Sunday, January 18, 2015

"I don't have time"

When a woman who's working full-time, has children to raise and runs a household tells me she doesn't have time for one more thing, I believe her. But I suspect there are many people who say they don't have time for stuff, who aren't telling the truth.

As an undergraduate at U.C. Berkeley and then a graduate student at Cornell, I made time for what was important to me and didn't make time for what wasn't. One thing I did a lot was sleep, about eight hours a night. I've always prioritized basic needs like sleep over everything else, even grades. But since grades were also critical to me, that meant I spent most of my eight years at UCB and Cornell sleeping and studying. I never studied past 10 p.m, which meant I had to get all my essays written, math problems solved and texts read in the rest of the hours of the day. That was possible because I cut out almost all other activities during that time of my life. When someone invited me on a weekend trip or an afternoon swim, I might have said I didn't have time, but that wasn't strictly true. I had the time, but it would have meant losing time for the things I considered more important. I would have had to finish assignments by rushing through them, possibly sleep deprived, and that just wasn't in my nature.

We all have time for what's important to us. Recently a friend told me why he had waited so long to get back to me about something. He listed the home projects he'd needed to do and his preparation for an event. His explanation petered out with, "...and I procrastinated."

Yes. I procrastinate all the time. I'm procrastinating now. If someone asks me tomorrow why I didn't get a certain thing done today, it wouldn't be truthful to say, "I didn't have time." The truth would be that I didn't feel like doing that other thing, so I occupied myself with blogging and watching Twilight Zone episodes until I looked at the clock and said, "Oh, it's too late to do that now." And if I were very honest, I'd say, "I didn't do it because I was afraid that X might happen if I did it, and I'm just not ready for that yet."

It feels better to say, "I don't have time" than to say "I don't think I'm smart enough" or "I'm afraid to find out that answer" or "I'd have to change who I am" or "I don't want to fail." And when we truly don't have time to squeeze in one more thing, that's because our lives are full of the things that are important to us and that other thing just doesn't rank. It's much more polite to say, "I don't have time" than "I just don't like you" or "I don't want to" or "Why would I want to spend time with those people?"

So we say we don't have time and it's easy to believe because Americans are some of the busiest damn people on the planet. We almost shun sleep and tend to overfill our schedules, so when one American says to another "I don't have time" no one challenges it. But I say that such a statement isn't honest. It lets us get by without opening ourselves up, but it's not the true reason that people don't prioritize whatever they're saying they don't have time for.

Maybe I'm setting myself up for some awkward moments by posting this. I can imagine my friends no longer letting me get away with saying I don't have time (but at least that would tell me which friends read my blog). I guess that would serve me right and keep me honest. Of course, if you press me, I'm usually happy to tell you what's really going on in my head. So feel free to stop me the next time I say I don't have time. Ask me for the real reason, but be careful: I'll tell you.

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