4 Jan 2016

Stop Saying "I Don't Have Time". You're Lying to Yourself

“We must do it,” he said as I popped open a beer.

The meeting with a potential client (who, incidentally, was a friend) had been stressful. He held high expectations from us on a project, but was unwilling to cooperate. “Why should I pay you if I have to work on it,” he argued. I tried explaining his significance in the larger scheme of things, but he turned more indignant.

“We’ll get back to you tomorrow,” I said purely to end the meeting.

When my friend and I sat for lunch (and beer), he suggested that we should accept the project. I opposed. It wasn’t our area of expertise, nor was it something that we wanted to foray into. It would waste our time. “Nahi yaar, wo dost hai. Karte hein (he's a friend. Let's do it for him).” he said. So we discussed what to do. I was to email some people and he would get in touch with one of his contacts.

Three days passed and I heard nothing. So I called him and asked if he spoke to his contact. “Nahi yaar, I didn’t find the time. Plus, it is not something that I want to get into.” I went into the kitchen, stopped the maid from washing the frying pan, took it, and whacked myself on the head.

My friend’s U-turns are nothing new. He would joke that nobody does U-turns like him. Then Arvind Kejriwal took away the only thing he could brag about. The man just can’t let anyone be happy.

But this post is not about U-turns. It is about our eternal shortage of time. A shortage which is self-induced.

In the Four-Hour Workweek (a bloody awesome book), Tim Ferriss wrote:

A lack of time is a lack of priorities.

It is undoubtedly the most insightful productivity or life-hacking advice we can receive. But I believe that a deeper layer exists.

Our ability to prioritize (or lack thereof) stems from the fear of missing out (FOMO).

A JWT survey reported that FOMO affects 70% adults. I am one of them. I have said no to party invites and felt deep urges to call my friends at the party and ask what they are doing. I see Instagram and Facebook photos and feel pangs of jealousy. While my friends are busy biking, eating and boozing, getting married and probably enjoying sex, I sit in front of a computer, or read a book.

Despite that, I have little to complain about. I don’t feel bogged down by Monday Blues (quite the contrary), I am not hounded on phone by someone if I’m out late at night, I don’t feel stressed by pending work… Life is good despite experiencing FOMO.

Why? Because I say “No”. And if you want to make time to do what you truly love, you also must use this dreaded word.

So, to the important question: for whom and what should you utter the word, sending those around you into a frenzy?

1.  People

“We often do what others expect us to do and end up feeling resentful”, wrote Purba Ray in response to a comment in this post. Succinct and poignant. You nodded, right? But………

We would rather be strapped to a chair while someone claws their nails on a blackboard than say “no” to others. According to Vanessa Bohns, this is because “it feels threatening to our relationships and feeling of connectedness. As a result, we bend over backwards to accommodate last-minute demands of people, and feel pained if they do not reciprocate.”

So, I request you to do something drastic - say “no” to everyone. A “No” does not hurt feelings. Most people don’t take it as badly as we think they will. “Chances are, the consequences of saying ‘no’ are much worse in our heads than in reality," Bohns says.

The effect is two-fold. One, you free up time for yourself and can focus on what your heart truly desires. Two, you will identify people who deserve to be in your life. People who want to be with you won’t mind you denying their requests. And those who are offended don’t deserve your time or effort. (Discretion in the professional space is recommended though.)

2.  Your mobile phone

Rand Fishkin tweeted that the “mobile isn't killing desktop (sic), it's killing all our free time.” We can’t stop checking our mobile phones because something awesome may happen. Whatever occurs will barely impact our lives. But FOMO is ingrained in us, remember? The only thing clutter-free thing today is the Notifications tab in our phones.

Turn the internet on your phone off. Put your phone on silent at a restaurant, café, or theatre. Play this game at such places. Use your hands to applaud the performance of a band or exquisite presentation of a dish instead of clicking a photo. Reach out for a glass of water instead of your mobile phone in the morning. And give yourself some time before you check for network as soon as an airplane lands.

It will be weird, not only for you but for others also. Not checking your phone will mean that you will notice things around you. If someone looks up from his phone and spots you doing so, he may think that you are a terrorist. Maybe he will make you feel like one too. But that’s okay. Just say “no” to your phone and within a few days, you will feel human again. Plus you will have a lot of free time to do what you want to.

3.  Busyness

I came across this remarkable insight by Alex Vermeer. Instead of rephrasing, I’ll just let him say it again:

‘Problems with busyness arise when we feel like victims. “Gawd, if only I wasn’t so busy I would do xyz instead.” But, if it’s actually more important, why not do that instead. And if it’s not as important, stop stressing over not doing it!’

It’s a surprisingly simple idea. It’s also incredibly difficult to practice.

We wear busyness like a badge. We fear being labeled as lazy if we are not busy. Scrambling to tick boxes off our checklist so that we can complain (in a humblebragging sort of way) about how busy we are… it gives us a rush. But guess what - it’s not being busy that counts. It’s what you do while being busy that does.

