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Illustration: Open Doodles

What Are People Who Always Say They Are So Busy REALLY Busy With?

When I was a kid, if someone asked “how are you?”, you would reply “very good, thank you, I must call you at home to chat more”.

If someone asked “have you eaten?”, you would say “yes, we just splurged on the Earthquake sundae at Swensen’s”.

And if you were asked “what are you doing tonight?”, you would answer “watching Ah Shui and Ah Mei on SBC”.

These days, the responses to these three questions would be “I’ve been soooooo busy”, “where got time to eat” and “busy doing OT”.

Which goes to show how much busier we have all become (and also shows how old I am since most of us no longer chat on home lines, think Swensen’s is an annual treat or watch TV dramas with characters named Ah Shui and Ah Mei). 

And why are we all so much busier now?

If you ask my mum, who always has a disgruntled answer to everything in life, it would be “because you whole day keep looking at your phone!”.


In her youth, people were less busy and more efficient. They had time to raise two goldfish, four kids, five puppies and six unicorns, do useful things like keeping the laundry when it rains and hanging it out two seconds later when the sun comes out and repeating this routine on loop the whole day, and peruse the obituary section in the newspapers. Why? Because they didn’t have to look at their phones. Or laptops. Or iPads. Or hangnails.

Technology connects and empowers us, and helps us do things better and faster. But some days, that increasingly feels like a myth dressed up as an advertising slogan for a smartphone or online banking.

The funny thing is gadgets, apps, social media and chatbots can also slow us down and make us busier. I bet you have spent an entire afternoon rebooting your laptop, updating your iPhone, scouting for a strong WiFi signal, reading clickbait articles, having a chatbot hang (up) on you, and staring at your phone screen – the last because you have 1,428 apps on it and you can’t find or remember what you wanted to “open” just a minute ago. 


So, you were soooooo busy but TBH, you don’t really know what you were busying yourself with the whole day. Not that you’re going to admit all this because it’s just more glam to say that you were, well, very busy.

Life has also become full of KPIs these days, compared to the 17th century. We have lists to tick off, tasks to complete, goals to achieve and Netflix shows to binge watch by a certain time, date or age. Being busy and stressed is a badge of honour. Being free and idle is a sign of an underachiever or someone who still watches free to air only.

Being busy or letting others see and know that you are “not free hor” is also a strategic move.    

At home, if you don’t look busy, you get arrowed to do things by your family like packing the bomb shelter room, picking up the dog poop or helping them set up a Facebook account.

In a social context, if you are always turning up for gatherings on time – or OMG, earlier than everyone else – you must be very free and have not much of a career. Or a life. Only the very busy, fulfilled and successful people get to text and say that they will be late by 30 minutes because they have been held up by a board meeting, a business pitch, high tea with their private banker and robbers. If you are one of those who’s always replying “no problem, I’ll just walk around first”, then be sure your friends are secretly judging your lack of purpose in life because how dare you be free and not busy!


At work, there are two types of colleagues: the busybody or the busy body.

The latter is always stressed, high strung and distracted because he has no time to eat, no time to pee (true story) and, like the latest James Bond movie says, no time to die.

Even then, there are two categories of busy bodies in the office.

The real one is genuinely bullied overloaded with work, meetings and deadlines. He’s also a pushover or a really nice guy who doesn’t say no when he’s given more of these.

The fake busy body has no time simply because he manages it very badly. We are talking about people who stare at their computer screens for hours without doing anything much, who attend meetings but do not pay attention so the meeting gets nowhere (double whammy if the fake busy body is your boss who wants you to reschedule a meeting for the 172nd time “so we can think about this again”), who mind other people’s businesses but never their own, and who then spends the next six hours whining about how they have no time because they are so busy. Ahh, to think they could have accomplished so much more in all that time it took for them to complain.

Both types of office busy bodies can be toxic company for the rest of us. Because they are always grousing about something, dashing from office cubicle to toilet cubicle, and looking angry. Don’t even try jio-ing these kinds for lunch. That is a trigger for them. Don’t say bye to them when you leave at 5.59pm. Also another trigger. And don’t buy them Secret Santa gifts that say “keep calm and carry on”. The ultimate trigger that will have them pulling you aside and airing their grievances on how they have just too much work to do, how they are paid so little and how they really want to quit this time liao.

And after you’ve spent three hours listening to them, you will realise then that you too have become a busybody.    


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