Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,”

priority pyramidYou’re probably deluding yourself about how you use your time. Here’s one radical way to force yourself to get real.

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Busyness is a badge of honor among business owners, but author Laura Vanderkam is calling BS.   She recently asked professionals who perpetually carp about how overscheduled they are if they’re really being honest about what’s actually filling all those hours. Before you bristle about being called dishonest, know that Vanderkam herself confesses to her share of self-delusion.   Fed up with her out-of-control workweek she decided to keep a time log. “I soon realized I’d been lying to myself about where the time was going. What I thought was a 60-hour workweek wasn’t even close. I would have guessed I spent hours doing dishes when in fact I spent minutes. I spent long stretches of time lost on the Internet or puttering around the house, unsure exactly what I was doing,” she confesses.

Your busyness, in other words, is often largely in your head and down to inefficient time use or lack of clarity about your priorities and your actual schedule. So how can you get real? Vanderkam offers a handful of suggestions that you should check out in the complete article, but among her advice is this simple but radical change that will force you to stop sleepwalking through “busy” days and make more conscience choices about how you’re using your hours:

Late rabbitChange your language. Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.   Vanderkam isn’t the only one urging harried business owners to focus on the root cause of their busyness.

Here on Inc. time coach Elizabeth Grace Saunders also stressed that chronic over-scheduling (occasional deadline driven crazy periods are completely real and probably unavoidable for most of us) is usually down to a failure to think critically about priorities rather than some fundamental reality of your life.   “If you’re struggling with containing your hours even when you’re only focusing on ‘Must Do’ items, then you need to really focus on expectations of yourself. Reality always wins,” Saunders said.   What do you think would happen if you made Vanderkam’s suggested switch in language?

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in London with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist. @EntryLevelRebel




START IT UP | Jessica Stillman Mar 22, 2013