If you’re anything like me, you probably have too much on your to-do list. And unfortunately, if you’re anything like me, the list never seems to get any shorter.
More often than I care to admit, I get to the end of my day and realize that I wasn’t able to finish some of my most important tasks, or, as I like to call them, my MITs (See what I did there? M = Most, I = Important, and T = Tasks. Pretty smart, eh?).
Does this sound familiar?
And more often than not, when I fail to complete my MITs, I blame it on one thing: lack of time.
“I didn’t have enough time,” I like to tell everyone who will listen to me.
Does this also sound familiar? I’m betting it does, because I hear a lot of people blaming time (or lack thereof) for their productivity problems.
“I didn’t have enough time to practice guitar today.”
“I didn’t have enough time to play baseball with my kids today.”
“I didn’t have enough time to call my parents tonight.”
“I didn’t have enough time to exercise today.”
“I didn’t have enough time to study for my psychology exam.”
And so on…
Recently, I’ve been thinking about my (and others’) tendency to use lack of time as an excuse for not getting truly important things done.
And do you know what I’ve come to believe?
I think it’s completely bogus.
Because when things are truly important to us, we get them done.
No excuses. No saying, “I didn’t have enough time.” No saying, “Something came up.”
When things truly matter to us, we’re motivated to act, and we find a way to finish them, even if it means getting up early, staying up late, putting other things off to the side (some of which might also be important), or even missing the latest episode of Games of Thrones (WTF!!!!).
Most Important = What You Chose to Do
Here’s one reason why I think the “time” excuse is mostly bogus. A century’s-worth of psychological research has shown that we typically choose to do things that are most psychologically “valuable,” or important, to us. Thus, if you’re doing one thing over another—if you’re checking Facebook rather than studying for a big exam or watching TV rather than exercising—it simply means that the chosen activity is currently more important to you than the alternative (and this is often because the chosen activity is either easier or more immediately rewarding).
Consequently, what I’ve come to believe is that “I didn’t have enough time” is just another way of saying:
“It’s just not that important to me.”
Think about it.
When we have things in our lives that really, truly matter to us, we will walk through fire to do them.
Imagine, for instance, that you had a loved one who was on his deathbed, and you knew his time to leave was near. If you really, truly wanted to see him one more time, you’d probably do everything in your power to get there. If you had a lunch date with a dear friend, you’d reschedule it. If you had a class, you’d skip it. If you had a job, you’d call in sick or ask for a day off (or maybe even quit if you had some jackhole boss who wouldn’t let you take time off). Lack of time simply wouldn’t be an issue.
Similarly, if I really, truly want to lose weight (as I’ve discussed before), there wouldn’t be any excuses about how I “didn’t have time to exercise” or how I “didn’t have time to eat a healthy lunch” or how I “didn’t have time to sleep.”
No. If losing weight was truly important to me, I’d find a way to do these things. I’d exercise instead of watching TV at night. I’d get up 15 minutes earlier to make myself a healthy lunch. I’d go to bed early.
End of story.
On the other hand, when things really aren’t that valuable or important to us, we push them off, over and over, until it’s often too late.
And then, when this happens, we have an easy out, a socially acceptable excuse that we can pull out of our back pockets whenever we need it:
“I didn’t have enough time.”
Let me give you an example. A couple months ago, I was talking to a student who claimed that going to graduate school was really important to her. She also claimed that she didn’t have enough time to work on her graduate school applications. I found this interesting, given that the deadline for submissions was rapidly approaching.
Now, I certainly understand that most college students are very busy—going to class, studying for exams, working part- (or full-)time jobs to pay for college, trying to have social lives, and so on. But if a person fails to submit graduate school applications, he or she can be guaranteed of one thing: not getting into graduate school! If graduate school was really that important to my student, she would’ve prioritized her applications.
I therefore wasn’t surprised a bit when she eventually told me that she really didn’t want to go to graduate school. Rather, her parents were pressuring her to go. But because she didn’t want to go, she found other things to do instead. “Lack of time” simply became an excuse for putting off something that wasn’t that important to her.
As I think about my own life, and as I think about others who I’ve heard use this excuse, I’m more and more convinced that lack of time simply implies lack of importance.
We like to claim that things are important to us (often because others pressure us into believing they’re important).
But our lack of action belies our claims.
Look, I’m well aware that we all have a ton of things on our plates (many of which we could probably jettison without experiencing any negative effects). I’m also well aware that sometimes “life gets in the way,” and we’re unable to get things done because we’re running around and putting out fires.
But more often than I think we care to admit, our lack of action on things we deem important is simply a sign that they’re really not.
Because here’s the deal: When things are important to us—when they really, truly matter—we act. We work hard on them. We rearrange our schedules. We ignore the unimportant. We find time.
We get them done.
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