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Published: November 07, 2017

The Harsh But True Meaning Behind Every "I Don't Have Time"

How often have you heard the line “Sorry, I just don’t have time” in response to you suggesting an activity to a friend or asking for help? Perhaps you’ve said this yourself to other people. While it could be genuinely true for many, the harsh reality is that it’s not usually entirely the case.

The Real Truth Behind “I Don’t Have Time”

If we get this response, we usually give the person the benefit of the doubt – after all who are we to question how much time they really have? But at the back of our mind, we often wonder if we’ve just been given a quick and easy excuse. The only reason we do doubt it is because we’ve most likely given this excuse ourselves at some point. So what can it really mean?

  • I genuinely have a lot to do and I can’t realistically fit it in: For many of us, we take on far too much and although we would like to help or do something with someone, we feel stressed when there’s a lot on our plate already.
  • I have more important things to do than doing that with you: This sounds harsh but sometimes other, more important priorities, can take over at any particular time.
  • I don’t have anything to do but I don’t want to do that anyway: It’s cold but sometimes a person isn’t in the mood, is tired or what you’ve suggested doesn’t appeal to them. Perhaps in that moment, they were looking forward to hanging out on the couch with a good book and a glass of wine but feel a bit mean admitting that they’d prefer that to hanging out with you.
  • I don’t have anything to do but I don’t want to explain why I can’t do that: Sometimes it’s easier to tell a white lie than to have to explain why you don’t want to do something with someone. Maybe you’re not in the mood or you actually don’t like hanging out with that person much. It’s usually a quick instinctive reaction to get out of it easily with no awkward questions.

Even though the underlying reasons behind this response can seem harsh, we can all admit that we can relate to at least one of them.

Question the Common Lie

About 90% of the time, if you hear this it’s most likely a lie. But this isn’t going to be shocking to us because we all know it. Yet we usually let it pass without question when someone says it to us. However, instead of dismissing this common lie, perhaps we should consider what it really means for our friendships and relationships with others.

You are a low priority. Is this really the basis of a good relationship with someone if they continually imply that you’re not high priority in their life? Relationships take effort on both sides so if you’re both using this excuse a lot then it may be time to question it.

You aren’t getting the respect you deserve. We are all worthy of good relationships with friends, family and loved ones and we deserve respect. Ask yourself why you aren’t getting that. Do they really value you as an important person in their life?

They can’t be truthful with you. A real friend will tell you they have other plans and won’t want to lie to you. They’ll go to lengths to make it up to you, arrange another time because they want to spend time with you. If they feel they need to lie then there could be an underlying problem.

The Damage of This Well-Known Lie

Of course, we’re also guilty of using this excuse. But what does it say about ourselves, our integrity and outlook on the relationships in our life?

Deep down we all know the meaning behind why we say it – whether we hear it from others or use it ourselves. But just because we don’t openly admit what it really means, doesn’t mean it’s not having an impact. It gives people an unsaid impression of you that builds up over time and can damage potential close relationships or break close bonds.

The most common thoughts people have when they hear “I don’t have time” tend to be:

  • “You’re so bad at organising what you’re doing that you can’t manage your time well.”
  • “What an arrogant person you are that you don’t even bother telling me the real reason why you can’t do it.”
  • “This person clearly doesn’t respect our relationship, and now I’m starting to lose respect for them.”

Make Time, or Tell the Truth

At the end of the day, it’s all about priority. We all know that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day – it’s more about our mindset and how we choose to organise our time. We all have the choice to either make time for something or not.

The key is to ditch the excuses and be honest. Explain why you don’t have time because although this could come across as harsh, it’s no more harsh than the impact of people wondering what the real reason is and diminishing respect on both sides.

Tell them it’s not your priority

That’s right, it’s difficult to admit and say, isn’t it? But being honest in this way is laying it out there. Our time is a limited resource and there’s no point pretending it’s not. Yes it may come across harsh but at least it’s honesty rather than the other person feeling they’ve been fobbed off with an excuse which could ultimately cause more damage.

Follow up with a reason

The best thing to do is explain why in order to lessen the harsh reality. This will cause the person to understand your position a bit better and will have less negative impact on your relationship in the long run.

Arrange an alternative

Always try to carve out another time to make them a priority. If you want to cultivate your relationships, it’s important to show them that they can be a priority to you, just not right now.

An example of this could be: a friend has asked you if you would come along next Friday night to check out her new exhibition. You probably could go technically, but you’ve been putting off sorting out your CV and job search for a while and you need to start prioritizing this. Instead of simply saying sorry, you don’t have time, explain your priorities, wish her luck and arrange a coffee date later in the week to find out how it went.

Remember that this common excuse can be more damaging than you realize. If you find you use it a lot, it might be time to start questioning your values towards friendships and relationships with others. Start being more honest. It could save your integrity and connection with the important people in your life.

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