5 Kinds of Busy

5 kinds of Busy. Not all kinds of busy are equal.

There are many kinds of “busy” in modern life. Most of us experience the sensation of being busy at one time or another. Some of us reside in a perpetual state of “busyness,” while for other it tends to be more periodic in nature. What’s odd about being busy is the variety of emotions that accompany it, everything from exhilaration to exhaustion. Clearly, not all kinds of busy are equal.

In order to harness the positive and productive aspects of being busy, it helps to understand the different types of busy we may be facing. Generally speaking, I find that the word “busy” is used to describe five different situations. Each one impacts how we feel, and each has implications for how we can best move forward.

1. Overwhelmed Busy

=> What it looks like:

  • Lots of tasks we need to get done
  • People counting on us
  • Not enough hours in the day, even when we work efficiently
  • Not in control of our own schedule
  • Not sure how to be more productive

=> Common for:

  • Parents of young children
  • People in a new situations (e.g., recent relocation, new job, new baby, etc.)
  • Workers in understaffed companies

=> How it makes us feel:

  • Like we can’t please everyone (or anyone)
  • Worn out
  • Hopeless

=> What to do about it:

  • Bring in backup resources to get things done
  • Seek advice on tools & techniques
  • Delegate what you can
  • Delete optional commitments
  • Break large projects down into small, achievable tasks

2. Over-programmed Busy

=> What it looks like:

  • Lots of things we want to do
  • Full calendar
  • Little/no “white space” in the day (i.e., no margin for error)
  • Constantly rushing from one thing to another

=> Common for:

  • People who can’t say “no”

=> How it makes us feel:

  • Either high on an adrenaline rush or frazzled when things don’t work out

=> What to do about it:

  • Reduce number of optional commitments
  • Schedule downtime to avoid burnout

3. Disorganized Busy

=> What it looks like:

  • Frequently misplacing things
  • Often running late
  • Items stacked, stashed, piled, and otherwise strewn about

=> Common for:

  • People who lack organizational skills

=> How it makes us feel:

  • Out of control
  • Embarrassed and ashamed

=> What to do about it:

  • Bring in help to set up organizing systems
  • Practice organizing disciplines (e.g., daily reset, planning, labeling, etc.)

4. Distracted Busy

=> What it looks like:

  • Lose track of time
  • Spend lots of time scrolling the internet
  • Struggle to stay focused and complete tasks
  • Procrastination

=> Common for:

  • People with ADD, anxiety, TBI
  • People operating in highly unstructured settings (e.g., working from home all day)

=> How it makes us feel:

  • Inferior
  • Unintelligent

=> What to do about it:

  • Seek outside help to clarify the source of the struggle
  • Add structure to your day (e.g., clearly defined task list, Pomodoro method, timers, external accountability)
  • Minimize external intrusions (e.g., turn off alerts, add sound management)

5. Pleasantly Busy

=> What it looks like:

  • Daily list of tasks to accomplished
  • Possess time, skill set, and resources to be productive
  • Have a measure of control over the calendar

=> Common for:

  • People in a long-time job situation
  • People with expertise in their field
  • People with a healthy understanding of time needed to complete tasks
  • People with strong executive functioning skills
  • People with strong support networks

=> How it makes us feel:

  • Productive
  • Satisfied at the end of the day
  • Purposeful

=> What to do about it:

  • Enjoy and keep it up!
  • Offer to help others who are struggling.

* * *

5 kinds of busy.

Admittedly, there may be times when we wish to be busier than we are! Perhaps we have been sidelined by an illness or injury, or maybe we are longing to plug into a community or are searching for a job. Typically, if we are patient and keep seeking, new opportunities will present themselves.

For those who are feeling busy, which of these types of busy resonates with you? Do you relate to more than one?

22 thoughts on “5 Kinds of Busy”

  1. What a great list to explained the different types of busy and how to deal with all of them. I will say, I do take weekends and evenings off now to try to find some balance and time to recharge after the crazy busy days here with work and my family’s schedules, as well. So, I agree that with being overprogrammed busy it truly does help to take time off and fund some down-time, as well.

