My break-up with busy

I’ve heard it said that “busy” is our new “fine.” Casually ask someone how they’re doing today, and on autopilot, they might say they’re fine—but chances are good they’ll add, “Fine, but busy. You?”

It’s like we don’t even think “busy” is a unique, situational status in our lives. It’s strange to not be busy. No one answers that polite greeting with, “Fine—finished my to-do list yesterday and had time to leisurely work on my [insert hobby] before going to bed at a decent hour.”

Most of my work-related emails (read: requests for favors regarding book endorsements, product placements, podcast pitches, or social media mentions) begin with this otherwise benign sentiment: “I know you’re super busy, but….”

It’s like we assume busy is the default.

Most of the time, gratefully, my default is full, not busy, and I like it this way. I’m a proud owner of the word “no,” and I’m continually learning this powerful lesson of essentialism: there are very few things in life we “have” to do, and those things are the things we should do well. To do this, we need to say no to most everything else.

Here’s the occasional problem with all this, though: Sometimes, we just have to be busy. Even when we’re intentional and proactive with the boundaries around our time and talents, life sometimes happen.

This is me this week. We’ve got something every. single. evening (including a board meeting I’m attending a few hours after writing this), my mom’s 60th birthday party is this weekend, I’m recording three podcasts in two days, and I’m up to my eyeballs in book edits. One kid has a doctor’s appointment that can’t be rescheduled, another kid has a birthday party to attend (too bad I can’t ask his friend to reschedule that), and our daughter’s volleyball coach suggested an extra evening of practice before Friday’s big game. I’m writing this from the waiting room of my son’s speech therapy clinic.

I’m sure you can’t relate.

Except that of course you can. We all have weeks like this. Our big-picture efforts to break the busy with our time, relationships, and capacity can still be punked by a seriously off week, when it feels like the entire world needs you right now.

busy street

Here’s the one thing I’m learning to do during a crazy-busy week and it feels so counterintuitive, I still don’t quite believe I do this: I stop. And I go on a walk.

When life hands me one of these weeks, I do the opposite of what the world around me is pressuring me to do. I actually take more time to slow down, to listen, to sleep, to read for pleasure.

I paddle upstream from our culture that worships the word “busy,” and I take time to become even stronger to handle the to-do list in front of me.

Hear me out: I don’t jettison my responsibilities and go running off in the sunset. No, I still do my “have tos.” But in between those things, I fight the urge to panic and stress, and instead, do things I know will recenter me.

I pray.
I journal.
I brain-dump.
I go on a leisurely walk.
I read a novel.
I do a bit of yoga.
I watch a bit of Stephen Colbert or Jimmy Fallon on YouTube.
I vox with a friend.
I go to bed even earlier.

I take care of me. Because a me that’s better taken care of will handle that abnormally busy week with much more strength, centeredness, and perspective. And just like clockwork, a new week shows up, and life goes on.


One of my dearest friends, Alli Worthington, just wrote a book about breaking the busy, and I can’t think of a better person to pen it. I used to lovingly call her “NASA” because she launched so many things (she’s full of great ideas)—but then one day, she found her reset button. (Okay, it probably wasn’t suddenly one day, but it seemed that way to me.)

Alli has figured out how to find peace and purpose in our world of utter crazy, and I couldn’t be prouder or more “Amen!”er of her new book, Breaking Busy. I feel more grounded and at peace in reading just the titles of her chapters:

Breaking Busy table of contents

If you’re dying for a bit of permission to break the busy, it helps to have a tool that teaches you how to stop chasing what leaves you empty and instead do what you were created to do. This is a fantastic tool—and it’s funny, too.

If you like this blog, if you like the podcast here, and if you like our e-course, you will eat up Breaking Busy. It’s a “hallelujah!” kind of manifesto we need in our lives.

Breaking Busy is a daily choice

Say no to busy as a way of life, my friend. And when life hands you a random crazy-busy week, go the opposite course and intentionally slow down. You need it, and your to-do list needs it, too.

Breaking Busy

Tsh Oxenreider

Tsh is the founder of this blog and just finished traveling around the world with her husband and 3 kids. Her latest book is Notes From a Blue Bike, and believes a passport is one of the world's greatest textbooks.