So the next time you say that you are overloaded with work, know that it is an excuse. If you truly prioritize something - work, play, hobbies, family, relationships - you will always make time for it. You just have to want it bad enough.

4.  Urgency

The pathetic corporate culture has seeped into every aspect of our lives. Everything feels urgent today, creating anxiety and making it further difficult to focus on a task (as if smartphones weren’t enough). Regard for self goes out the window and is replaced by ‘getting more done’ and ‘fire-fighting’.

There is the urgent, and there is the important. Unfortunately, we have switched the meanings. To realize the difference, leave lots of white space in your calendar. Warren Buffet recommends that you list out the five most important goals of your life. Then, don’t put the others on the back burner, ignore them completely. Gradually, your time will be filled doing things and meeting people that matter. Slowly but steadily, you will focus on aspects which are important and trash those which are not.

This sounds frightening in the beginning. But if you truly feel stressed because of lack of time, all I ask of you is to try these steps for 21 days. And then enjoy the relief of being able to disconnect from inconsequential tasks, and the joy of indulging in those you truly love. After all, you deserve happiness in your life as much as everyone, don’t you?

How do you make time for what you like to do?

Images: Google


  1. Vishal while I am commenting, I am already planning to reread the whole thing, let it seep in, absorb the enormity of all you have said! I am actually planning to do a post on similar lines, on escapism. It's there in the head, but I am not sure it will come out as succinctly. I agree making time for anything is all about priorities. Somewhere in the back of our minds, we all realize that when we are backing out of something, stating lack of time as an excuse, it is just that the said activity doesn't feature high on our must-do list! I need to read this whole stuff again boss! And yes, saying 'No' is good every once in awhile :)

    1. Thanks Kala. But saying "Yes" once in a while and saying "No" often is what allows us to make time for what we want to do. We must remember that everyone comes to us to have their needs fulfilled, and it is up to us to prioritize which ones fall in line with out end goals.

  2. Check to all. I agree with each point that you've written. The saying No took a little getting used to. But not only do I take No surprisingly well, most people who are my friends and even my colleagues do too. We just have to do it politely yet firmly. Of course, a couple of times we give in just because the person really mattered a lot but then that is a call every person has to take. Busyness is the bane of our times. I have never understood why. Perhaps, we'd all like to tell us that we are busy hence important or doing something important. Of course, social media makes us use this more. Sometimes, it is a convenient excuse though to not cater to pesky demands. Smartphones -- don't get me started. I get majorly annoyed when people fish out their phones and keep making eyes with it instead of the person sitting next to them. You may find it strange but my phone always has its wifi off. I only switch it on a few times in a day when I wish to browse. And till now sky has not fallen down. The last point about urgency is something I struggle with. Sometimes, I work at a pace which may be a bit much for others. I am slowly learning to go easy and adjust to others' paces. After all koi train toh chootti nahin hai. Good post!

    1. Awesome, Rachna. Was nodding my head on each sentence of your comment. And just like you, the internet is off for about 90% of the day on my phone. That's how my phone battery also lasts 2 1/2 days :)

      Urgency is something we all give into. That's why it's important to ignore what we don't want to do in life, rather than putting it on the back burner. And this is where Warren Buffett's lesson mentioned in the post comes into play.

  3. No wonder when you tell your Mom you were too busy to give her a call, she starts hissing like a pressure cooker :p

    I think busyness is also a state of mind - cluttered thoughts, add to it the guilt wasting time on SM than doing stuff that required our urgent attention, sresses us out.

    1. LOL! You know the biggest tension for us guys, right Purba? When the pressure cooker blows off steam after the 3rd whistle and we lost count of the number ;)

      Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Keeps me thinking why we are all so hell bent to discover all in one day. I am guilty of this syndrome. Maybe a little too much. But 2015 was a conscious attempt to cut down on it. Starting with accepting I am a nerd and do not enjoy those parties I see insta photos of :D Secondly inculcating patience as a way of things each time.

    But coming back to your question. How do I make time? I go a little crazy. No seriously. That is all :) Passion drives!

    1. Passion drives! What a lovely line, Richa.

      Nice to know that you have started putting things in perspective for your life in 2015. At this rate, 2016 will probably be one of the best years of your life so far. Good luck!

  5. Nodding my head all along and reminds me of a post I'd written on the difference between urgency and importance, more from a parenting perspective but equally applicable in all relationships. I love the analysis here and heartily agree that many people today suffer from FOMO, especially bloggers, because they feel they'll miss the next great thing if they aren't always online. Rather tragic. I'd much rather spend a whole week marveling at things my daughter does and laughing with her than worry about blog stats or the busy-ness of life.

    1. So true Shailaja. Maria Popova (of the Brainpickings fame) had said that some bloggers try to newsjack the latest events, but the key is to write evergreen content which is just as amazing even 2 years later. And stuff about your daughter and your life definitely falls into that category. Plus, as you mentioned, the feeling of joy is unmatched.

