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The excuse of time

The excuse of time

You are a busy person — a veeery busy person.

You’d like to do so many things. You have plans. Sadly, you don’t have time. Damn time, it’s never enough. Why is it always so scarce?

Anyway… it’s winter and it’s cold outside. You’re at home taking a shower. Suddenly you hear a sound, but oh well — you think — it can wait for sure. The water is warm. Relax.

Except it gets cold. All at once. Turning the tap doesn’t help. You have to get out of the shower. The unpleasant feeling of the icy water is still on your skin. It destroyed any comfort you were feeling.

You go check the boiler and you find a mess. The pipe exploded and there is water everywhere.

Now, suppose the repairing, beyond the money, will cost you 7 hours of your week. What would you do? Would you find the time for the plumber?

This is, more or less, the example that Laura Vanderkam makes in this TED talk.

Time and priorities

One concept I encountered long ago and which stuck with me is the relationship between time and priorities. I like to call it the excuse of time.

I don’t have time

The little fictional example above can be extended to thousands of other cases and demonstrates that we can make time when needed.

When we blame the lack of time, we’re almost always lying. Rarely time is the problem. Priorities are.

When someone tells me, “I don’t have time,” I hear instead, “This is not a priority for me.” Rewording the excuse this way helps put things in perspective. Try it.

It’s different to say…
I don’t work on my personal projects because I don’t have time
I don’t work on my personal projects because they’re not a priority for me.

It’s different to say…
I don’t exercise because I don’t have time
I don’t exercise because it’s not a priority for me.

It’s different to say…
I don’t read books because I don’t have time
I don’t read books because it’s not a priority for me.

This simple change of framing shifts your mindset. Saying and thinking that it is a problem of lack of time justifies you and frees you of responsibilities. Having no time seems something beyond your control that you cannot fix, like a helpless victim.

Saying and thinking that it is a problem of priorities brings the matter back into the sphere of things you can control. It gives you the responsibility to act to change the status quo. It’s up to you to evaluate what your priorities are and organize accordingly.

The stakes

The excuse of time works. At least to trick yourself and feel better. But the fact remains that if you don’t take responsibility for your time, you’ll end up wasting it.

We spend our days mindlessly. We are dragged around by events and others' priorities, be them people, our jobs, or companies trying to suck our attention (e.g., news, social media, entertainment).

Somehow we manage to make time for all these things. I wonder how did we convince ourselves to respect others' priorities more than ours.

What is at stake is life. Because a life worth living is nothing more than a conscious choice on what to do with our limited time.

I have my opinions on what is or is not a good priority, but I’m convinced that everyone should define their own. The point is not to tell you what priorities to have. The point is understanding that it is your responsibility to determine them and live accordingly.

You do have time.