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The biggest lie: “I have no time.”

The biggest lie: “I have no time.”

by Moyra Mackie on January 19, 2014

If you want to change anything significant in your life you need to nail this lie.

Whether it is exercising more, changing the direction of your business or becoming a better leader to your team, most of us need to challenge this most insidious of self-limiting beliefs that what is stopping us is a lack of time.

I’ve written before that I believe effective time management  is the very first thing needed to be a true leader – without that skill you just have over-busy, stressed managers.

So when can we tell we’re lying to ourselves?


The clues might come with thoughts or statements that begin “I can’t  because…”   Psychologists call this a defence.

David Malan's Triangle of Conflict

David Malan’s Triangle of Conflict

When you say you don’t have time, what are you really anxious about?

As a coach I immediately would be curious about what lies beneath this defence.  Rather than focusing on the defence and responding with “logical” counter- arguments, the room for real change lies in discovering what anxiety is being avoided.

What lies beneath is always emotional

So focusing on behavioural changes will only get you so far.  Sustainable success will  be achieved if you work out what is really holding you back.

It might be that you are afraid of the conflict that could arise if you said “no”.  It might be that you feel comforted by being busy, as deep down you equate this with being in demand, being wanted or important.

You might be using busy-ness to avoid the tough stuff

Which might be tough action, tough conversations, tough self-reflection.

Five steps to reclaim your time

1.    Learn to live above the line

Most people are familiar with the Steven Covey model that asks you to categorise your tasks into important or urgent, with the aim of reducing the amount of reactive tasks – the urgent ones – and replacing them with important tasks that are proactive.

Covey Time Management Matrix

The Covey Time Management Matrix

In discussing the Covey model, most of my clients rush to claim that they can’t drop any of the urgent tasks.  And of course this is true.  The only way you make real changes is to start ditching the stuff below the line.

2. Identify your comfort activities

Your comfort activity might be taking on too much. Such as attending high profile meetings, rather than spending time developing your team.  Or it might be aiming to empty your email inbox or make endless revisions to PowerPoint decks and reports.

Or it might be putting things off by surfing the internet or checking social media.

3.    Check your mood

Your comfort activities will be driven by an unconscious desire to feel better, to avoid the anxiety of the tough stuff.  It is what psychologists call “giving in to feel good”.  So keep a diary of your activities, but also track your mood.

Each time you find yourself tempted by your comfort activity, ask yourself:  “what negative things will happen if I avoid what I should be doing and do what I’m used to doing?”

 4.    Work on your focus

 Build mindfulness activities into your daily routine.  Many of my clients report making clearer decisions with more confidence on days where they have practiced mindfulness.

Regular mindfulness exercises will help pre-empt the emotional sabotage of your comfort activities and can be used to refocus at moments of tension and stress during your day.

 5.    Practice saying “no”

People pleasers who over-commit or have difficulty ending meetings on time in an unconscious desire to keep everyone happy need to speak up.

If your big problem is too many back to back meetings arranged by others you could start by scheduling your meetings to start at quarter past or quarter to the hour. You will need to develop a habit of explaining that you cannot make certain meeting at all or you will need to send someone else.

The step too far

This last step is undoubtedly the most anxiety-inducing, which is why it is the step least likely to be taken.  But, whether you are responsible only for your own actions or accountable for the actions of others, it is the true leadership test. It is the final step in nailing the lie that you have no time.

Do you recognise yourself or someone you know? Do you agree that this is the biggest lie we tell ourselves?

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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