      Glad you dropped by :)

  6. Over the years, I have learnt to prioritize; so the busyness issue is in control.

    Saying NO is a work-in-progress, and while I have made giant leaps forward in this area- I still am prone to taking on too much. 2016- I plan to conquer this too. :)

    1. 'Giant leaps' always sounds good, Shanaya. It means that you will conquer it sooner than you expect. Good luck, and happy 2016 :)

  7. That's a great post with some interesting points to ponder.

    I have this FOMO bit in check to quite an extent because I am no longer sensitive to the notifications/ message beeps. I keep my mobile's wifi/data off 80% of the day. And yes, slowly but surely, I have learnt to say no to others and also myself when my procrastination drive hits me (that's a habit that I know will linger, so I have put a check on it for our harmonious co-existence).

    As far working on getting the priorities right in terms of importance v/s urgency, that's an area I'm currently working on.

    Overall, I practice what Warren Buffet mentioned, I have a limited number of goals/ areas of interest and i work on and around only those, letting everything else slowly fade away as if they don't exist. It has helped me lead a stress-free life in a major way even when many other dramas are on in my life.

    1. That's wonderful ME. Glad to know that you almost practice Buffett's philosophies to the 'T', and that you have FOMO in check. We already have a lot to do in life, and certainly don't need notifications to add to our burden.

      The day we crack the Important v/s Urgent code, we will become super rich and famous :) Thanks for dropping by.

  8. Brilliant read, Vishal :) Courtesy your comment on Neil Patel's blog on LinkedIn I'm here. My suggestion to save time: People who don't require WhatsApp for business must do away with it n save at least half an hour a day. Cheers!

    1. Great point Sunjog. It will save us more than 1/2 an hour a day.

      Glad you dropped by. Hope to see you around more :)

  9. I had read this the day you published it, and I was like this makes so much sense. I took these two days to take stock, figure out what matters read up more. I have been guilty on all counts before. This year is a conscious effort to spend time on what matters, things that will actually make a difference and not the things that I think will.

    Saying "No" is going to be my biggest block, and I am working on that, but FOMO is something I have left behind last year. I realised I was putting myself through a lot of trauma, because of that. Thank You for writing this Vishal. I am going to make the time for the things that matter.

    1. We are all guilty on all counts, Jaibala, including yours truly. However, once we understand that this Fear of Missing Out is not real, and that life will only get better once we focus more on what we want to do rather than what we have to, the end of each day will feel better.

      Nice to see you here :)

  10. I completely agree on all the points. Shortage of time is definitely self induced. I am slowly learning the art of prioritization. Have been back and forth on a project that came to me and I would have said yes just because of the FOMO but after deliberate thinking and prioritization I am finally going to say No. This post has only helped me further in that direction! :)

    1. Superb, Aditi. You have understood the key philosophy to lead a peaceful and fulfilling life. I'm sure implementing it will be substantially easier for you than the rest.

      Good luck! And thanks for dropping by :)

  11. Interesting post, Vishal. And one that is much needed these days too. Prioritising is key to everything - most of all, managing whatever limited time we have. As a work-from-home-dad, and a three year old around most of the time, I'm still trying to learn the trick, but yes, definitely saying 'less Yes'es' and more 'No's' is one way to ensure that I only take on stuff that I can manage.
    First visit here; certainly not going to be the last.
    Oh, and welcome to the BAR once again.

    1. Thanks Sid. Wonderful to see you here.

      Yes, as a work-from-home dad, your priorities are your child and your work. It gets difficult to say "No" easily to other things which release dopamine to make us feel good. With practice and time, we simply replace the feeling with other (more fruitful) activities.

      Thanks for dropping by :)

  12. FOMO is the biggest time-killer and it derails everything. I have not done a conscious social media/phone/laptop detox but when I travel for work and am usually in poor network areas, so the gadget and SM detox happens on its own. During such times, I have realized that I havent missed much. Plus the time that I have on my hands makes me read, connect/call friends and enjoy things around me.
    Oh yes, prioritization is the key. I am a list person and I cant function without one. It makes tasks and life simpler and easier.
    And saying No... well, it was tough initially, but now I can say it easily and without any guilt trips.

    1. So true Shilpa - the fact that we don't miss much if we go on a digital detox. And it's nice to read that saying "No" comes more easily to you. Makes our lives much more fulfilling.

  13. I like everything about this post. :) How is that for a compliment? :)
    But seriously, I dislike this aspect of modern life so much. We talk and talk of simplicity and living in the moment and yet can not bear to turn off our phones or log off anything.
    I have read some really interesting articles on FOMO and even a very good one on the false sense of urgency that we live with. It bothers me because I feel trapped but something deeper in my heart also knows this is not the way to live.
    I appreciate what you have written here and hope to learn to truly live more simply and to be present in the moment I am in instead of just talking about it or wanting to prove to others how exciting or interesting my life is!

    Happy New Year to you!!

    1. Thanks Colleen. Happy New Year to you too. And the first line was a huge compliment :)

      Indeed, we know the perils of FOMO. But working on reducing it takes so much out of us that we feel like we are better off being its victims.

      All the best for the consistent endeavor of achieving a simple life and being present in the moment. We are all sailing in the same boat :)

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