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Monday, September 26, 2011

"I don’t have time"

'I don’t have time to do that.'


  What we mean when we say this is, 'I'm not prepared to make the time to do that. Or at least, not right now.'

  There's nothing wrong with this, in essence. It's common sense. In our lives, we have to prioritise, and that means making decisions about what we do and when we do it.

  Yet let's not fool ourselves. Take the test.

  If I ask you to stop whatever you're doing right now, and read the telephone directory from cover to cover, there's a fair chance the kindest response I'll get from you is, 'I don't have time (and/or the inclination)!'

  There will, I'm sure, be rather less polite suggestions as to what I can do with the phone book.

  Yet as you know, I am a person generous beyond belief and have more cash than Bill Gates. If I were to say (and you were either foolish or optimistic enough to believe me) that I have a briefcase crammed full of $100 bills that I would like you to have, and that all you have to do to keep them is open the case immediately and look at the contents, I get the feeling that you wouldn't say, 'I don't have time. I'll just make a cup of tea instead.'

  I think you'd most likely make the time. Offer me the same deal and even though you're interrupting my movie, I'd probably manage to squeeze in the task of opening the case.

  It's like the classic joke, which I, and almost certainly you, will have heard in many different forms.

  An old man sidles up to a pretty young woman on a park bench and says, 'Would you come with me for a million dollars?'

  She looks askance at him but says, with some hesitation, 'I suppose so.'

  'Ahh,' he says. 'Would you come with me for one dollar?'

  She is very angry.

  'Never! What kind of girl do you think I am?'

  'We have already established what kind of girl you are,' he responds. 'What we're negotiating is the price!'

  Without wanting to offend you, that's a bit like what we do with our time. We negotiate its price. We do it constantly. It's not that we don't have time under most circumstances, it's that we choose to do some things and not others, or not just now.

  I always think, when I hear 'I don't have time', that whatever it is simply isn't at the top of that person's priorities. If those words come to me when someone asks me to do something, it always makes me think whether or not I should be making the time, and at least not to kid myself as to the reasons why I won't do it right now. What are my reasons? How valid are they? Am I using that as an excuse when the reason may be entirely different? Are my priorities fair?

  It is, almost always, a matter of personal choice. Some of those choices, admittedly, can be difficult ones.

  I'm not going to read the phone book, that's for sure. But I am interested in that briefcase you have there....


  1. In the episode of Till Death us Do Part in which the Garnetts have a telephone installed, all sorts of arguments are going on in the foreground and slowly, as the programme goes on and Alf's wife keeps interrupting, saying, 'Hey, you'll never guess who's in here', it becomes clear that she is sitting in the background quietly reading her way through the London telephone directory. And no-one is paying her to do it!

  2. As I get older my time has become more precious and I am getting better at saying 'No'.

    I am surrounded by people who, unlike me, are gregarious ("you must come to dinner and meet these lovely people" - why should I? I can't give enough time to the friends I already have, and who I value).

    Or those who like holding long conversations: "I've got this wonderful new mobile phone plan that allows me to phone you up and talk for an hour, free, every day" ... sure, at noon and 6pm, just at the time I want to eat.

    Or those who press you to join things (croquet, bowls, bridge, singing groups "but I can't sing". "Nonsense, everybody can sing"). Wrong, but never mind.

    Say 'yes' and a lot of precious time goes down the drain. If you don't want to do it, say 'No' emphatically and you have all that glorious time to yourself. Selfish? Yes. But we do have some rights regarding our own time, too.

    It really comes down to living your own life and not ruining it by trying to please others all the time. Sure there are obligations but otherwise, I set priorities.

    What do I have to do with my time today? What do I need to do? What do I want to do?

    'Want to do' wins hands down. I find I always have time for what I want to do - the rest goes in the 'pending' tray. If it sits there long enough, I am eventually surprised by how unimportant it really was.

  3. Bob - I looked down your posting sentence by sentence and was totally in agreement with them all.

    I know I have been a 'soft touch' for being roped into things that I like to help with but really they aren't as important as many other things I want to do. But because the person is there, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

    Then there are close friends who deliberately hold back because they are more considerate of you than others, or they know you better, and the result is that you and those you want to spend time with lose opportunities never regained.

    Old habits die hard, but fortunately Tracey often rescues me from being a soft touch.

    I know with every passing day better than most that I have to be what you call 'selfish' about time, Bob. What you're really saying, and rightly, is to get your priorities truly in order.

    That's not being selfish. It's also courtesy to all those closest to you.

  4. Zoe - we were talking about Steptoe and Son just a few days ago and what a wonderful comment it was, even in caricature, on that world - but that of the Garnetts was just as fascinating. I love that story. But I think I'll still go for the briefcase, even though I have no idea what I'd do with the contents. There's nothing in there I want for myself. I think Tracey might have some ideas though....

  5. All true. I am one of those people who "never has time" and I find I keep a sort of mental list of tasks (and various paper ones) where things move up and down according to priority and inclination until eventually they MAY get done and crossed off. I think it mostly works as well as it can, but I find for me there is a danger of concentrating on tasks and my kids and neglecting everything else which is also important, like friends, exercise, etc.

  6. There seems to be an inverse ratio between the number of jobs some people who are always rushing around complaining they have to do and what they actually accomplish!


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