• External Contributor

Stop saying you ran out of time

Stop saying you ran out of time. At work, at home, with your kids, with your friends, about exercise, about housework. We do all have the same amount of time in a day, but we all have different priorities. For example, person A has full-time childcare, a cleaner, and no work on Saturday. Their priorities are going to an exercise class, having brunch with a friend, then going shopping. Person B works two jobs on a Saturday, gets home in time for their partner to leave for work, puts the kids to bed, then, too tired to clean up the mess left from the day, goes straight to bed. They both have the same amount of time. Person A doesn’t lack the time to work on a side project. Person B doesn’t lack the time to do the dishes and vacuum. They just didn’t prioritise it. And whether you are prioritising by want or necessity, it’s still being done.

Another example. You have a busy day at work because your boss gave you two extra tasks on top of your already-full day. Your boss told you those two things were the most important tasks, so you finished them first. At the end of the day, on your way out the door, your boss stops you to ask if you finished one of the other tasks. The least important one, the one pushed to the bottom of your list. You didn’t. In that situation, I, and probably most people, would usually say “I ran out of time,” but if we started changing our language, I think things would change for the better. If we said “I prioritised the other tasks.”

Saying you ran out of time, in many contexts, sounds like a failing. As though you wasted time, and maybe you did, but that’s still prioritising. Maybe you prioritised watching TikToks over doing work or an assignment. You didn’t run out of time. I can’t sit here and say we all have enough time to get everything done, because it’s simply not true. And prioritising can be difficult. For women, it can mean prioritising a career over a family, or vice versa. It can mean prioritising trying for a career as a professional athlete and giving up education. For many people, it means prioritising work over family. Either because it’s a necessity, or a choice. Prioritising isn’t always easy. In fact, it rarely is.

By talking about priorities over time, we can hold people like our bosses accountable. Time is something we can’t control. You can’t perform a two hour task in one hour. You can’t work an overnight shift in half the time. It doesn’t matter how much your manager wants you to get done in one shift, if you have four two-hour tasks, then that’s all you can physically do. Which tasks you get done first is about priorities. I am actively trying to apply this to my own time-wasting as well. I’ve recently realised, and I don’t know why it took me this long, that very rarely do I want to scroll through social media. In fact, I don’t know if I ever make an active decision to open Instagram and scroll. I just do it out of habit, to waste time, or curb boredom. But I do like to watch YouTube and stream movies and TV, so I am working on trying to make a decision every time I pick up my phone. Do I want to use it, and if so, what do I actually want to look at?

Talking about priorities and prioritising will only benefit us. It will benefit us at work, it will benefit us in social situations, and it will improve how we think about our own time. Time is finite, but priorities are in our control.