One phrase I can’t stand is “We don’t have time”.
We all get the same amount of time every day. We all start each day with the same amount. What differs from person to person is how they prioritize that time. I can pick which of the infinite things to do with time to use for this hour, and the next one, and the one after that. There will be consequences based on what I choose, but the only reason I do one thing and not another is by choosing.
So to say We don’t have time to do X really means X is not important enough for me to use my time on it.
This second phrase is a very different. It expresses how the resource of time is prioritized. This invites a conversation about why one use of time might be better than another.
But often we used the phrase “I don’t have time” to avoid having to say more honest things like:
- Your idea isn’t important enough
- I made a mistake and didn’t consider this earlier
- I don’t want to take on the risks of changing the plan now
- I don’t like you and you smell funny
But people who say “we don’t have time” are saying it to avoid a conversation. They want, mostly, to blow you off and move on.
Case in point: If I told you I will give you a billion dollars for going to lunch with me tommorow, no matter what commitments you’ve made, you will likely change them so you can get the billion dollars. Time is not an issue – the priority of two competing things is. Depositing a check for a billion dollars will trump most everyday life commitments easily. And by the same token, a sufficiently brilliant idea would cause any leader to make changes, including adding more time to the schedule. The real question is whether the proposed idea is good enough to warrant change.
The Countermove: when told “We don’t have time” by a project manager or co-worker, the best questions to ask are:
- What is (your) time being used for?
- How was this decided?
- What were the goals of this use of time?
- Can I explain why my idea is a better use of time towards those goals?
All these countermove questions force a discussion and more importantly some thinking to take place. Any idiot can say “we don’t have time”, but only a good leader will happily explain why.
Obviously, pick your battles. On healthy teams people can intuit which of the first list of better phrases is actually meant, and on unhealthy teams, the dude who challenges every single decision, every single time, is going to be ignored for that reason alone. But if it’s a battle worth fighting, or it’s a habit you want people to start breaking, use your countermoves.
See also: “We don’t have money”, “We don’t have enough staff”
What phrases irritate you? Leave a comment.