When you meet business owners and the self-employed it’s natural to ask “how’s business?”

You already know the answer you’ll get: “It’s great, thanks.”

Do you think they’re telling the truth?

This Q&A dance is well known and played out across networking meetings, training events and business gatherings all the time.

The sincerity and enthusiasm of the answer masks the embarrassment and discomfort of the reality. You’ll get the same honesty if you ask them “how’s your sex life?” or “are the haemorrhoids better now?”

Which is a shame, because “how’s business?” could be a revealing and insightful question … it’s just not played out that way. And sometimes that’s fair enough – small talk may be all that you actually want at 7.30 am over an uninspiring croissant and insipid coffee.

But in the underbelly of the camaraderie at such gatherings, if you look closely enough, if you sniff deeply enough, if you tune your ears to the right frequency, you’ll detect a gnawing, grumbling sense of discontentment.

Things … well, you know … appear to be wrapped up in the trappings of success and the warm glow of optimism. But scratch a bit deeper. What do you find?

A sense of “getting by”.

Resignation to “this is how it is”.

Desire rather than commitment.

And a smattering of insecurity.

Why does this happen? After all, SMEs are propping up the economy, right?

Three words. The Busyness Delusion.

“How’s business?”

“It’s going great, thanks. We’re really … busy.”

This is a code, never disclosed yet universally understood. “We’re busy” is deciphered to mean “I’m busy.”

Busy doing everything. Winning new clients. Closing more sales. Making sure the delivery is going smoothly. Filling in the gaps.

It’s as if we wear busyness as a badge of honour. As a measure of success. Something to be proud of.

We All Want The Same Things

 Yet, when you take a moment (a laughable idea when you’re super busy!) to think about it, everyone who’s running a business actually wants the same things. At the heart of it, we all want the same three things.

I refer to these as the 3Fs: we all want:

  • A level of Financial Success … initially looking for financial security and then moving on to financial success.
  • The sense of Freedom to do whatever we want, whenever we choose, with whomever we’d like to share it with (otherwise you’d get a job)
  • A sense of Fulfilment from our work, to make us feel we’re actually doing something worthwhile … to give our lives meaning

When I’m speaking to audiences of business owners, I like to ask them, “Is your business, right now, giving you all three of those 3Fs?”

You can already see the scene …

Heads dip down as realization dawns. Then some heads start to lift up again when they realize they’re not the only one whose business is not actually giving them want really matters.

Initial, tentative chuckles within the crowd build to more ironic laughter as they recognize the reality of their situation.

They’ve just revealed themselves to be under the spell of The Busyness Delusion.

It’s endemic, but it’s also cultural. There really is a metaphorical badge of honour for busyness. It really has become a proxy measure for success.

And here’s where it leads….


“Pick Two”

Those readers already familiar with project management situations will know that all projects have three competing requirements. Typically these are Time, Quality and Cost. More prosaically, “I want you to deliver this project on time, to the best quality and on budget.”

There’s a famous case from the annals of NASA project management, where a robust and highly experienced project manager found himself in the cross-hairs of a Board Review of his particular project.

He had listened patiently to the “powers that be”, berating him for cost over-runs and what appeared to be insufficient progress. His retort was simple, it was powerful, and it was direct: “Time, Cost, Safety – pick two.”

The message was crystal clear: if you want to be certain of an astronauts’ safety, then you’ve got to accept either time or cost over-runs. If you’re hell-bent on having this project delivered on time, then either we’ve got to be prepared to spend whatever we need to ensure safety, or else we can hit the time and fiscal targets, but it might be at the expense of a high altitude explosion, and some too-early funerals.

It takes a clear thinker and a mastery of subject to make the “pick two” statement. And we can all learn from that … if we take the time to think.

If you are running a business, you have three competing objectives – achieving financial security (and more), managing everything that’s going on … and, if you’re not under the Busyness Delusion … having a life worth living.

As the NASA project manager might say, “Own business, financial success, great love-life – pick two.”

The way that many businesses are run, this does seem to be the reality. Without meaning to, many business owners are choosing the route to financial success in their own business by being super busy.


Fear of Losing Everything

And sadly, when the Busyness Delusion is in control, it’s personal relationships that are most seriously tested.

It’s easy to understand why. “We love each other – we’re good. The business needs me more. If I neglect the business, we’ll lose everything.”

Curiously, “everything” doesn’t really mean everything. It means material things. It is rarely meant to include the most important relationship of your life. Common thinking seems to suggest we can take the relationship for granted.

But life’s worth more than that, don’t you think? You’re not sure about that?

I encourage you to read “5 Regrets of the Dying”. It’s very clear what’s important.

As clear as a clearly polished fishbowl.

Full of completely clear water.

With nothing in it.

That clear.

In other words, what’s important in life is very, very clear.

But does this mean we have to pick only two? Is it impossible to have your own business and financial success and a great love life?

The answer is unequivocally NO.

You do NOT have to pick only two.

It is NOT impossible to have all three.

But it does require an approach that is different from the norm. After all, if it was the norm, then, when I ask the “all 3Fs” question to audiences, there wouldn’t be an embarrassed lowering of heads.

What is the different approach?

It’s how you think.

More specifically, it’s what resources you choose to use.

If you do have a business that gives you all 3Fs, feel free to smugly let me know! Or, if you’re “not quite at all 3Fs yet”, take a look at the solutions over at the3fs.com.

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