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Why I Stopped Working With Busy People

by Marissa Bracke in Focus & Get Stuff Done

I no longer work with busy people. I work with people who have a lot on their plates, a lot to do, are inundated with opportunities and projects, and who find it useful to have an extra brain and an extra set of hands to help them accomplish all of it.

I love working with those folks. But I don’t work with “busy” people anymore.

“Busy” is an emotional state.

Don’t we all have at least one person we know who always talks about being “busy,” but has the least to do of anyone else in our lives? That person feels busy. It’s an accurate statement about their emotional status. But it has little relevance to how much is actually happening or needing to be done. It’s not that “busy” never coincides with having a lot to do; the point is that the two are completely separate evaluations.

So when I used to market myself to “busy” people, that’s what I got: people who felt busy. It took me a while to realize that there’s a big difference between someone who feels busy and someone who has a lot going on in their business. I work splendidly with the latter, and only reluctantly with the former.

Here’s why:

I can’t solve “busy.”

There is no way to truly service the problem of “busy.” I can take certain tasks or projects off a busy person’s to-do list, streamline their remaining tasks or projects, and make sure they’ve got ample support for their work at the ready. But none of that actually addresses whether they feel busy. They just wind up feeling busy with different things. “Busy” is simply not an issue I can solve for someone.

A busy person–the kind who always includes “busy” as self-description early in their conversations with anyone–will always be a “busy” person. If you took away their entire to-do list, they would still be a busy person, because it’s how they process activity. So when that person hires me because they want to feel less busy, they’re setting both of us up for failure. Nothing I do will actually have any lasting effect on their perception of being “busy.”

For my clients, being busy isn’t a problem–they just want to be busy with the right stuff.

Do you really want to stop being busy?

If we think of being busy as the emotional state of overwhelmed, frazzled and stressed, then sure. You probably want to stop that or at least minimize it. But if we define being “busy” as having many tasks or projects needing your attention, then the solution isn’t to stop that, but to readjust what tasks and projects need and get your attention.

As one of my clients said, “I don’t want to be less busy. I just want to be busy with different things.”

And that’s something I can help with. If you’re a photographer, and preparing for a shoot, composing a shot, working with the images and interacting with the customers brings you joy, then I can work with you to streamline, delegate, and sand down all of the other tasks or projects that fall outside of those activities. That way, your day is still full, but it’s full with the right stuff. The stuff that makes you light up.

I don’t want to help you stop the busy. I want to help you get busy doing those light-up things.

“Busy” is a cop-out.

We use “busy” to describe such a wide swath of emotions and issues that it’s nigh impossible for me to know how to help someone who professes that being busy is his biggest issue.

If we’re having a rough patch with the family and our car breaks down and the dog gets sick and we didn’t finish the article we were writing, we sum it all up by saying, “I was just so busy today.” If we get a dinner invitation we’d really prefer to avoid, we decline by saying, “I’m busy that evening.” If we’re feeling overwhelmed with how much is on our plates, we declare we’re “really busy.”

Busy, my friends, is a cop-out. It’s a euphemism for everything from “I’m frantic with deadlines” to “I just don’t wanna” to “I feel bamboozled as to what to do next so I’m checking Twitter obsessively to tell people I’m busy.” It’s what we say when we can’t be bothered to unpack what we’re feeling or what we’re working on (or what we’re avoiding).

Skeptical? Try this for three days straight: don’t use the word busy. At all. Find other ways of describing what your day was like or what you’re doing or how your to-do list shaped up. You may be surprised to learn how often you resort to that word, and what a plethora of emotions and activities it’s covering! (And report back–I’d love to hear how the experiment goes and what insights it might provoke.)

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