Better Business from Brett Davidson – Are You Fake Busy?

by | Oct 26, 2016

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Are you really as busy as you claim to be? It’s time that many of us faced up to reality, argues Brett Davidson of FP Advance.  He reminds us that by prioritising and focusing our activities better we can create the life that we went into business for. And that includes saying “no” more often!

Are you really as busy as you claim to be? When people ask you “How’s business?” how do you respond? When I ask this question of advisers who I meet I’m often told, “It’s crazy busy!”

Busy is cool. Busy is socially acceptable. Busy suggests ambition, courage, and striving. Nothing says ‘I’m giving it some’ like busy.


So, I’m going to ask you straight out: are you genuinely busy or are you ‘fake busy’?

The subject of fake busy came from a chat I had last year with an adviser who was working through the process of letting some clients go. This adviser had started saying ‘no’ to any new enquiries that didn’t meet his new minimum criteria.

He told me: “I’ve just turned away a client that, up until yesterday, I would have taken. I know they would have generated £1,000 of income, but I said no.”


We then discussed how he felt about his decision to decline the job. ‘Uncomfortable’ is the best descriptor. It would have been more comfortable for him to jump back into old habits and say ‘yes’, but he knew that wasn’t going to get him and his business where he wanted to go.

So, he felt uncomfortable doing less work that week, but at least he was uncomfortable for the right reasons.

What’s the real issue here?


Because the adviser turned down the job, he was free to contemplate: “How do I attract more of the right types of clients that meet my new minimum criteria?”

However, to do that he has to sit there with no work on and spend some time getting to the heart of the issue (feeling uncomfortable the whole time). I’m sure you’ll agree that that’s a much more productive and courageous way to spend the week, rather than just doing more of the same old stuff for not enough reward. Or, as I call it, being fake busy.

Doing the old stuff was just going to see him repeat his results for the year. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is often described as insanity. But how often do we do this in our lives?


How many of the jobs that you work on each week would fall into the fake busy category?

Think about this for a second: If you could only work 50% of the hours you currently work (say, due to a serious illness), how much of your current revenue do you think you could generate?

I’m guessing the answer is not 50%. It’s probably more like 70% or 80% or even higher. This begs the question:


“What are you working on that takes up the rest of your time?”

I’m pretty sure we’ve all got at least some of those fake busy jobs – nobody’s perfect. However, the people that get ahead in this life do less fake busy and more productive, high-priority work than those who don’t. Unless you’re really looking closely at what you do every day, it’s easy to think that busy equals progress. It ain’t necessarily so.

Week to week it’s easy to delude ourselves that these choices don’t matter too much. Yet, added up over time, they become the difference between achieving your dreams and not achieving them. Sort of like compound interest, but for achievement.


How do you overcome fake busy?

Here’s something to watch out for in managing yourself. It was something I uncovered in managing myself, and I see it with a lot of my clients.

The problem: Multiple to do lists

The first sign that you might not be managing yourself very well is that you just seem to be perpetually busy. If you are, then read on, because multiple to do lists might be a huge contributing factor.

When I was challenged by a productivity expert, the first thing we did was look at where I stored my to dos. We realised I had four places:

  1. My actual to do list
  2. My email inbox
  3. My diary/scheduler on my computer
  4. My weekly meeting to do list (a few specific tasks that came out of our weekly leadership team meeting)

I was really busy, not always getting everything I wanted to, done. It was so frustrating. The crux of the problem was that with multiple to do lists, I could never actually see how much I had on. This meant I could continue to delude myself about it being possible, to do everything I wanted.

What I realised as I dug deeper on this issue was that not seeing everything I had on, meant I never had to make the tough choices. I never had to:

  • Prioritise one thing over another
  • Confront the fact that some work was more (or less important) than other work
  • Address the number of clients I was working with
  • Accept that some team members were not quite delivering and would therefore need to be replaced

Is any of this true for you too? It was a pretty big payoff for not looking too closely at how I manage myself, don’t you think? No wonder it took a little while to get to the bottom of the issue. Who wants to have to face up to that stuff? But we must if we want to move forward effectively.

The solution: Simplify

The solution was really simple (if not so easy):

Have one to do list and run a zero inbox policy with my emails.

We realised (on analysis) that an inbox full of emails was where a lot of the extra jobs lurked. I addressed some emails every day (the urgent or the quick and easy ones). However, over time other emails stayed there that required more time or attention. I would have to deal with them every so often, but this was how the work built up.

Now, my VA (Virtual Assistant) handles most of my emails and I speak to her every couple of days. That might see some emails eventually coming to me as I need to do them myself. However, many others she has already replied to, or I can instruct her on how to reply (verbally, which is really quick).

Every single day (first thing in the morning) I clear my inbox of any remaining emails as I plan my day. That might mean replying immediately to the quick and easy stuff. However, anything that is a genuine to do, goes into my task management system (we use

It’s the same with my diary/scheduler online. I don’t put jobs in there. They sit on my to do list in Wrike and only go into the diary when I plan my day each morning. I’m also realistic with the time it might take me to do a job on a given day, which forces me to choose and prioritise. There are limits on how much I can get done each day.

This lack of available time has helped me delegate. My VA Emma, gets a lot more work these days as I’ve learned she can do a lot of the stuff I used to think only I could do.

Getting rid of the fake busy is one of the keys to really creating the life that you went into business for.

Brett is the Founder of FP Advance, the boutique consulting firm that helps financial planning professionals advise better and live better.

He is recognised as one of the leading consultants to financial advisers in the UK. You can follow Brett online and via social media:

Twitter: @brettdavidson





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