We Need a New Word for Busy

Oh hi.

It’s Claire, author of a new book and mother of #3under3 who is traveling and speaking and writing and fighting with health insurance about preemie vaccines and cleaning up asking my husband to clean up the mess the neighbor’s dog makes of our trash every morning.

Here’s the thing:

Last week I told you about the problem with the word Hustle. Folks right and left have started to wonder if this word needs to banned from our vocabulary, and I might be jumping on that train.

But before there was HUSTLE, there was another word.


This is a word I abhor. In fact, this is a word I abhor so much that in 2015 I chose a word of the year (okay, a hashtag of the year), to guide me. That hashtag?


I believed then and I believe now that that default thing where you run into someone in the supermarket and they ask how you are you say, “Busy,” is horrific.

But here’s the thing.

It’s all well and good to say we’re banning busy, and we’re eliminating hustle from our vocabulary, but I’m forced to beg the question:

So what word do we use in seasons of busy?

I believe in working by design. In my mind, this means building a work and personal life that allows us to be intentional with the way we work to keep the busy at bay, and keep the purpose front of mind.

That said, there are seasons of working hard in every life. When you have twin babies at home, say. When you publish a new book, say. Or when you do a host of other things I’ve never done: Go back to school, plan a 40th birthday party, train for the Olympics. The point is there are seasons where you will have to work hard, and no matter how much you prepare for that season, it will be tough. You will feel stressed and you will feel cranky and you will feel like you are fighting for time.

If you do it well, you know that the idea with working hard, as with the idea with effective exercise,  is to work that muscle hard, and then rest it well. And then do it again. Rinse and repeat. Hard work. Deep rest.

But I’m still asking my question: what do we call those times of hard work? Those times where you know that no matter what you do, you will be scheduled to the brim and bandwidth will be few and far between?

It’s not hustle. It’s not busy.

So what is?

Tell me now, so I know how to answer that question, “How are?” this month.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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53 thoughts on “We Need a New Word for Busy

  1. My wife uses the term ‘Keeping It Pacy’ to describe intentional time when there are many things to tick off the to-do list.

    Right now I am not K.I.P., I am browsing comments on a blog…

  2. I lean towards the French words; Très occupé which is one of my two favorites when I think of it literally. I am very occupied. I also like Mon temps est consommé, or just consommé. My time is consumed. Love this line instead of just using NO when someone asks for my time or more of it when I have not to give. I get more proposed solutions to an issue that has been discovered when I use “consumed” then when I say I’m busy, which gets me zero empathy and more “help me with my problem” issues.

  3. I share your dislike of “busy” and am guilty of using it too much. I am trying to instead answer the question by saying–“I am blessed” and then elaborating depending on the person asking the question, more details depending on how well I know them.

  4. I like the various ‘living life’ ones, but how about ‘fully loaded’, suggests there is no more space, but not over loaded for the journey.
    Could also go for ‘full-filled’!

  5. I like to use the words hard pressed or absorbed to describe busy. My kids on the other hand say they are lit when they are busy doing something. That’s what I used when I described how I felt after partying.

  6. Hi Claire, mom of preemie twins here. I know the pain of fighting for vaccine approvals (esp. for RSV)! Hang in there. I like the idea of fully engaged or living the life 😁😁

  7. Possible responses to the question, “How are you?” include:
    “I’m great! My future is so bright, I need shades!”
    “Getting better and better.”
    “I’m having a character-building day!”
    “I’ve been working hard on my business, my family, and myself.” (or whatever)

  8. Full! At times like this i just remind myself that my life is a result of the choices I made. ( well most of them as I’m also a twin mum and that wasn’t by choice!) This life that is bursting with ‘living’ is exactly what I always wanted – i just never dreamed that it would be so tough at times…….

  9. “My life is intense right now.” For me, the word implies much happening, not at rest, power at full throttle. Also, I love that the word can just as easily mean “full out living” as “I’m barely staying afloat!” without the need for dramatic explanations.

  10. Great question.

    Instead of busy or hustle, call it a sprint. Sprinting is to “run at full speed over a short distance.” If there is a time when it needs to be all on, sprint reminds me that this should only be for a short distance. The pace for running longer distances is not the same as a sprint.

    Having clarity on the kind of “race” you’re running helps. And with any race, there is a finish line and a time of recovery. Plan it with training, run it, celebrate it, recover properly.

    I’m a slow runner, but I’ve learned so much from running. One thing I learned recently is that interval training, which includes sprinting, helps a runner run faster in longer runs. Sprints are good for longer, slower-paced “races.”

  11. How about “focused”? Sounds like you’re in a highly focused time right now!

    Several years I rebelled against the popular idea of balance and started actively trying to think in terms of rhythm instead. So maybe it’s fair to say that you’ve just experienced an accelerando and you’re now in a season of vivace or even presto. (Don’t mean to spam you, but I wrote about the idea of rhythm rather than balance here: http://tinyurl.com/rhythmnotbalance)

    Every blessing as you go!

