Jennifer Wilson
Jennifer Wilson

Is Busy a Good Thing?

Busy as a bee. Busy is as busy does. Busy season. Busy, busy, busy. Let’s get busy! Busy sounds like a good thing — or does it?

September 28, 2009
by Jennifer Wilson

Dictionary.com defines the word busy as “not at leisure; otherwise engaged” or “actively and attentively engaged in work …” As a leadership and marketing coach and consultant, I hear people use the word busy as a reason, or an excuse, to put off pursuing new and important opportunities, outreaching to existing clients more frequently, meeting with their important team members to career plan, exercising to manage stress and so on. William J.H. Boetcker, an American clergyman, said, “If your business keeps you so busy that you have no time for anything else, there must be something wrong, either with you or with your business.”

Lately, I’m confronted from all sides with the word busy. I heard a sermon on the subject that echoed the sentiments of Boetcker. I had someone tell me in a class I was teaching on business development that they were taught that it is a mistake to respond to the question, “How’s business?” or “How are you?” with the answer, “Busy!” — because the person inquiring will perceive you as too busy for them (and their referrals). I’ve had a partner group commit to a number of critical initiatives to develop new business, only to be “too busy” to implement them. I’ve found myself sharing how busy I’ve been — only to now catch myself and wonder — why do I feel like I have to share my “busy-ness” with others?

Do we tell people how busy we are because it’s a “red badge of courage” of some sort — a game of busy person’s one-upmanship? Do we really believe it excuses missed commitments, reduces disappointment or ensures forgiveness for a lack of attention and focus on others? I don’t think so, and, as a result, I’ve developed a new set of “rules” to manage my busy habit (and they may help with yours, too):

  • Stop using the word! Catch yourself using this new four-letter word and consider substituting something more positive like “productive” or “blessed.” Usually, finding a substitute word that is longer and more intentional will cure you of a language habit.
  • Don’t use your workload to excuse a lack of performance. Instead, reset expectations with those who you are likely to disappoint due to over-committing and begin to actively say no or push out due dates to more realistic time frames. If you blow off commitments and use your “busy-ness” as the reason, your clients, your business partners, your family and everyone else will, too!
  • Re-read Steven R. Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change and reconnect with Quadrant II activities — those that are important but not urgent. Read to your child tonight. Meet with an important staff person for lunch this week. Call a client you haven’t spoken to in a while. Meet with a referral source for lunch. Follow up with a prospect. Do something to improve your practice or your personal life versus just keeping up.
  • Change your answer to clients. My client and good friend David Cieslak, owner of Los Angeles-based Arxis Technology, Inc., suggests, “If a client asks how business is, if you are ‘busy’, consider answering something like, ‘Business is good and we’re always open for more.’”


Take a look at your relationship with busy and consider breaking it off for good. And, feel free to test me on my resolve to part from the word, too. I can definitely use the practice!

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Jennifer Wilson is co-founder and partner of ConvergenceCoaching, LLC, a leadership and marketing consulting and coaching firm that specializes in helping CPA and IT firms achieve success.