4 Reasons To Stop Saying You Don’t Have Time

We’ve all said it, probably several times in the last week or two — “I don’t have time.”

Most of us, especially if we’re juggling writing and another career, a job, or family responsibilities, feel like we don’t have enough time to do all the things we want to do.

In one way, that’s true. It’s not like we can manufacture more hours in the day.

In another way, though, it’s not accurate, as I’ll talk about in the first of four reasons to stop saying I don’t have time.

Reason 1: It’s True But It’s Not

When we say we don’t have time to do a particular thing, that’s only true in the sense that we can’t fit in everything we’d like.

But it’s also not true. Because at that moment we are doing something, even if it’s sleeping. We could choose to do something else.

As an example, imagine you’re working on a report for your boss that’s due in an hour. Your mom calls. She just wants to say hello. Even if you and your mom have a good relationship, you’ll probably say, “I don’t have time to talk.”

Now imagine instead your sister calls. She says your mom had a terrible accident. She needs a blood transplant, and you are her blood type.

Do you tell her you don’t have time to help?

No. You tell your boss you need more time for the report and leave to go to the hospital.

You literally have the same amount of time in both scenarios. Your report is due in an hour in both. Yet you make a different decision.

I can hear you telling me to hold on.

In the first example, your boss will be very unhappy with you and might fire you while in the second, assuming your boss is a reasonable person, there will likely be no negative consequences. Or you’ll deal with getting fired if you must, as your mom’s life matters more.

But the difference is consequences and what matters most to you, not time.

In the first scenario, it’s accurate to say, “I have a report due in an hour, so now isn’t the best time for me to talk.” Not “I don’t have time.”

This change may not matter to the person to whom you say it. That person understands what you mean.

But, as we’ll talk about below, it does matter to how you feel and the choices you make.

Reason 2: It Makes You Feel Out Of Control

If you say “I don’t have time” and believe it, it leaves you feeling like you have no control over your life. Sometimes it’s as if we’re careening from one crisis or responsibility to the next with no say in how we spend our time.

I felt that way often when I was practicing law full time at a large law firm and writing on the side. That feeling intensified when my dad was in the hospital. Every waking minute was spoken for. And when I looked ahead, I didn’t see any light at the end of the tunnel.

On the one hand, the busy law practice was great. It meant I had lots of cases and clients and no trouble paying my bills. I also had job security. Loads of it, despite a recession on the horizon.

But it also meant I had very little time to write, relax, or be with family or friends, and I felt as if I never would. That made me sad and angry, on top of how I already felt about my dad’s injuries, which were life-threatening.

Because I framed the issue as not having time, though, I felt there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t manufacture more time. Everything felt completely out of my control.

That’s not a place anyone wants to be. The good news is that changing how we identify the problem can help us gain control.

Reasons 3: Values Matter More Than Time

As the examples about your mom show, what we value governs our lives and how we spend our time. When we choose words that reflect that, we can decide what to do based on those values rather than feeling helpless.

That one change may not give us every option we’d like, but it gives us more than when we blamed time.

As to the work situation I described, I became more honest with myself. I’d chosen to work where I did knowing the schedule that was expected. I wanted to quickly gain experience as an attorney. I also wanted to earn the salary I did.

For the first five years or so that trade off seemed worth it. That was especially so because I’d had times when I couldn’t work and couldn’t pay my bills due to a repetitive stress injury.

But now I more highly valued time to write, time to spend with my friends and family, and time to relax. My job wasn’t compatible with those values.

I’d been blaming lack of time for my unhappiness. The reality was, the structure of the firm where I worked depended on attorneys working excessive hours. Also, my practice area didn’t allow for a regular schedule. Though I did have some free hours, I never knew for certain when they would be.

That type of work situation simply no longer fit with what I wanted from life.

Once I understood that, I could deal with it.

Reason 4: It Keeps You From Changing

So how does refraining from saying “I don’t have time” and focusing on values change anything?

Even if your situation can’t immediately be changed, identifying and talking about it accurately allows you to think long-term and figure out what to do.

For me, talking about values rather than time wouldn’t make my dad recover or heal. In the short term it wouldn’t change my schedule. (Unless I wanted to quit my job on a moment’s notice, and I didn’t. I still valued paying my bills!)

But in the long term, accurately identifying the issue as a values conflict gave me back choice and control. I devoted an hour or two each month over the next year to figuring out what I could do for work instead. Eventually I did change my work situation by starting my own law practice. A few years later, I published my first novel.

(Unfortunately, to a large extent I recreated much of what I’d left and had to relearn some lessons the hard way, but that’s another story.)

For a different example, let’s say you’ve got small children and are working a part-time job. You feel there’s not enough time to write the novel you’d love to write.

First, you’d look at your values.

Cramming writing a novel into your schedule might add too much stress to your already stressful life. For your mental and emotional health, you might need to value peace of mind more than writing. Or you might feel strongly that writing a novel would take too much time away from your children, and you’re not willing to do that.

If either or both are true, you might decide you won’t devote significant time to writing until three years from now when your kids start school.

Having decided that, you can stop blaming time and feeling out of control. And you can start looking for ways to satisfy your desire to write.

That might mean writing a poem here and there. Or starting a journal. Or you could carve out fifteen minutes whenever possible to plan that novel so that once the kids are in school, you’ll hit the ground running. (For ideas on that, see Writing A Novel 15 Minutes At A Time.)

None of that gets your novel written this year. But you’ll feel better because you’re moving toward your goal and acting in a way that’s consistent with what you value most.

Also, you’ll stop feeling like you have no control, so you’ll be calmer and happier. Which might make it easier to free up those fifteen minutes here and there.

That’s all for today. Until next Friday when I’ll talk about Using Your Writing Skills To Become Happier

L.M. Lilly

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