Someone recently posed this question to me: we all know that “if you want something done, ask a busy person.” But why is that? Why exactly do busy people seem so reliable?
It is true that those with a lot on their plates are often willing to take on more. Just look at volunteering statistics. You might think that people with jobs, and people with kids, would be less likely to volunteer than those without such claims on their time. But in reality, volunteering rates are higher for the employed than those not in the workforce, and parents are more likely to volunteer than non-parents.
I think reliability and busyness go hand-in-hand for two reasons. First, those who are successfully juggling a lot have good systems for avoiding dropping balls. They intuitively think like project managers. How long will the proposed task take? What steps are involved? When would each step need to be completed by, and what problems might arise that would preclude meeting those deadlines? They keep looking ahead to see what’s on deck. Then they build in enough margin so that when things come up, as they inevitably do, they stay on track.
To continue the juggling metaphor, someone who has figured out how to juggle six balls won’t be flummoxed by a seventh. It just goes in the queue and cycles around like the rest.
But the equation goes the other way, too. It’s not just that busy people are reliable. The more profound insight is that reliable people become busy.
I’m always surprised at how infrequently reliability–that seemingly obvious strategy for career success–gets employed. I’ve had conversations with book editors who report that they set “official” deadlines far ahead of the real ones, because they assume a big chunk of authors will be late with their manuscripts. There are obviously reasons for this self-preservation strategy, but it’s also sad. Reliability fundamentally comes down to keeping your promises. You are as good as your word. Being a person who can be counted on builds trust, and trust is the foundation of deep, long-lasting relationships.
If you’re choosing who to work with, wouldn’t you rather choose someone you trust than someone you don’t? If a person has shown himself worthy of your trust, you want to work with that person again.
Over time, as this realization gets repeated, the reliable person winds up with many opportunities. He becomes busy. That’s why if you want something done, you ask a busy person. He’s busy because he’s shown he can get stuff done.