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Time management is not about time

Bob Milligan Published on 21 March 2013

“I don’t have time” – Reflect on how often you use this very short response, either to others or to yourself? For most, the answer is often. In this article we look at why this is usually not a good answer.

Let’s assume the time right now is 1:00 PM. You ask me to complete a task that will take three hours by 3:00 PM. We can all agree that “I don’t have time” is the right response since I can’t do a three-hour task in two hours.



Now let’s look at the same situation, except your request is that I have the task complete by 6:00 PM. I now have five hours to complete the three-hour task.

I have sufficient time to do the task – except that I likely have some of that time already committed or scheduled. Let’s assume I have a project I am already committed to finish that will take two hours and a one-hour call with a client. I now only have two hours available to do the three-hour project.

A likely response in this situation is again “I don’t have time.” I have worked very hard the last 10 years (with mostly success) to not use “I don’t have time” in situations like this.

I encourage you to do the same for two reasons. The more academic and less important reason is that it is not technically correct. There are five hours to complete a three-hour task.

The reason I cannot complete the task is not because there is not time, but because I have other priorities and commitments in that time that do not allow me to accept responsibility to complete the task. Not agreeing to do the task is about my priorities for the next five hours.


The second reason for not using “I don’t have time” in these situations is, therefore, that it misleads us into thinking that time management is about time. It is not; time management is about priorities.

When making time management decisions, we need to be focused on setting priorities, not using “I don’t have time” as a crutch.

I realize that this means responding to a request will be perceived as more difficult. In the little example above, I would need to say: “Sorry, I cannot complete the task by 6:00 PM because I have other commitments.”

The advantage of this response is that now the real reason is out in the open; the discussion can now focus on how to get the task done.

Would tomorrow be OK? Is there someone else that can do the task? Can someone else do one of my commitments as this task has higher priority?

I encourage you to avoid using “I don’t have time” as a crutch. You will make better decisions and keep your priorities more in order.  PD


—Excerpts from Dairy Strategies LearningEdge Monthly e-newsletter, December 2012

Bob Milligan