Why “I Don’t Have Time” Doesn’t Mean What You Think it Does

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This entire semester- from when school started in mid-January until I wrapped up my last class in early May – I felt like I didn’t have the time I needed to get everything done.

School projects. Freelancing articles. Writing for this blog. Exercise. Getting enough sleep. Cooking healthy meals. Looking for and apply for jobs. Networking with awesome people.

These are all things I wanted to do. But here we are in May, and I didn’t succeed at ANY of those things as well as I should have.

Why?

Well, my excuse was normally to say that I didn’t have the time to do X, Y or Z. When I’d be doing X, I’d feel like I should’ve been doing Y. Then when I finally did get around to it, I would feel like Z needed some lovin’.

I think it’s similar to the Chinese proverb “If you chase two rabbits, both will escape.” 

This semester I was trying to chase like 10 rabbits. I (kind of) caught one, the school rabbit, but not really because I got a B instead of all A’s. Plus I don’t feel like I learned the material as well as I could have.

So what happened? Did I actually lack the time I needed to do all these things?

No. I just used it as an excuse to keep myself from doing the hard work to sit down and identify my priorities, then schedule those priorities.

You’ve probably heard the old productivity story of the rocks in a jar. To be productive and get the most out of each day, you have to start with the big rocks, then add the little ones.

If health is a big priority, scheduling time to exercise and cook MUST go on your schedule. Likewise if you’re trying to focus on building up a freelancing business, maybe that is the big rock you prioritize.

We can have multiple projects going at once. I know I do, which is why I’ve decided to start using themes to my workdays. But you still need to decide how your tasks are scheduled for those theme days.

For example, let’s say my theme of the day is writing for this blog. I might schedule a few blocks like this:

530am: Write first blog post

6:30am: Write second blog post

8pm: Research new post topics

9pm: Reach out to other bloggers in this space

That blocks out 4 hours of time throughout the day. Each task is related to this blog, so it matches the day’s theme. But by blocking these times in my calendar, I know not to fill those times with something else.

This is also important because it removes ambiguity. Rather than just saying “I need to do something for my blog right now,” I already know what I’m supposed to do. The less ambiguity, the more likely I am to complete a task.

It’s the difference between telling your Mom you want a cake versus a German chocolate cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. One is so specific that my Mom knows exactly what to do. The other, just telling her I want a cake, leaves it too open-ended.

Now the rest of the day gets filled with other important things. Going back to the health example, maybe I block out 30 minutes for exercise around lunchtime, and another 30 minutes to cook several days’ worth of healthy food.

Okay- I feel like I’m starting to lose ya, so let me tie this back to our topic.

When we say we don’t have time, what we really mean is that we don’t know our priorities. Once we know the most important tasks for us to complete, we can focus on getting those done.

The amazing thing is this will clear up mental space. As this space gets cleared up, we will be able to focus better on the other tasks. So stop telling yourself (and others) that you don’t have time. Instead, ask yourself “what are the two most important things I should do today?” and then get tow ork.