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Time is a concept by which we measure what's important, and what's not

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It's NEVER About How Much Time You Have, Or Have Not

By Robert Bacal

How many times have YOU said to someone "I don't have time to do that"? Or how many times has someone said that to you, whether it's at work, or at home?

Lots. It's such a common way of telling someone you aren't or can't do something they've asked you to do. More to the point, it allows YOU to justify your decision not to do something to yourself, without sounding like a willful, stubborn idiot.

Or not.

Language and It's Odd Power To Trick Ourselves

Language is an interesting thing. Apart from its many functions, it allows us to coach our decisions, to ourselves, and to others, in ways that trick ourselves and others about WHY we want to do, or not do tasks.

We all use language that does not accurately reflect our internal life - out thoughts and decisions. Mostly it's not intentional, and we believe we are being honest with ourselves and others, when in fact we are. While we think we are being honest, what we do is use phrases automatically, so we don't have to delve into the real reasons for our own behavior.

Which is what we all do with the phrase "I don't have time".

Time is a concept by which we measure what is important to us and what is not important to us at any given moment.

What Does The Phrase "I Don't Have Time" Actually Mean?

Once you reflect on the meaning of the phrase, its' meaning becomes quite clear. It's one of those things that causes a self-slap on the side of the head, because it's really so obvious.

It means that:

Given the array of things you feel you want to do or feel you need to do, the thing you are talking about simply is NOT important enough to allocate time to IT, rather than something else.

This has to do with what you value at that particular moment, the anticipated consequences of doing one thing compared to the other, and what you "feel like doing" at the time, or really do not WANT to do.

Lest you think that we make these decisions rationally, in fact very often the actual decisions are made on what we want to do and don't want to do, just "because". We certainly entertain things like consequences and importance in our decisions, but there's a large area of life where things are relatively equal in importance, and have few serious consequences if we don't do it.

Well, Who Really Cares?

There are a lot of reasons to care. Here's a few of them.

We Can Sound Like Idiots To Others

One of the peculiarities of life is that we aren't good at explaining why we do things to others, but we are very aware of situations where another person says "I don't have time to..." when that's clearly a "lie" (even if it's an unintentional lie). It damages our credibility and can make us appear like we are shirking something we should do. That's bad for relationships at home, or at work.

Self-Deception Is Never Good

"I don't have enough time to..." involves self deception, and hides our real reasons. That is problematic because it means we don't reflect on our own actions and decisions, which, in turn limits our ability to learn from life. The major damage here is to our ability to learn from our inner life, which remains unexamined because we can get away with throwing out the trite "I don't have time".

It Shuts Off Dialogue With Others

The phrase also tends to shut down dialogue and problem solving with others, particularly when the other person doesn't want to question your assessment of insufficient time. For that reason problem-solving around values, what's important, and how to get things done effectively can be completely avoided.

Is There A Remedy?

The remedy, or remedies, are quite simple.

  1. Acknowledge that your use of "I don't have enough time", is either an intentional ploy, or an accidental untruth based on a lack of reflection or desire to identify your own priorities and values.

  2. Remind yourself in conversations NOT to use this phrase, but to strive to replace it with more accurate phrases. This will require a slower response, and a little more reflection.

  3. Replace the phrase with something more accurate. Below are some examples
  • I feel I don't have time to do that, because I have several other things that I think are more important.
  • I can do that, but not before I finish [this and that], since I think those are my priorities.
  • Is what you are asking me to do more important than doing [other tasks] right now? (This is a good one for responding to a manager asking you to do something).
  • I don't feel like doing that right now, but maybe we can figure another way to get it done some other way. (It's a bit of a cop out, but at least it opens the door to solve the problem).

What About If You Are The Asker?

The trick if you are the one asking for something, and end up being told the person lacks the time is to gently explore the issue without expressing mistrust or confronting. Remember that all people use this ploy and usually with no evil intent.

Try phrases like those below:

  • This is really important right now. If you have a few too many things at the moment, let me see if we can decide on what's less of a priority and can be delayed.
  • If you don't have time to do the entire thing right now, I think it's important enough that I can get you some help for an hour or two.
  • I'm not quite clear about the things you feel are more important to get done, so maybe you could tell me what you are working on right now, and we'll see what is more important.


It's almost always a good thing to reduce the amount of self-delusion, something we all do unintentionally. It's also almost always good to reflect on how we make decisions.

So, if you catch yourself saying: "I don't have time to..." start the work to remove it from your vocabulary. Language matters both to our perceptions of ourselves, and how others perceive us.

If you enjoy this article and wish to learn more about cooperative communication be sure to check out our quick read book called "Conflict Prevention In the Workplace - Using Cooperative Communication" by clicking here

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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