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There’s something that’s been bothering me lately: hearing, again and again, from clients, friends, colleagues, “I don’t have enough time.”
I have a thing about this phrase. It gets to me. It bothers me because I think we use it when we mean something else, when we mean “I don’t want to.” “That’s not compelling to me.” “That doesn’t appeal to me because…” We time-lie.
It bothers me because it makes us glorious, powerful human beings—beings with agency and the power to shape our lives—into victims of time. It makes 24-hours-in-a-day a constraint instead of an obscenely-over-the-top gift.
Time Lying To Ourselves
“But I am busy!” you say. “I have no time! There is so much I would do if I had the time.”
Maybe. Maybe there is more you would do. But in my coaching practice, I see again and again that underneath “I don’t have enough time” or “I’m too busy for that” is always some other block, some other source of resistance. It could be fear (quite often it’s fear of failure or simply of the unknown), inertia to stay with the status quo, or simply “not wanting to,” and feeling that “I don’t want to” isn’t an acceptable reason that stands on it’s own.
So we time-lie to ourselves. We convince ourselves the reason we aren’t doing x is that we don’t have enough time, when the real reason is fear or a “not wanting to” that we feel guilty about.
I can’t tell you how often in coaching sessions this happens: right after a client has shared how a particular passion makes their heart rise and their spirit blissful and the world feel magical comes the line, “But I don’t have time to do that.” It would be funny if it weren’t so serious.
We convince ourselves (conveniently) that we need hours upon hours to do the things we love. It’s my job as coach to say, “Really? 15 minutes, twice a week, is plenty to start. How important is this to you?” After we dispense with the next round of excuses (“I don’t have the equipment,” “I don’t have the right space in my house,” etc.) we usually get to the kernel of pure fear. And then we face it.
Whatever the truth is, let’s own it. Let’s tell ourselves the truth. Instead of repeating to ourselves over and over again that we are victims of too few hours in the day, let’s use words that empower us and reflect the power we each have, like “I’ve chosen to prioritize other things right now” or “It’s not compelling enough for me right now.” No more of this “I don’t have enough time.”
Time Lying to Others
Sometimes we lie about “not enough time” to others. We don’t want to ruffle feathers, or disappoint. We don’t have the courage to say, “I don’t want to,” “that’s not important to me,” or, as Danielle LaPorte has written about, “it just doesn’t feel right.” We use the bland, socially acceptable substitute, “I just don’t have enough time.”
I do this. I do it all the time. I find it scary to say no simply because I don’t want to, because I’m not interested, because I have issues with such and such aspect of what’s being proposed…whatever. I want to be nice. To not be the one to cause conflict or make a mess. I don’t want to offend or leave you feeling rejected.
I’ll grant you (and me) this: perhaps there are rare instances when a graceful exit is sorely needed, when dealing with someone who doesn’t hear difficult truths well, someone you can’t afford to upset. Perhaps there are times like these when it’s reasonable to use the cop out, “not enough time” line.
But most of the time, we can do better. We can tell the truth, for the sake of deepening our relationships by doing so, and for the sake of honoring and owning what’s true.

Join the discussion 12 Comments

  • Jay Schryer says:

    This is something that has been weighing heavily on my mind for a while now. It touches on one of my deepest wounds, because that was the excuse that my parents used when they didn’t want to spend time with me. Now, as an adult, whenever I have a friend tell me that they “just don’t have the time”, it triggers that old wound, and I get hurt and defensive.

    And no, I don’t expect people to spend every single moment of their free time with me. In fact, I enjoy my alone time, and I treasure one-on-one time with different people at different times. I know that everyone has responsibilities and things that they “must” do, and I don’t expect to be everyone’s top priority.

    It’s just that whenever I hear that phrase – “I don’t have the time…”, I always think about how we all have the same 24 hours in a day, and if something is truly important to you, you’ll find the time to make it work. Relationships are the same way, either romantic or platonic. If you value the person, you’ll find time to nurture the relationship and help it grow.