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  1. Love this – thanks!

  2. Whitney English recommended this book recently and may be doing a book club on Periscope about it. I cannot wait to read it!

  3. I have banned that word from my vocabulary. Seriously. I NEVER answer “how are you”? with “Busy”. Everyone else does though! Not using the word is my personal rebellion against the culture of busy. I despise it too.

    • Tsh Oxenreider says:

      It’s become such an icky word for me the past few years… I actually cringe if/when it comes out of my mouth.

  4. Kimberley Allan Mulla says:

    Love this! I recently wrote about Busy being a 4-letter word. Ha ha. I was obsessed with a busy life until I was forced to stop. I had a life-altering car accident and while it took me a while to realize it, it was such a good thing. I was forced to stop embracing Busy and to do one thing at a time. Most people I know talk about how busy they are and how I must be so busy. My usual response is that my life is full.

    Thanks for the awesome post and book recommendation 🙂

    • Full is a great response! For the last eight years I have used ‘life is good’ after they put one of those stores near me and I loved the sentiment.
      Frankly it puts people who usually are rather proud that their answer is ‘busy’ a little off kilter! I think instinctively they realize it is a bit of a ‘tsk tsk’ to them but it is so polite and cheerful they never are mad at me. Perhaps it might someday make them think ‘why is her life always good and my life is always busy’?……. One can hope!! I can’t wait to get the book!! Cheers!

  5. I love this and immediately shared on facebook adding; “I work really hard not to tell people I am busy because it gets boring to hear that someone is busy all the time. I do like a full life and I do get bored easily but if I have to be out of the house for commitments more than two nights a week (not counting date nights or moms night outs) I feel too busy and make sure the next week isn’t that way.
    When I am asked to consider a new opportunity, even jobs or ministry or volunteering, I take my time to think about it. Sometimes I say no, sometimes yes and my yes always has boundaries of level of commitment and availability.
    I just don’t have time to be busy all the time.”

  6. I love this and have Alli’s book on my to-read-and-implement list! I love how you said you do things that re-center you. For me, that’s baking. When everything starts to spiral, I start to bake.

    I also, need to learn how to say more “no” this year and welcome more “fullness” rather than busyness, so yeah, Alli’s book and your tips, Tsh, are going to be very handy.

  7. I love podcasts and I’ll have to add that to my driving list!

    It’s amazing because I was just thinking about how on Monday, I was so “busy” and today I’m not. I feel unfulfilled today because of that. But it’s not bad to break that trend.

    Thank you for this. It made me look at my love affair with the word “busy.”


  8. I would love to be able to say my life is full, not busy. However, it is simply busy and I don’t have much that can be dropped. I have 3 kids under 5 and a husband who works long hours. So, my time is jammed with caring for my babes and our home, accomplishing the errands and minding the budget. Almost every evening I am faced with the decision to stay up late to do something for me or go to bed at a reasonable hour. How do I navigate these little kid years without “busy?” Is it possible?

    • This is similar to me, particularly the bit about deciding whether to stay up late to do something for me or get more sleep! I have 2 young kids (one with autism), a husband who travels a lot for work, and no family nearby. Between therapy appointments, preschool, groceries, cooking, chores, and the kids I can’t pretend that things are as simple and leisurely as I’d like. I say no without remorse to everything I possibly can (and to some things I probably shouldn’t), but it still feels overwhelming, and I’m not sure whether it’s simply a phase of life that I need to grit my teeth until I come out the other side, or if there’s something I could be doing to make things easier.

  9. I am reading this 3 days later…because it’s the first time I’ve sat down to my computer in days! My life is full and I’ve been intentionally slowing it down more and more to keep from being “busy”. It’s so tough! I think the hardest part is not falling prey to the world’s lies about what we should be doing. That is where I periodically need to check and then “reset” my own thinking.

  10. I found this post so encouraging. As someone who likes to please, I find it so hard to use the word no. But after a bit of a burn out last year, I am brandishing it now frequently and its so good to hear confirmation that using the word ‘no’ is ok. In fact it is paramount in staying stress free and centred. thank you.

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