"I Don't Have Time!": A Myth of Disempowerment
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What would you do if you had more time? What if you had a few more hours in a day, or a couple of more days in a week, that you could spend the way you wanted to? Would you travel more? Would you get going on accomplishing the important things you have been putting on hold? Would you fit more into your day or week? Would you stop and smell the roses more often?
What if you found out that you didn’t have much time left to live? How would you spend the remainder of your time? Would you make different choices? Would your priorities shift from what you consider to be what you have to do to what you want to do?
I’m guessing your answers would be similar under both circumstances. In other words, whether you had more time in a day or you had a limited amount of time on this earth, you would engage in things that were important to you. The question is, then, “Why wait?” Why is it that we feel like we don’t have enough time to do those things that are important to us and yet, at the same time, we feel like we have enough time left to postpone those very same things.
How many times have you said or heard others say, “I don’t have time!?” Some of us say it offhandedly as if it is self-evident, some of us say it facetiously to poke fun at our sense of underpreparation, and still some say it with a tinge of pride as if being too busy to get everything done is a badge of honor. Regardless of how we express it, all this does is perpetuate the myth that we are at the mercy of our environment and our circumstances. The truth is what we all know: that each one of us has 24 hours in a day and 7 days in a week, and each one of us is solely responsible for the choices we make about how we spend every minute of that time. Now, I understand that some may point out that we are just talking about a figure of speech—after all, not saying “I don’t have time” won’t change how much time we actually have. However, I am a strong believer in the creative power of words and I believe we owe it to ourselves to acknowledge that we have a choice, and that we are choosing to spend our time—or our money for that matter—in a certain way. Acknowledging the power of our choices allows us to get more out of the time that we do have, instead of wasting time lamenting the time that we don’t have.
What if, the next time you consider engaging in an activity that you know will be beneficial to you and find it difficult to find the time to make it happen, you say, “I am choosing not to …” instead of, “I don’t have time to …?” This shifts the responsibility of how you spend your time from your circumstances to you. “I don’t have time to …” gives power to the external forces acting on you which, by definition, you will never be able to control. It puts you in a victim mentality. “I choose not to spend my time on …” acknowledges that you have the power to choose and it honors your choice, regardless of what your choice may be. It also liberates you to take a fresh look at your priorities and not just spend your time aimlessly, but invest your time on those activities that matter to you and others that you care about. I love Stephen R. Covey’s quote that says, “Don’t prioritize your schedule. Schedule your priorities.”
Time is, of course, our most precious commodity. We have a limited amount of it, we can’t get any more than we have, and once we spend it, we can’t get it back. So, it makes sense to use our time as wisely as we can. Adopting a proactive language is good practice when it comes to making the most of time as well as other resources like money, tools, talent, and so on. Organizations, as well as individuals, often find themselves spending time and money in a way that stands in contradiction to their stated goals and stated values.
I have encountered numerous organizations whose only excuse for not investing in the growth and development of their people is that they "have no time" or "have no money." Neither of those excuses are literally true, of course, but they may certainly feel true to those in charge of deciding how to invest an organization's time and money. Accordingly, this kind of thinking often indicates that producing and maintaining results has been given a higher priority than investing in the very people who are responsible for delivering those results. I have had budget responsibilities and I completely understand that this way of thinking may be justified for a period of time when other urgent priorities must come first. However, as has been said, that which is most important should never be subordinate to that which is merely urgent.
If there is a pattern of consistently "not having" time or money, it is evident that either leadership is out of touch with the significant value of leadership development or they have not taken the time to evaluate what they are spending their time and money on. In both cases, things do not bode well for the future well-being of the organization. When leadership chooses to only focus on the priorities that seem to produce immediate results and fails to invest in the development of themselves and their people, they are collecting the golden eggs but neglecting the goose that lays them. By contrast, when training and development is important to a leader, they always find a way to make the investment, knowing well that the pay-out will be worth it in the long run.
What priorities is your organizational capacity focused on? How much time are you spending on developing people in your organization into effective leaders? When was the last time you evaluated the priorities and allocated time and money to activities that would give you, and those in your organization, the greatest pay-out?
Obviously, I am passionate about the topic of leadership development because that’s what I do. Some might say that I am biased toward making the investment in such activities, because I offer goods and services along those lines, but that isn't the case. I am biased, but only because I have personally witnessed the tremendous impact of the epiphanies and realizations that come out of personal development efforts on the results of organizations and on the personal lives of employees.
What are you spending your personal time on? Next time you find yourself saying, “I don’t have time,” consider that you do and you are simply choosing to spend it on other activities. Honor your choice and own up to it, as it simply means that you have a better grasp of the value of the activity that you choose than the value of the activity that you don’t. This may be frustrating if you are a victim of your schedule, but over time, this line of thinking leads to you making conscious choices that you can actually stand behind and take responsibility for. The more you take responsibility for your choices, the closer attention you pay to what led you to your choices, and what your choices led to. And with this increased attention and responsibility, you will find yourself slowly beginning to see the value in certain activities that you may not have been able to see before, and you will naturally begin to make choices in line with this newfound sense of value.
I urge you to be intentional about breaking the cycle of letting circumstances dictate how you spend your time and money, and to commit to reboot by changing your language such that it acknowledges your power to choose. This, more than anything, will enable you to channel your resources in the direction of priorities that are truly important to you and your organization.
The words we speak have tremendous influence and can leave us feeling empowered to take charge of our destiny, or they can convince us that we are powerless victims of our circumstances. In either case, the truth is that what we choose remains solely up to each one of us. Phrases such as, "I don't have time," are disempowering because they imply that our power to choose has been removed from us and placed in things beyond our control. By carelessly adopting such phrases, in opposition to the truth, we pretend that we have no choice, not realizing that choosing not to choose means choosing the status quo. In accordance with the truth, however, admitting that we do have the time or money or resources and that we choose to allocate them in accordance with our values allows us to stop pulling the wool over our eyes, and lets us see that the power of our choices remains where it always has been and always will be: only in our hands.
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Have a great week! May you Boldly Declare, Courageously Pursue, and Abundantly Achieve the Extraordinary! As always, I would love to hear about your victories and/or challenges. Please leave your comments below or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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