Is Busy A Good Thing?
Jennifer Wilson

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? 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 on and 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. (

In the past month, I’ve been confronted from all sides with the word busy.  I heard a sermon at church on the subject that echoed the sentiments of Mr. 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 shore up employee satisfaction and stem turnover, 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 people, your partners, your children and everyone else will, too!

         Re-read Steven R. Covey’s The 7 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.  Schedule a “busy season” (uh oh, what will we call it now – “blessed season”?) planning meeting and begin addressing Rick Telberg’s suggested 5 Must Do’s to ensure a smoother first four months of 2009 (

         Change your answer to clients.  My client and good friend David Cieslak ( 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!

How have you used busy-ness in your work and life?  Is it an excuse, an apology, an honor or statement of success?  After reading this blog, what can you commit to change?  Tell us your thoughts on the subject of “busy”!


Jennifer Wilson


Share this post:

2 Responses
  • Ed Kless on November 20, 2008

    Neat post. I liked your point about saying “busy” in response to a question.
    Someone at a session I gave once said that, “Busy was the only socially acceptable answer for a baby boomer to the question, ‘How are you.'”
    There is certainly some truth to both points of view.

  • Michelle Baca
    Michelle Baca on November 25, 2008

    Hi Ed,
    I think you’re right that there are a few different ways to look at this and one of the characteristics of the Baby Boomer Generation is working hard and putting in the hours, so that suggestion is probably a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I wonder if there is a more clear response than busy? In some instances, people do use the “busy” response to look important or as an excuse for not doing or following up on things. On the other hand, sometimes we answer the question “How are you?” with the word busy when we really mean productive, overwhelmed, occupied or something else. So, maybe we just need to replace the word (as Jen suggested) with something more specific? It seems that “busy” is too generic a term now.
    Also your comment made me think about how many people, when asked the question “How are you?”, respond with “good” or “fine” even when they’re really not. I had a discussion about this with several family members recently and we agreed to give more honest answers to that question when asked.
    One person, however, raised the point that some people don’t really want to hear how you really are or they don’t really care to hear too many specifics and details. I’m curious to know what others think. When you ask someone “How are you?” are you looking for a “Good, how are you?” or a more specific and thoughtful response?

Comment on this post