I’m really busy (way busier than you). I mean, like, really, really busy.

I remember a conversation with an employee at Park Central Mall in downtown Phoenix some 13 years ago. I don’t recall the specifics of that talk, but I do remember that it ended with, “let’s stop telling people that we are ‘busy’ because it essentially means that we don’t have time to help them and, therefore, our planning is poor”. This was probably the first time I had looked at this way which is a surprise and makes me very sad for myself. How was it not apparent to me before that when someone either called me or walked up to me saying, “How are you?” and I instantly replied “busy” that for all intents and purposes I was pushing them away. It’s akin to saying any of the following:

  • I was good, but now I feel trapped
  • There’s tons of things that need to get done, but here I am with you — so, yeah
  • The list was long and I was already behind. Time with you is only making me fall farther behind
  • You are a time suck and I need to get away from you. Do you see an escape route? I need an escape route
  • I am a pretty big deal. I would like to tell you how big of a deal. Please ask me “busy with what?” so I can tell you how busy I am and then we can compete on who is busier. I have way more on my plate than you. Trust me. I am busy for God’s sake. So, so busy.

If you read any business articles as a regular practice, you have most likely seen a billion of them lately talk about the fact that you need to say “no” to more things. I even saw one recently that had percentages applied to how often you should say yes versus how often you should say no. It was like a 25/75 split toward no. All in an effort to help you be busy with the right things.

In my world, relationships are the right things. I really am struggling to come up with a job that doesn’t depend on relationships in some way, and yet the advice is to say no 75% of the time to make you more productive. These people writing and commenting on the articles are seemingly experts on productivity and building businesses, but it struck me as so odd when doing research for this article that it would be accepted by people to say you are too busy for them that often and still find success.

Since I know my industry fairly well, I will focus there for the moment. Let’s say 100 people reach out to me per week (It’s way more than that because, as I have stated, I am super busy). If the resulting conversations were limited to 25 and the remaining 75 got a “no” and had to go elsewhere, I know for a fact my business would not have grown and other productive things would not have happened. Here is a partial list of things that happen as a result of saying ‘yes’:

  • new relationships form
  • new connections / referrals happen
  • companies form
  • interviews resulted and jobs were landed
  • donations were made to non-profits

The suggestions I read could be described differently (and therefore the articles could be a lot shorter). Here’s my take — if you cannot commit to what yes involves, then say no. If that means that you say no 75% of the time, so be it.

As described above — in my recruiter bubble — just about every encounter matters and every conversation is a crucial one. Therefore, I rarely say no to any conversation or meeting. However, the yes I give, doesn’t always commit me to a huge obligation, it is sometimes simple and oftentimes involves an equal commitment or follow-up by the other person.

Anybody can be busy, but very few people are productive. I recently read this awesome article by Charles Chu. In it, he says When I hear people say “I’m not talented”, this is what they sound like in my head:

“I’m not good enough, and I’m too lazy to figure out why. To make myself feel better, I will blame it on talent.”

Replace “too busy” where “not talented” is and you get the same thing. We make ourselves feel better when we can’t get something done by blaming it on how busy we are rather than figuring out how to be more productive.

Helpful hints:

  • do you make promises you can’t keep or never intend on fulfilling

Helpful hint #1 — stop doing that

  • do you avoid crucial conversations or have conflict issues that limit your ability to say no to things

Helpful hint #2 — stop doing that and read this book

  • do you just not have the skills to fulfill some of the promises you make

Helpful hint #3 — think of who you know who might help and refer the person to them rather than thinking you aren’t equipped, think of someone who might be

  • were you just trying to get away from the conversation and therefore made the commitment

Helpful hint #4 — stop lying and communicate with people about what you might be able to do for them, what you likely are not able to do for them and offer to be a sounding board as they do whatever it is they want to do. Let them know that you are happy to receive their call or would love updates along the way to encourage or share in their exciting progress.

We should all have a goal to keep moving the needle toward being productive, supportive, helpful and mindful of other people’s schedules. We shouldn’t be reminding people that we suck at planning and preparation and have a phobia to getting things done. Seems like a better place to live. #GetProductive

Allen, with his good friend Anthony Garone, recently launched Kensho Education. As Founder of Phoenix Staff he gets to work with amazing people both inside the company and those looking to make moves in their careers. He is Chairman of Kids at Hope and serves on the board of Foster Angels of Central Texas. He supports non-profits that serve kids, has offices in 3 states and loves working with entrepreneurs.