  12. My yoga teachers refer to this concept as finding the harmony between effort and ease. To varying degrees, every pose–or life situation–challenges us to find that balance. The trick is to stay mindful, respect your limits, and BREATHE.

  13. ” Living the Life!” With a smile.

    Someone asked a disabled man working at my goodwill, how he was doing? He smiled back, “Living the life!” I was struck by the irony. Simplicity is so under celebrated. So I stole “Living the life ” and his smile, for my mantra.

  14. Love this post! In those seasons of hard work, I like to say “I’m living in the margin.” Afterall, that’s why I’ve worked so hard to create margin in the first place: so when times of hard work come up I can handle it because I k ow the rest of my life is more chill. So I work really hard at cutting out the unnecessary so that when times of crazy hit, I am mentally capable of handling it. When I was flying at breakneck speed earlier in my life, I didn’t have any margin for the unexpected – or even the expected overload of that day or week. Now, I’ve created enough margin in my life to allow for the occasional increase in responsibilities. Those are the times I am living in the margin I’ve worked so hard at creating.

  15. “Drinking lots of coffee”

    I have a 6 y/o, 5 y/o, and 13 month old (that finally slept 11 hrs and not up 3 times a night).

    However, with impending gains in sleep I feel I will still be responding “drinking lots of coffee” because said 13 month old adorable boy is walking, climbing, and acting like he also drinks lots of coffee. 😛

  16. My suggestion is we replace busy with the word living. First, it’s accurate. If we are present to be asked how we are, we are alive and living. Next, living is juggling our priorities, responsibilities, commitments and interests. Finally, the word living reminds us to be grateful regardless of the circumstance we are here to live and be loved.
    Substituting living for busy would probably elicit some unique responses; might be yet another reason for living.
    Love your writing and sense of humor.

    • Intentionally full meaning life is rich and varied and I chose it that way.

  17. If it’s not hustle, if it’s not being busy, it’s being fulfilled. Of working with a purpose. Working with goals, for being fulfilled. We have very little time on this planet and we can’t cheat death, so if we are not fulfilled at the end of the day what’s the point of filling your time with work. We begin our life by working to learn things about life. It starts right from childhood. Then from our teenage years or from our twenties, we work to earn a living. It goes on till our retirement where we learn how to relax. And the cycle ends with us having to be cared for as we had to be cared for while we were kids. So if we aren’t fulfilled throughout our journey, then it’s not a full life. Earning money is not the whole thing in life. Learning stuff, sharing our life with friends, family and our community, give back to society, caring for our fellow beings and our elders, caring for our environment are all areas we can be fulfilled. While all people may not be good in all areas. If we do not take time and effort to nurture some or all of the above, then we may be hustling or we may be busy, but to me it seems the equivalent of alcohol or drug abuse. Abusing the one good thing we like. In my opinion, that’s why we need to ban busy or hustle. Because when we take our balance sheet at the end of life, it would look pretty aweful. With the liabilities outnumbering the assests with life no profit and huge losses!

  18. I don’t think we have a word or phrase in English for this. I just ended a period like this and am now in the rest cycle (and enjoying it). Honoring many commitments and focused are two alternatives I can think of. But neither can capture well what goes on except busy…

  19. Those seasons… until very recently my husband worked away from home and for about eight years he was home less than one week a month. In a phone conversation I told him once, when trying to stem the tide of words, ‘life is full, hard and good’. That phrase stuck, its on my blog, and he just told me this week…life is full, hard and good. That seems to sum up “busy” times and definitely has been a filter for me. Peace be with you Claire.

  20. It’s called just doing life!

    Believe me, it could be busier… just ask all the young widows (like I was) at Modern Widows Club. Hustle and busy barely describe it and become the norm on top of grief for a very, very long family life.

    So enjoy the ‘easier’ version of busy and hustle. Perspective.

  21. I know, right! BUSY acronym – Being Under Satan’s Yoke! I like to be managing my margin, creating more margin so I have time for people and the things God made me to do.

  22. I’ve been refraining from saying “busy” for over a year now.
    I have consciously been saying that my life is full. It’s a feeling of blessing rather than chaos.

  23. I like the word “engaged”. when I am working with a client, I am “engaged”. When I am researching or writing proposals for clients I am “engaged”, and so on. BTW, Hope you have a safe and uneventful trip – 30 hours with little ones may prove to be a “challenge” but with today’s technology, you should be able to preload a tablet or I-pad with children’s movies like Pete’s Dragon or some PIXAR Toy Story or something, interrupted of course by 30 minutes of personal “engagement” with each child, etc., etc.
    Let me know how that works out,

  24. Since I committed to living in choice and with intention, I use the words “full”, “satisfying”, “productive”. Occasionally when I am not feeling spectacularly resilient I resort to “batshit crazy” but that is reserved for times of exceptional stress. 😂 Hope the wee ones are better. We were once confined to house arrest with contagion for nearly a month #3under3.5 so I remember and can relate! Peace, Dianne

    • I love it! Living “in choice and with intention”! HAAAAA re “BC”…;;;;) yes, toddler plagues are awesome.