Rejecting Busy

A few ways I keep myself from feeling overly busy

One of my main goals for my children’s childhoods is for them not to feel like it was too rushed.

This isn’t only for their sake, but also for mine, because nothing brings out the worst in me like being in a huge hurry.

My personality is one where I tend to want to take a lot on and accomplish as much as possible.

But I know that when I have too much going on and I feel panicked at the sight of my calendar and to-do list, I quickly spiral down into my worst version of myself.

I remember that Cup of Jo wrote last year about the seven most common reasons people are chronically late. Number four leaped out at me: “You try to get one more thing done.”

That is SO me. I’ll have everything ready to leave for dance, but then think, “Oh, I’ve got five minutes until we have to go, I’ll just quickly wipe down the mirror in the girls’ bathroom” and then suddenly someone has taken their shoes off and I think, “I should grab that box from the basement to run to the post office while I’m out” and the next thing you know, I’m getting annoyed at the girls for not being able to get in the car in three seconds, and cursing every red light on the way to dance.

That is not how I want to live.

And that’s definitely not how I want my girls to remember me.

A few ways I keep myself from feeling overly busy

I don’t want to be so busy that I always shut down suggestions to go to the park before dinner or last-minute invitations from friends to go swimming.

I don’t want to be too busy to enjoy my life and the people I live with, and I really don’t want to look back at these years and think, “I missed them because I was trying to write one extra blog post or because I wanted to squeeze in one more errand while we were out, even though everyone was falling apart in the back seat.”

My ideal life is one that is full of things that make me happy (reading books on the couch with my girls, having people over for dinner, being part of a book club, exercising, my blog work), but not so packed that I can’t enjoy what a wonderful life I have.

Of course, busy-ness is so subjective. Some people can manage multiple huge responsibilities and not seem like they are breaking a sweat, while others have one doctor’s visit on the calendar and the whole week is shot.

And some things you just can’t really take off your plate, like children or a job.

For me, not feeling too rushed is, in large part, a matter of my perspective, and I have a few little routines I do that help me feel like I can manage everything I need and want to.

One of them is that I try NEVER to say that I’m busy. When someone asks how I’m doing, I purposefully always choose something other than, “Oh, I’m so busy!” or “Things are pretty busy!” I don’t want to present myself as someone who is really busy and I don’t want to see myself as someone who is defined mainly by being busy.

The second trick I use is a little mantra I repeat to myself where I say, “I have plenty of time to get this done.”

I’ve noticed over the years that I tend to be way less productive when I feel too busy and overwhelmed because I end up bouncing around from project to project without finishing anything up, which just makes me feel MORE overwhelmed.

I try to slow down and just focus on one project at a time, and remind myself that I can worry about the next item on my to-do list once this one is completely finished and I’ll make time to get everything that is absolutely vital done.

I also try to actively take note of the things that make me feel too busy or that make my life start to come apart.

I know that Friday afternoons are my least productive working times, so I try not to plan on getting any serious writing or work done during that time – I use that block to catch up on emails, plan for the week ahead, and outline upcoming posts. Otherwise not only do I get very little done, but I feel super frustrated by how little I got done and start the weekend feeling behind (very unpleasant).

I also know that dinner has become more of a sticking point for me where I feel frazzled and like I’d rather just make pancakes every night. So this year I’m trying to do two crockpot meals a week (on Mondays and Wednesdays when I have a babysitter come in the afternoon), and also pick easier dinner recipes in general. When I don’t have that stress about what to make for dinner every night at 5:45, I’m a much nicer mom, and that mental weight off throughout the day goes a long way.

Figuring out what the main pain points are for me has made a huge difference in how stressed I feel.

I also know that I’m a morning person, not a night person. I’m not one of those people who gets a huge burst of energy in the evenings – if I have something I have to get done in the evening, I know it will take me the WHOLE evening. A blog post that I could crank out in 40 minutes earlier in the day takes me two hours after the girls are in bed. So I try to front-load my projects into the first part of the day so that once my work time and quiet time are done, I don’t have too many things to do in the late afternoon or evening. I can get more done between 7 a.m and 8 a.m. than I can between 8 p.m. and 11 p.m.

And I remind myself that balance is an ever-shifting target. When Star took three naps a day, our schedule looked different than it does now with her only taking one most days. Adding a school schedule to the mix has increased how much I’m trying to get done in a day.

I’m not trying to find an answer that will work forever, but just something that will work for the next few days or weeks or months, and then I can readjust as needed.

And mainly I want to avoid feeling like an extra red light on the way to storytime is going to give me an aneurysm.

A few ways I keep myself from feeling overly busy

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  • Reply Jessica Jackson March 28, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on not being a busy mom. Some of your ideas really rang true to me. This concept of not identifying as busy and not responding with busy is a shift I want to make. What do you answer instead? What do you say to yourself when you look at a long todo list besides today is going to be a full/busy/a lot going on day? What do you identify as instead? I would love to hear some more thoughts on this matter of busy!

    • Reply Janssen March 28, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      I try to say something like "Things are good! We just went to the pool for the first time this year" or "My parents are coming to visit next week" or something that's a little more interesting than just "I'm so busy!"

      When I have a long to-do list, I try to figure out the things that ABSOLUTELY have to get done that day and then figure out when I'll make those happen, which makes me feel less stressed and also keeps me from productively procrastinating (which I'm super good at – doing something that's kind of useful to avoid doing what I actually NEED to do. Like when you iron all the cloth napkins instead of packing for a trip or something).

      Thanks for your comment!

    • Reply Jessica Jackson April 20, 2016 at 12:55 am

      Thank you again for your post and reply. I thought I'd share my continuation of thoughts and experiences since reading Rejecting Busy:

      I really appreciate your initial insights ion this topic!

