Yesterday, I happened to be working next to a delivery truck delivering to a nearby convenience store. The truck’s radio was playing a program where a speaker was looking at some of the root issues of lying. The part I was able to hear was when he was taking issue with little white lies such as saying “I can’t” or “I’m too busy” when you really mean that you simply don’t want to. While I understand his point, I’m not sure I fully agree. I’m not sure that “I can’t” is really a lie. Possibly a lie by omission, but even the books that recommend that you just tell people “no” instead of “I can’t” tell you to keep it short and simple and don’t feel the need to provide a reason. So when you say “I can’t” when you mean “I don’t want to,” you are still actually telling the truth.
There are 86,400 seconds in a day. (Not counting Daylight Saving Time changes, leap seconds, and other fun stuff like that) No matter how good your time management skills, you cannot add a single extra second to that. You can decide how to spend them, but the budget is strict and you cannot go over.
So, if you only have so much time to spend each day, what happens if you want to do something additional? You can’t. To add something in, something else has to come out.
Time management is about priorities.One of the more famous time management techniques is a four quadrant chart that splits tasks between urgent and non-urgent, important and unimportant. The idea is to focus on the important stuff instead of the urgent stuff.
So when somebody asks you to do something. You have to decide where it falls on that Urgent/Important Matrix. Compare it to what you had planned for that time slot. Is it more important? Could the existing item be rescheduled for a time where you were originally going to do something much less important? Once you decide, then you have an answer. If you decide that what you have going on already is more important, than your answer is a truthful, “I can’t. I’m too busy.”
Now if you add, “I wish I could” then you are probably sliding into a lie. If you wished you could, you could probably sliding into lie territory. If you truly wished you could, you would bump something. If somebody wants help moving on a Thursday morning, I have work. But if I really wanted to help, I’d call out. I can’t imagine wanting to help move so much that I would take off work, but it is always the possibility.
Wasted Time vs Spent Time
You might want to argue that the average person has plenty of free time that is just wasted throughout the day. That may be true, but wasted time is still spent time. Just like wasted money is still spent money. Just because I didn’t need that candy-bar doesn’t mean that I’m not out $.89.
Monday night, I could have been working on a blog post so I didn’t have to get up at 4am to finish this one. But I hadn’t gotten home on Sunday until 9pm and missed Falling Skies. Now, that episode would have happily sat on the DVR until I had some more free time (probably the next weekend). But I prioritized the show over the blog. Which led to me prioritizing the blog over sleep. Kind of funny because I would never prioritize the show over sleep!
So are you “too busy” if you want to watch TV instead of taking an extra shift, volunteering, or helping a friend with a project? Well, yes. Maybe others would disagree with you over your priorities. They might say that you have plenty of free time and are simply wasting it. But they are your priorities. If you can live with the consequences of less money, or a reduced relationship, then your priorities state that, yes, you are too busy.
I’d also like to take a quick stab at the idea of wasted time. On paper, it may seem that watching tv is a waste of time. But sometimes, you physically need time to unwind and decompress. I worked 26 hours over the weekend. As I head into work this morning, I’ve worked over 81 hours in 9 straight days. I probably have another 25 hours to go until I finally get a day off on Friday. And I stand on my feet all day at work. Sometimes run after errant traffic and have to move some heavy equipment around on occasion. Monday night, I was so exhausted that I didn’t want to have to think! So was watching tv wasting time when I had more important things to do, or was it a necessary activity to recharge?
Do you think that “I can’t” is a lie or just an admission that you can’t squeeze more into the day and your priorities lie elsewhere?