"I just don't have the time"

"I'm sorry, but I don't have time to do that"

How many times have you heard these sorts of comments? How many times have you made similar statements yourself?

In either case, those statements are misleading, at best.

Time is the great equalizer. No matter whether we live in opulence or utter poverty, are old or young, we all have exactly 24 hours in each day. You can't buy more than 24 hours in a day, and nobody can take hours away from you so that you have fewer than 24 in any given day.

There can be great comfort in being able to say, "I don't have the time." It is one of those excuses that few people seem to challenge. It is magical. It is like saying "abracadabra."

But it is inaccurate, and a trap. 

In those 24 hours there are certain things that are relatively mandatory like eating and sleeping. Everything else is a decision.

So when we say "I don't have time," we are really saying that we made a decision not to do something, or that other things were simply more important.  The other option is that we have lost control of our time and other things accidentally took priority over the topic task.

There are benefits to being candid with ourselves and others when we are tempted to use lack of time as an excuse. If we acknowledge that we only have 24 hours in a day, and make how we use them a more deliberate decision, we will be more content, as will those that depend on us. If we consider this when we negotiate a due date on projects there will be better mutual understanding and buy-in. 

When something can't be done because of time, avoid the temptation to say "I don't have enough time." Be more transparent and tell them that the task has a lower priority right now. Saying so may be uncomfortable but it is more honest and constructive. The declaration can lead to a healthy discussion about setting priorities so that future disappointments can be avoided. This does not occur when we place the topic into the nebulous category of "not enough time."

There is great benefit to being more candid with yourself about the real reason that some things get done and others don't. When we convince ourselves that "not enough time" is a legitimate excuse for why we don't get important things done, we reduce our ability to get more of those important things done. Instead, when important things don't get done, erroneously, we feel vindicated by our "not enough time" excuse.

Here are a few quick concepts that can help you deal with time more effectively, and that can guide you to help others deal with time more effectively:

1. Every time you are tempted to say, "I don't have enough time," remember that you have exactly the same amount of time per day as everyone else in this world.

2. Remember that, other than things like eating and sleeping, how you spend your time is a decision you make.

3. When we say, "I don't have enough time," or when someone else says this, the real message is, "This just isn't important to me right now."

4. Check yourself using this concept: Is everything I did today more important than everything I didn't do today? If the answer is yes, you are in control and doing a good job of managing your time.

5. If the answer is no, select from the numerous time management tools to exercise control over your use of time so that you are doing what is most important.

6. If 24 hours wasn't enough yesterday, how will you deal with the fact that you will still only have 24 hours today? What will you do differently?

7. If you are in a position to coach others that tend to say they don't have enough time, walk them through the steps above.

Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at dave@ascentadvising.com.