  • Reply Paige Flamm March 28, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    I've been thinking about this a lot lately… mostly since I finished Better Than Before, and I like how you mentioned never saying that you're busy! I feel like I tell people how "busy" we are all the time and it never does anything to improve my mood on anything. That's a great mental shift to have.

  • Reply Kimmie Merkley March 28, 2016 at 1:18 pm

    What a great post! Thanks for sharing your thoughts- it gave me a lot to think about

  • Reply Stace March 28, 2016 at 1:23 pm

    I really enjoyed this post. I have these thoughts/feelings a lot and it was great to read about it from your perspective! Thank you!

  • Reply LL March 28, 2016 at 1:25 pm


    • Reply Janssen March 28, 2016 at 3:34 pm

      Fixed – thanks for the heads up!

  • Reply Brooke @ Silver Lining March 28, 2016 at 1:55 pm

    Love this. I've been thinking about how I can consciously avoid being "soooo busy!" every day when the twins come. Things will be hectic for sure, but I want to plan ahead with babysitting, meal planning, and farming out things I'm not the best at so I can maintain that balance. In theory. It's all a great theory before those kids actually get here. 😉

  • Reply Alicia March 28, 2016 at 3:13 pm

    I could've written this post, almost… It's been a few years since I identified "being in a hurry" as the root of most bursts of Momzilla-ness, but I still haven't quashed all the hurriedness. Thanks for sharing these thoughts and solutions! I like to be efficient, too, and squeeze the usefulness out of every minute; I'm trying to let go of that. Love the pics, too!

  • Reply Señora H-B March 28, 2016 at 3:26 pm

    Although I don't have children, this post really resonated with me this morning. I get so stuck in the mindset that I need to do everything right this second. I don't say 'no' frequently enough. I hate disappointing people. This all conspires to make me feel frantic and frazzled. I used to be the person who calmly showed up 10-15 minutes early for things and read a book. Now I'm the one rushing in at the last second like a stressed-out hurricane. I agree that it takes a conscious effort to SLOW. DOWN. Life is too short, too fragile, and too beautiful to miss out on everything that's going on around me.

  • Reply The Girl who Loved to Write March 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Love love love love love. Thinking about this so much lately.

  • Reply Jessica March 28, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    I always try to cram extra tasks in when walking out the door! I have a tendency to be concerned with efficiency – as in, leaving 5 minutes earlier than I need to means 5 wasted minutes. So I've worked really hard on realizing it doesn't, really. Those 5 minutes create cushion, sanity, and time for conversation or waiting.

    That said, I LOVE when other people understand that tendency. My husband (15 minutes early for EVERYTHING) doesn't get it at all!

  • Reply Sandy March 28, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    THANK YOU for this post – As a first time mom working as a teacher and putting a husband through school, I needed to hear from someone other than my subconscious that "busy" does not make me happy and finding little ways to cut down on all of the craziness will be well worth my time. P.S. Love reading all your posts and have enjoyed some books on your recommendation. Thank you 🙂

  • Reply Alicia Snow March 28, 2016 at 9:22 pm

    Amen! (And figuring out what to make for dinner is also a stress-inducing item for me.)

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  • Reply Landen March 29, 2016 at 10:59 am

    This really is a terrific post! Just what I needed to hear as we head into a potentially stressful few months with moving and everything!

  • Reply Caitlin Russell March 29, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Love this! I'm a grad student, and I feel like half the conversations I have with friends are "How are you?" "Oh I'm so busy!" "Me too, it's the worst!" I loved your earlier comment about responding to that with something more interesting- it opens up conversation and ultimately makes everyone happier. Sometimes it seems that saying I'm busy actually makes me feel more busy, while if I focused on something positive instead, it could have a de-stressing effect.

  • Reply Julia Manfredi-Hobbs March 29, 2016 at 4:23 pm

    This post is SO important to me. It hits home in a massive way. I am always rushing, always trying to do it ALL… and then add just one more thing. I think about what you said on a regular basis, and although I do sometimes find some sort of a balance, I am still struggling to make a more lasting change. It's hard!!! I bounce between "I want to be more relaxed and available to my family", and "I want to finish the 5 million projects I have in my head". Add a 40-60 hour work week to the mix and all I get is one big hot mess. But I try… which is what counts… I think… no? 😉

  • Reply Victoria Dugan March 29, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    "not trying to find an answer that will work forever" — love it. We don't have to find the perfect routine that will last forever which is a good thing because it doesn't exist. Finding what works best for right now and giving ourselves the freedom to change it up when it doesn't work anymore provides peace of mind. Great post!

  • Reply Victoria Dugan March 29, 2016 at 5:14 pm

    "not trying to find an answer that will work forever" — love it. We don't have to find the perfect routine that will last forever which is a good thing because it doesn't exist. Finding what works best for right now and giving ourselves the freedom to change it up when it doesn't work anymore provides peace of mind. Great post!

  • Reply Megan Elizabeth March 29, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Yes to all of this! I find myself trying so hard not to tell people how "busy" I am. It almost always comes off negative even if we're doing wonderful things. Just found your blog and so happy to follow along!

  • Reply Jodi March 30, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    This is so me. I like to be productive. But at the same time I'm lazy, so I'm pretty good at not being a busy person. I really believe allot of people who are so busy are so because of their own doing. Rarely will I say no to a social invitation, especially when it comes to doing something with the kids like joining friends at the park. I know most tasks can wait.

  • Reply Jenn March 30, 2016 at 3:46 pm

    Love this. Too many people wear their business as a badge of honor.

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