Photo courtesy of U. Leone via Pixabay.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, right?

That time of year when people are busier than ever preparing for family visits, fighting crowds at the mall, wrapping presents, finishing projects, and setting goals, all while trying to bake fruitcakes for neighbors. Our lives are busy with so much still to be done.

And it got me thinking: “busy” should be added to the list of four-letter words that my mom wanted me to suppress.

I’m not sure how your mom responded if you used swear words, but mine had a strict and consistent approach. Any slip up resulted in her leading me by the ear to the bathroom for a bar of soap to wash my mouth out!

Let me tell you why I think “busy” should be a word that causes moms all over the world to reach for the soap:

1. Busy elicits empathy from others.

Saying we are busy is like a direct line to empathy. People automatically identify with the overload that comes from being overworked.

And let’s face it—we all like it when people understand our plight. Something about it just feels good, and when something feels good, we do it again.

Unfortunately, empathy doesn’t help us get past being busy. Empathy actually reinforces that mental state and allows to feel okay with being that way.

2. Busy is an excuse.

Here an exchange you will recognize:

“How’s your project going?”

“Well, I’m not as far as I wanted to be—I’ve been so busy.”

“Gotcha. Thanks for the update.”

Busy is a pretty effective excuse. When we say we are busy, others often don’t ask a follow-up question. They take our “busy” at face value, which allows us to avoid any further, potentially unpleasant conversations.

3. Busy is a justification.

We all have a to-do list, and for many of us, it feels never ending. We look at our too-long to-do list and tell ourselves that more things aren’t crossed off the list because it’s simply too long!

We tell ourselves we wouldn’t have so much to do if only we didn’t have so much to do!

That circular argument is ridiculous, but appealing. As a result, we continue building our list of things to do while simultaneously building our ongoing justification for not getting those things done.

4. Busy focuses on the wrong thing.

One of Merriam Webster’s definitions of busy is “full of activity, and it is easy to be active without getting much done. It’s fueled by a culture that values perception over reality.

John Maxwell likes to say that activity is not the same as accomplishment, and movement does not equal momentum. When we focus on activity, we can be busy. But when we focus on accomplishment, activity matters far less.


When you stop and think about it, busy is a four-letter word because it’s a seductive way to keep us from being accountable for accomplishing the things we want and need to do.

Leaders must constantly ask themselves and those they are leading, “Is this the best use of my time? Is this the best use of your time?”

The busy leader says, “My time is being used”; the effective leaders says, “I’m using my time.”

My friends, whether we’re talking about the holidays or any other day of the year, our goal is not to be busy. It’s to be effective.

So, get your perspective right. Change your thinking. Make a commitment to eliminate busy from your vocabulary.

And if need be, have your momma on stand-by with a bar of soap.


  1. Vivian C Carver on December 14, 2018 at 10:42 am

    So true I have to get better . Thank you

  2. Bharat M on December 18, 2018 at 6:21 am

    I am not busy at all. Thanks to you John. I just became a more effective leader.

  3. Lotuz on December 25, 2018 at 10:23 am


  4. Uriel on December 26, 2018 at 10:23 am

    I got it and is effective!!


  5. Peace on December 31, 2018 at 8:41 am

    This has inspired me. Thank you

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