(This article was first published on HerCampus, an online magazine for young women in college, in March of 2017. It has since been edited for publication on this site.)
“I’m sorry, I just don’t have time.” A fairly common phrase I hear almost every day. We are busy people and we will probably always be busy. Family, work, classes, homework, tests, church, volunteering, hobbies, working out, having a social life, eating well, sleeping, etc. – our lives are filled to the brim and we only ever have 24 hours in a day.
This phrase “I just don’t have time” has been a part of my vocabulary as long as I have been in school, but it never sat well with me. Because despite always saying “I don’t have time to do all the readings” or “I don’t have enough time to write this paper,” I usually found time to watch Netflix or hang out with friends or check my social media. The double standard didn’t sit well with me because I could never come up with any good excuses for why I had time for one and not the other. Then over this past Christmas break I read an article in which Wall Street Journal writer Laura Vanderkam said:
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.
Language defines our world; it is frames our experiences and shapes our perspective. As when kids are bullied with hurtful slurs in school or “trigger” words are repeated over and over again in the media, the more a phrase is used in our lives the more it defines it and impacts it. “I don’t have time” is a passive phrase, it’s a phrase that says you are lacking or missing something. You have, in essence, become victim to circumstance. If you keep repeating this phrase over and over again, as I have for years, it becomes part of your mentality. For me, it resulted in feeling powerless when it came to managing all the things I wanted to have in my life.
These past months I’ve slowly been reminding myself to use “it’s not a priority” instead. See, this is an active phrase. It indicates a decision has been made. It signifies someone has taken charge and made that decision. For me, it has had quite an impact. Repeating a phrase that forces me to own up to the decision about how I’ve chosen to spend my time, has empowered me. I have been forced to hold myself accountable for even the decisions I later regret. But it has also made me manage my time better, because it has forced me to do what it says – prioritize. I don’t have more time now than I did before and I’m not necessarily more productive, but when I don’t do all reading for a class because I would rather go to the gym or spend time making dinner, it’s because I’ve made the choice to make my health a priority, and not because I’m victim of my circumstances. Realizing that I choose whether to go grab a coffee with friends or study for a midterm, that I choose whether to go to class or catch up on missing sleep, I've become more comfortable with the way I live my life and a lot less worried about not spending my time right.
You don’t have to say it out loud or do a 180, but if you start thinking of time in terms of choice, you just might find yourself making decisions that sit better with you and how you’re spending your time.