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Are you busy being busy or busy being successful?

Are you busy being busy or busy being successful?

As a Leadership Coach, it is my job to ask probative questions that inspire transformational action.

But I was unprepared for the moment when, in the course of a busy day, I was asked a question that challenged me profoundly. 

'Are you busy being busy...or busy being successful?'

“What kind of a question is that?” I thought.

My baffled (and probably slightly indignant) expression must have been written all over my face because he asked me again.

‘Are you busy being busy or busy being successful?’

Stung into a reply, I mumbled that I was pretty sure that I was busy being successful.

My business was, after all, in the 4% minority of niche businesses that survive beyond 10 years. I work with amazing people all over the world…you want to know about success? Well, let me tell you…

However, the fact was that the question was being posed by a chap who has been highly successful in setting up then selling two coaching businesses and now choses to spend his time helping specialist businesses like mine to grow.

And he was talking to me because I had asked him to. I wanted to learn from him. I wanted to glean some of his secrets. So, whether I liked it or not, his probing question warranted serious thought. 

As with all truly powerful questions, the honest answer came after a period of reflection. 

The unassailable truth was that if I was really busy being successful, I would be writing this article from my yacht off the Bahamas rather than in my office with the central heating on.

The first point of note: this is NOT about time management

My first reaction had been that I was about to get a lesson in time management. As I rather arrogantly like to think that there is really not much more I have to learn about cramming 36 hours of activity into a mere 24 hour day, I wasn’t brimming with enthusiasm over where our chat was going.

However. it didn’t take me long to realise that the answer to his question had nothing to do with time management.

The answer was not to be found in how I prioritise and manage my time. Rather, the question struck right at the heart of how I was choosing to busy up my time.

I realised that if I truly want to ensure that I am busy being successful, I had to ruthlessly probe and challenge every aspect of my multiple To Do lists. 

Was everything I was doing, every little time-consuming task, in service of my aspirations for success or, like worker bees the world over, was I actually toiling tirelessly in service of others?

The answer was shocking. My yacht was clearly going to have to remain a pipe-dream for a while.

This audit of my personal productivity drove me back to basics – something I am sure few ‘busy’ people make time to do.

With so much emphasis now being placed on deeper self-awareness paving the way for more effective personal leadership, and knowing how busy all my clients are all of the time, I thought the simple pathway of this introspection might be of value to share with you. Just in case you find yourself wondering whether you are also busy being busy rather than busy being successful?

#1 What does ‘success’ mean?

As with all good beginnings, one starts with the end in mind: how do I define and measure success?

My definition of success is different today to how I defined it 10 years ago and radically different from the earliest (and very naïve) days of my career. It evolves in step with changes in my life circumstances, my aspirations and my deeper understanding of what really matters to me.

It has been my recognition of this that has been slower to catch up. 

My hectic agenda has largely been driven by unconscious default to criteria that are no longer aligned to what I want to be really proud of. I probably got lazy - lulled in to a false sense of achievement because I was busy.

So, step one for me was simple: I had to clearly articulate to myself what success looks like and feels like for me today. Loud and proud! 

#2 Does my ‘To Do’ list align?

Some years ago, a client asked us to investigate what more she could do to operationalise a culture of empowerment. Insights from other Leaders across the LifeSciences industry and international Business Schools highlighted a subtle interconnectivity of 3 tenets of success that drive the leadership approach in truly empowering, high performance organisations.

Foremost was the need for there to be a clear ‘red thread’ between the value of the routine tasks any one individual is personally accountable for and the collective aspiration and values shared as a team and as an organisation.

As I examined that ‘red thread’ between my day-to-day activity through the junction points of my goals and on up to my (refreshed) vision of success, the thread was often pulled so thin that it disappeared altogether. 

Restoring that clear line of sight between how I was spending my time and the success I aspire to was tough. Old habits die hard. However, it is transforming the impact of what I do, where I focus my energies and the outcomes I achieve.

Now the trick is to maintain momentum, to stay motivated even when the going is really tough.

#3 Am I thriving in the moment?

Over the years, I have read all the mottos, the inspirational quips, the wisdom-laden soundbites about success. For example, I know that success is a journey not a destination, a marathon not a sprint. Yet, as motivational drivers go, they last about as long as the sugar-rush in a Marathon bar.


At the start of 2016, all that changed for me when my path crossed with that of a beautiful lady who was living with the awfulness of dying of cancer.  

She said that when you know you are seeing things for the last time, you see them for the first time. As bitter-sweet as they are, I have come to treasure her words of wisdom and I have started to take time to notice…simply notice.

Whether it has been observing the snow-drops fight through the frost, watching lambs dance about in the fields as I wait at traffic lights on my way to a client meeting or clutching another ’21 again’ birthday balloon, I repeatedly feel her grace and I really see.

The funny thing is that this doing nothing, this mindfulness, not only enables me to thrive in the moment but creates a surge of motivation that spurs me on to take advantage of the success that life has to offer.

So, when I am busy, I do truly believe that I am on track to be busy being successful.

And when I am not doing anything at all, that’s fine too because it is a key part of what I want my success to look like.




This article has been written by:

Annalise Cowley, Director of Mansfield Buchanan

An experienced Consultant and certified Coach, Annalise works exclusively with LifeSciences clients worldwide to help Leaders and their teams to use insight into what people need and value to deliver the business results that matter.

We hope that you have loved reading this article and welcome any thoughts, questions or feedback. Please get in touch with Annalise directly via:

Phone: +44 7966 771054




MB Leadership
Corby Enterprise Centre, Northamptonshire NN17 5EU
United Kingdom

t: +44 (0) 1536 560358
m: +44 (0) 7966 771054



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