Tag Archives: W. J. Kennedy

If You Want Something Done, Ask a Busy Person To Do It

Lucille Ball? Benjamin Franklin? Elbert Hubbard? W. J. Kennedy? Anonymous?

Dear Quote Investigator: A popular proverb suggests that when you are faced with a large task you should call upon someone with an ongoing track record of accomplishment. Here are three versions:

  • If you want something done, ask a busy person.
  • If you want anything done, ask a busy man.
  • If you want work well done, ask a busy woman.

This notion has been attributed to top comedian Lucille Ball, statesman Benjamin Franklin, and epigrammatist Elbert Hubbard. What do you think?

Quote Investigator: The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in a report delivered in 1856 by Reverend W. J. Kennedy who was the Inspector of Schools for Lancashire and the Isle of Man in Britain. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

Just as it is almost proverbial that, if you want any business done for you, you should ask a busy man to do it, and not a man of leisure, so it is the laborious scholar, who is working hard at languages, who picks up, nay, actually reads and studies more of other subjects than the rest of his fellows at school or college.

The context revealed that the saying was in circulation before the report was produced, and its authorship was anonymous.

This valuable citation was reported by quotation expert and BBC radio broadcaster Nigel Rees in his periodical “The Quote Unquote Newsletter” in January 2012. 2

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1856, Minutes of the Committee of Council on Education, Section: Inspector’s Reports for 1855, General Report for the Year 1855 by Her Majesty’s Inspector of Schools, the Rev. W. J. Kennedy, M.A., &c., on the Church of England Schools inspected in the County of Lancaster and in the Isle of Man, Date: January 1856, Start Page 444, Quote Page 450 and 451, Printed by George E. Eyre and William Spottiswoode, London. (Google Books Full View) link
  2. 2012 January, The Quote Unquote Newsletter, Volume 21, Number 1, Edited by Nigel Rees, Section: Answers A4319, Quote Page 9, Published and Distributed by Nigel Rees, Hillgate Place, London, Website: link