  • Melanie says:

    Spot on once again, Tara. Whatever people spend their time doing matters most to them. Someone may say his kids matter most. If he spends all his time working to the exclusion of the health of his relationships, and probably his own body, he is not being honest with himself. If he truly had the desire to make his kids top priority, he’d use his creativity to find a way. People do not like to be confronted with the truth. You are calling them on their bluffs. I love that you are doing this!

  • Stephanie S. says:

    Thank you for this post, Tara. I try to pay attention when I find myself saying “I don’t have enough time.” Because it almost always means, “I choose not to make time for this.” I find that owning the choice of what I do with my time is so empowering–and it reminds me to be a good steward of my time.

  • Beth says:

    Tara, this is such a great piece. Thank you for your honesty and bringing this forth for us all to consider more closely. So often I have heard people say I don’t have time or I wish I had more time for this or that. What you share I have also found to be true. That need to be nice and not want to hurt someone’s feelings by being honest is a big one. Most often when we try to be nice though we end up hurting people more. I have found that the majority of people (there are the exceptions) would rather hear the truth. Being honest with ourselves is sometimes the hardest part. Especially if we don’t really have a tangible reason for not doing something only that it just doesn’t “feel” right. We know in our heart of hearts it is not the best time or where we want to spend our energy but we don’t know why. Somehow in our culture we have been trained to give an explanation for what we do or why we do it. If we don’t have one then there is something wrong with us or we are labeled “flaky”. I so appreciate you nudging us to be more “real” and risk being honest so that we can be true to ourselves and what fits best at any given point. And sometimes it is good to step back and ask ourselves why am I saying no? Is it just that we are on auto pilot and haven’t given ourselves permission to consider something new and different? Your sharing this gives us pause to think it through a little more and expand our awareness so that more of us are living authentically. Thanks for the nudge.

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Jay, and wow, how interesting about your parents expressing that sentiment to you.

    And yes – this does go to the heart of it. There is harm that can come from using “I don’t have enough time” when that’s not exactly what we mean. People sense it is false, and the opportunity for a more honest and real exchange is lost.

    Thanks as always for reading and sharing your insights.


  • Tara says:

    Thanks Melaine! That’s a compliment coming from one whose been known to call a few people out on their bluffs too! 🙂
    I love that you brought up this example – because I think that’s such a common one – people saying they value family or relationships first, but allocating their time in a way that reflects the opposite.
    I think most of the time, people aren’t intending to deceive others – they are just stuck around / resistant to something about acting in a way that is aligned with their priorities, and “not enough time” becomes a convenient excuse – even for fooling themselves.
    Hugs to you, t

  • Tara says:

    Yes! I’m so with you. The difference in language has an impact. Thanks for sharing.
    Hugs, Tara

  • Tara says:

    Hi Beth,
    Yes, I think your words about how “trying to be nice” ends up hurting people more is beautifully reflected in Jay’s story here.
    And I love your point about how it’s particularly difficult to say no when we don’t have a specific reason (that we are aware of). Then we really have to just own the no and feel like it’s enough, and that can be very difficult to do – because we’ve been taught that’s not quite adequate.
    Thanks so much for sharing your wisdom. Hope to see you again here at Wise Living.
    Warmly, Tara

  • angela says:

    I read this post a couple of days ago, and it has come to mind several times since. The flip side of saying I don’t have time is my tendency to overbook myself,believing that really not having enough time is the only good-enough reason to say “no.” Thank you for reminding me that I can say “no” for whatever reason is true for me.

  • Ironic Mom says:

    I, too, dislike this phrase. To me, it’s also rude: it implies you’re busier than the person you’re talking to. I have a pat phrase that I use when I hear this, and it’s this: “You make time for what you value.”

    Nice post.

  • Tara says:

    Hmmm…that’s an interesting point – about how it creates comparison with the other person in the conversation. Thanks for sharing!

  • Tara says:

    Thanks Angela. I’m glad you found this useful and that it spoke to you. It’s so true – at the heart of all this is that not-so-nice to ourselves attitude that has “not enough time” as the only valid reason to say no.

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