“I don’t have enough time”
It’s a phrase I hear every day: “I don’t have enough time to do that.”
Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the trivial things we say, particularly when a poor choice of words can obscure our meaning. Conventional wisdom supports “calling it like it is,” but taking an objective view is rarely as easy as that. Our use of language is inescapably tied to our personal experience of the world, and therefore pure objectivity in speech is virtually absurd. Perhaps instead we should “call it by its true name,” which is sufficiently mystical and subjective to get to the heart of the matter.
What do we mean when we say that we don’t have time? If a task would require two hours, but is due in an hour, then we don’t have time to do it. Who could argue with that? However, more frequently, we mean “I can’t do that in addition to everything else I’m doing.” If I have a full week’s work to do, and something new comes in which would require a whole day to complete, I might say that I “can’t” do it this week because “I don’t have the time.” I clearly have enough time, though, because a day is less than a week. If the task were important enough, I would do it instead of something else.
This brings us a step closer to what we really mean, which is “that is less important than my other obligations.” What a difference it makes to consider the situation in this way! I have shifted from a position of powerlessness (“I can’t”) to one of decisiveness (“I choose not to”). Nothing about my circumstances has changed, but I’m now communicating a different view of the world, one in which I’m taking responsibility for my choice. This also opens the way for discussing what your priorities are, and making adjustments if circumstances have changed.
In other news, I’m told that London youth have taken to saying “I have a lot of time for that” to mean that they like something.