Why It’s Smart to Ask a Busy Person for Help

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Photo: Paul Harizan/Getty Imagaes

They say if you want something done, ask a busy person, even though this idea is somewhat paradoxical. Why, or how, is it that someone with a mile-long to-do list is usually more likely to also be able to knock off any additional tasks thrown at them — whereas someone with just one or two things to get done in a day might not get around to doing any of them? 

I was curious about that this week, and so I threw the question to Laura Vanderkam, author of several recent books on time management, including the upcoming I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time. Her theory, she told me, is that people with hectic schedules have, by necessity, gotten really good at (realistically) estimating how long things take:

I agree that the phrase “if you want something done, ask a busy person” is true in my experience as well. I think it’s because people with full lives have a good sense of exactly how long things take, how much can fit in any given day or week, and how much they’ve currently got on their plates. If they take something on, it’s because they’ve thought about how long it wil take, they’ve looked at the amount of available time, and have calculated if it will work. 

She also suggested that the worst thing that can happen when you ask a busy person for help is probably that they’ll say no; they’re unlikely to say yes and then flake on you. “I’m sure you like to work with people who meet their deadlines and do what they say they will when they say they will,” Vanderkam said. “Over time, lots of people wanting to work with these reliable folks makes them busy.” 

Why It’s Smart to Ask a Busy Person for Help