    1. Yes, time off is what give us perspective and the energy to keep going over the long term! Good for you setting aside some intentional “recharge” time:).

  2. I love the way you laid this out, Seana! I agree with your different definitions of busy. I am almost always productively busy. I find that when I don’t give myself white space I am not nice to anyone (including myself) and I feel anxious. Since I don’t like feeling that way, I make sure I work my schedule efficiently.

    1. I get very stressed when my day is too full. I know if one thing goes wrong, I’m going to fall behind and let someone down, so I get impatient and self-centered. White space saves me many days!!

  3. This is a great look at time and how we keep ourselves busy, look at how busy we are, and the stories we tell ourselves about how busy we are. I love how you broke all five areas down, including how it makes us feel and what to do about it. I don’t think there’s anyone that couldn’t relate to this.
    The graphics are amazing. And I wasn’t too busy to read each one! 🙂

    1. Made me smile with that last phrase, Ronni! You are very clever :)!! Many of us cross between these types on any given day, or may struggle with multiples. Still, I find categories help me figure out what my next step should be.

    1. So true, Neena! I get distracted, especially when working from home. On the job, I find it much easier to stay focused. I’ve seen a lot of people struggling with this since COVID hit. At least I know I’m not alone!

  4. This is fabulous! You are so correct – there are multiple ways to be “busy.” I am pleasantly busy lately. Business is good, and I rededicated myself to a volunteer board for an organization that inspires me.

    1. I love that you have made time for one volunteer role that really means a lot to you. That is the goal – to be able to work, make the money we need, and share our time and talents with causes that matter!

  5. I would say right now; I am Over-programmed Busy. A lot is going on with my business and my family life right now. I find that to deal with the busy, and I need to write down all the to-dos. It makes it easier for me to handle one at a time. Thanks for creating this, I’m going to share it everywhere.
    Sabrina Quairoli recently posted…Small Nursery Organization IdeasMy Profile

    1. Thanks so much for the sharing, Sabrina. I think even organized people go through these various kinds of busy. When we are over-programmed, the organizing skills come in super handy. Often, the intense periods come and go, especially with life events. I’ve got a busy season ahead, and know I will have to work a bit harder to take care of myself as I try to take care of others!

  6. Seana- This is an excellent way to look at “busy.” Because we’ve all felt “it” at times, and as you so beautifully described, it can appear in a variety of ways. The approaches to letting go of some of the busyness look different too. It’s so common when someone asks how things will say, “I’m busy.” I’ve tried to change that response for myself, or at least be aware of it. Busy is no longer a badge of honor. If a lot is going on, I might say, “My plate is full.” That indicates I’ve decided how many ‘portions’ I opted to take or what I chose to fill my plate with. And if it’s overflowing, the full plate analogy helps me recognize that I can take less, do less.

    1. I’m glad that we are, as a society, moving away from the glorification of busy. Being busy, in itself, doesn’t really mean we are succeeding or living a great life. Sometimes we are busy simply because life comes at us in clumps, instead of in slow, predictable increments. I’ve been in all of these phases at various times in my life. Knowing which situation I am dealing with helps me figure out how to proceed. I want to be shooting for “pleasantly full,” even if I can’t live there all the time!

  7. I love that all busy is not equal. By identifying which busy you are and how comfortable you are with that level and type of busy, you can see if you prefer to change. Thank you for this eniightening post!

    1. That’s exactly it, solve the right problem! I move around between the different types myself, but having a bit of clarity helps me get back in control.

  8. I am often #1 but I, of course, love #1. I get a weird sort of paralysis when I’m too busy, and a weird sort of restlessness when I’m not enough busy. Finding that balance is super hard for me.

    1. There can definitely be a “rush” to having a full schedule, and to feeling the accomplishment of getting everything done. I prefer #5, when I don’t feel the stress but can still check off a bunch of boxes:).

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