begun to measure the frequency but I’ve also caught myself asking the question without really listening to the answer. my self-assigned homework is to aim to be more authentic and genuine – if I get a ‘good but busy’ answer, I now ask a second question in hopes of connecting more.

  16. 8.15.12
    Emily said:

    It’s so great to hear your genuine response to this! There has been a lot of talk about this on a few of the blogs I read; I really enjoy hearing everyone’s take.

    Personally I know how the ‘busy’ feels; I was just married 2 months ago and leading up to that I was getting ready to change jobs. Career transition + wedding plannning + honeymoon planning = CRAZY busy.

    And now…. totally different career, loving being married so much, and NOT busy at all! Before I was so used to saying “good but busy” that I was still saying, and every time I thought to myself, ‘no, you’re not!’ I’m reforming my habits. I purposefully chose a career that would allow me to focus on quality, and not quantity. It’s taking getting used to, but I have had a lot more time to spend with my new husband, and I’m thinking about starting a blog to fill the busy void!

    Sorry for the long post… maybe it hints at me not being busy? :)

  17. 8.15.12
    Lizzie said:

    Oh Gosh I’m a queen of “Good but busy.” I too was reminded of the NYT article about the “busy” trap. In many lines of work, including mine, to admit you’re not busy conjures up all sorts of unsavory adjectives: bored/borING, lazy, idle (when in fact, it’s far more boring to talk about how busy we all are than to cop to having free time).

    It’s such a weird, coded word. I like the idea of shedding it from my day-to-day vocabulary. Great post!

  18. 8.15.12
    Cyndi said:

    I definitely agree that saying, “Good, but busy” can keep OTHERS at a distance and keep us from really connecting with one another. There’s another thought worthy of contemplation though.

    The actual act of staying so busy, keeps us from connecting with OURSELVES. Maybe we should also be asking ourselves: What is it I am running away from and choosing not to look see/hear/realize?

  19. 8.15.12

    Ahh this is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately! Everyone says they are busy, everyone complains about how busy/hectic their lives are. It;s like a never ending competition of who is the busiest. But why?? I think so any of us feel like our lives are validated when we are overwhelmingly busy. But, to quote a favorite of mine “Busy does not always mean productive.” I too am trying to take the word “busy” out of my vocabulary!

    TheStylist LA

  20. 8.15.12

    I love this post. I completely agree the response “good, but busy” just flows out of our mouths without actually questioning why? or am I really “good & busy”? I’ve been job searching for four months, since my life took me from NYC to Chicago yes, I’m “busy,” but not the “busy” I want to be, or the “busy” people think I’m referring too. I’m also not always so “good,” but for fear of the questions that may follow when I say “terrible” ..I stick with “good”. Thanks for diving deeper into what is simply second nature!

  21. 8.15.12

    perfect timing, i hate saying it myself. I’m doing the homework. Great topic, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  22. 8.15.12

    I have also been trying to stop with the “good, but busy.” Things have certainly changed around our house with a 9 month old and are starting to pick up. The “busy” in my own life often means baby boy is set down on the living room floor or in his walker and left to fend for himself most of the time. Instead I am working to play more with him, be busy with him. It has made all the difference in the way I feel about my good and good busy life.

  23. 8.15.12
    Alyssa said:

    I love this post. So honest and true, true, true. I always come up with the “good but busy” response whenever anyone asks how I am–it’s become more of a default response than anything else. It’s not that it’s dishonest–I am busy, very in fact. But I don’t want to let that busyness define me. I’ve done a zero to sixy in the last six months (went from an unemployed college student to a long long work week in a city) and I’ve definitely struggled with taking time for me and enjoying the little things. It’s a balancing act, for sure.

    The Glossy Life

  24. 8.15.12
    Tara said:

    You post is very thought provoking and begs the issue of how do we really “connect” with people when we seemingly take the general and simple response. I agree with the “good not gloating” and” bad not wanting to share “portions as if somehow we submit we make things real. We might jinx the good and make the bad more real. Being real busy is good but wanting to thoughtfully engage is better. Thank you so much for your thoughtful post.

  25. 8.16.12

    I agree with everything you said. I always pile too much onto my plate & because I CANNOT handle stress end up snapping. I’m trying to do better at keeping my workload at an even pace so that I don’t reach my breaking point!

    I know constantly being busy is not something I strive for because I can’t handle it, but I still have that mentality that I should because that somehow will equal success & a better life. So not true!

  26. 8.17.12
    Chedva said:

    I love this post. I realized that as a self-employed/freelance, I’m either totally out of work or so busy I have no time to sleep. I think this makes me feel that if I’m busy, I should be grateful for it and never complain. Maybe it’s something that’s true for more people, especially bloggers who are also self employed?

  27. 8.19.12
    angelina said:

    this is such a good wake up call… i’m going to try this exercise and not say “good, but busy” this week, and see how it goes ;) thanks for the post! lovely blog (and a new business!?) – looking forward to read more!

  28. 8.20.12
    Laurel said:

    Ummm… AMEN!!! I found myself, shaking my head in agreement to the computer screen!!! Definitely “busy” is equated with the perception of being successful and even more definitely, i find that i have scheduled my life on what verges on the “psycho” category!!! We have fallen into the trap of having our kids hyper-involved in after school activities ontop of our own commitments. We just returned today from a weeklong vacay where the absence of our schedule made me painfully aware that busy isn’t always better!!! Thanks for validating what so many of us are feeling!! Enjoy your posts so much, as always!

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