July 26, 2014

The inexcusable “I just don’t have time” excuse.

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If there’s ever a time when you hear someone indicating they were unable to do what they knew was the right thing to do, or at least the better thing to do, than what actually occurred due to a “lack of time,” remind yourself that people most want to do what they are familiar with.

This is not the same as the thing they are good at, or the thing that makes the most sense.  They want to do what they are familiar with – even if what they are familiar with is massive dysfunction.

Managers who aren’t able to address a problem due to time constraints need to think again about what they consider important.  Clearly, you have the time to deal with things – you have simply chosen to ignore one set of problems in favor of another.  Are you sitting in boring, mindless, disorganized meetings instead of getting ahead of a problem?  Well – that means you value the meeting more than being proactive.  I know, I know – you believe you are as proactive as possible and you certainly want to be even more proactive – but the truth is, you wanted to be in that meeting more than anything else.  How do I know?  Because that’s where you were and actions speak louder than words or wishes.

“Wait!” you say.  ”The meeting was mandatory!”  Let me alert you to something:  No, it wasn’t.

No meeting is mandatory.  Will you get in trouble if you miss it?  Yup, you might.  Welcome to leadership.  As I’ve said in the past, leaders say no – it is the single, defining characterisitic of a leader vs. a manager.  A leader says no.  A follower always says Yes.  When you say Yes to those meeting invites, or you say yes to a subtle conversation that turns in to an hour-long discussion of unplanned events, when you decide to work overtime, produce more units, or whatever it is that fills your plate before you can get to the difficult things you’d rather not do – you are declaring your priorities.

And, if pursuing those priorities means that the organization, as a whole, suffers while you bounce from fire to fire – then you clearly aren’t worried about the value you get in return for spending your time.  You are worried about doing what you know how to do.  If your duties were eliminated and you suddenly had time for all those little projects, would you be doing them?  Odds are, you wouldn’t.  You are not making time for those things already, and habits don’t change easily.  It’s like the person who buys a very expensive hunk of exercise equipment under the guise that it will finally get them to go an exercise.  But it doesn’t, of course.  You have to develop the exercise habit first, then add to it with the expensive equipment.

Simply put, if you really want something to happen, you will push other,competing activities and people out of the way in order to do what matters most.  In fact, that is what each of us does already. The things that don’t interest us will get pushed to the back, where they tend to fester, until the next crisis erupts and we have no choice but to deal with them.



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  • Karen Wilhelm

    I find that when I’m working with association leaders, they give the “don’t have time” for social networking like LinkedIn. I believe it’s just code for, “I don’t know how to use it and I don’t feel like sitting down and figuring it out.” I think that involves fear of failing, like it’s too hard to learn or embarrassing to participate and make a mistake in public. On the other hand, there’s always a new thing online getting attention and you get learning fatigue. I often feel like I can’t learn one more thing. Another factor is decision fatigue — I checked that out one time and found it’s a real psychological phenomenon. You have to make a lot of decisions like what to put in a box, how to describe your experience, who to connect with, or whether to use the tool at all.

    So maybe it’s not laziness that keeps these folks from doing something but just mental overload: Muri. (or is it Mura? I have some barrier to learning and remembering which one.)

    Good post, David.

    • http://myflexiblepencil.com David M. Kasprzak

      Thanks, Karen.

      Decision fatigue sounds like a concept I must have come across once upon a time. It’s certainly understandable given the hectic pace we all try to maintain.

      I think the LI example is a perfect case of letting one’s self get caught up in some good ol’ batch-and-queue thinking. If the number of boxes to fill in on LinkedIn is overwhelming – which it certainly can be – there’s nothing that says they all have to be done RIGHT NOW. Clearly, there’s a bottleneck…so improve the flow! Fill in a box a day, or update one past employment profile at a time, or something manageable. With practice, it gets easier, and every little bit moves you closer to Done.