‘Not Having Enough Time’ Is Always An Excuse (Why You Should Test Your Assumptions)

People often say “I don’t have enough time” for things they should do but are not doing. To me, the question of whether you should spend your on something depends on another question to be answered first, “What are your priorities?”

You have to know your priorities first, then schedule your time accordingly. Not spend your time doing random things all day and then complain you don’t have time to do the important things. It’s about prioritization. It’s about being intentional in your work and how you manage one of your most important resources—your time. It’s NOT about doing everything or anything you can or should do in a day. It’s about strategically doing the few things that move you the fastest, closest towards your goals and deliberately ignoring the less important tasks—first things first, second things not at all.

People tend to avoid what’s most needed to be done. I’d say if you’re going to procrastinate, procrastinate on unimportant things until you have to do them.

The reality: Doing a lot of unimportant things doesn’t make them important, it just wastes your time without getting much results. However, it does give you the illusion of getting things done. But like a hamster running feverishly inside a hamster wheel, ‘your busyness’ is nothing when you can’t get results. And results is what ultimately matters. The question is, are you willing to take a reality-check:

  • What are you trying to achieve?
  • Are you spending your time in the most effective way to achieve those goals?
  • And what are the results?

You need time to achieve results yet the achievement of results doesn’t necessarily depend on how long you work or how hard you work, it depends more on how effective your approach is. Not having enough time could be an excuse for not figuring what’s actually required to achieve a result, which often leads to doing the same thing over and over again without questioning the effectiveness of your approach. You can’t continue what you’re doing and expect different results.

An excuse is a rationalized fear. When you rationalize, you are fixated on a conclusion first and then you find reasons to support this conclusion. Obviously, if this is your default approach to things you’ve never personally tried, you’ll find biased evidence to support your viewpoint. Rather, your starting place should be a hypothesis—an educated guess of how you can reach your goals, what’s the process from A to B, what are your key assumptions and then systematically test those assumptions. Caution: Your initial guess or assumptions might be totally off and that’s okay, this is a necessary part of finding the right answers. Only a loser clings to his opinions in the face of overwhelming evidence that his opinion is wrong. That kind of person is more interested in being right rather than being successful. I don’t care about looking stupid as long as I get results. I have found that over the years, no one really cares about you anyway. They only—and rightfully should—care about what you can do for them first and then maybe they’ll entertain you by hearing your plea for how hard you worked.

The point is to test the critical, key assumptions that prevents you from achieving your most important goals like a career change, starting a business, finding a partner or moving to a foreign country. Again, prioritization.

If you don’t want to try something, fine, don’t do it. But if you want to do something, you’ve set it as a goal but manage to convince yourself it’s not worth the effort in trying based on some subjective opinions how you can’t do something or it won’t work out without  ACTUALLY trying it—that’s an excuse! Excuses are never grounded in evidence, excuses only requires careful self-deception. You’re the biggest loser if you don’t systematically test your most important assumptions. Here’s a clue: Whenever you catch yourself saying ‘I can’t do THAT—ask, what am I assuming here? How can I test my assumptions before living with this assumption my whole life?’ I don’t know, you might find out you’re capable of more than you thought you could ever be—isn’t that worth a try?

Lastly, don’t ever confuse your confidence in your own personal beliefs with the validity of your own assumptions. Because your belief is what you like or hope for, which a personal preference but the basis of your assumptions should be how accurately your assumptions reflects the reality of the real-world—just because you honestly and sincerely believe in something that it has to be true in the real world. You can be honestly wrong. Beliefs are personal, assumptions demand evidence.

For example, how many entrepreneurs honestly believe they’ll be successful, profitable with their ventures 2,3 years into the game? I’d say ‘All of them.’ How many do actually succeed and turn a significant profit to keep going? ‘Probably one in every ten, or even less’, according to documented stats. See, confidence is a necessary but not sufficient condition. You can be confident all you want but if your planning is weak, your execution is poor and undisciplined, you don’t know the numbers, you don’t have a overall strategy and you mismanage your time doing useless things leaving the important things to help the business grow till tomorrow—you deserve to fail. Because you were too lazy to test your assumptions, learn from it and make intelligent decisions on what you should do and should stop doing.

It’s ego and it’s fear of failing again, again and again that prevents us from truly being bold in taking new directions in life.

To me, I see it very clearly, when you pursue a goal: you either achieve it or you get an experience that you can use to adjust your approach to reach your goal faster. More often than not, when you attempt completely new goals with no prior experience or limited knowledge, by the default, you will make more mistakes, get lost than being on the right path and making progress. It’s just the reality of what it is. This is why you shouldn’t waste a mistake. Not wasting a mistake means learning from it—learning from a mistake is NOT simply saying so, you must back it up with a plan, action, new behaviors, and you must force yourself to do the daily grind until you’re not the person who thinks and acts in a way that caused you to make the mistake in the first place. Otherwise, to phrase it articulately, you’re full of shit and you don’t even know it.

Never say you ‘don’t have enough time’—decide what’s important to you, figure out and systematically test your assumptions and follow through until you reach your goal or is educated by an experience of how to smartly approach the problem the next time. It’s either do or don’t, there are no room for excuses.

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‘Not Having Enough Time’ Is Always An Excuse (Why You Should Test Your Assumptions)

I Don’t Want To Think About It ‘Cos I’m Lazy (Why That’s A Good Thing)

If you have to think about doing something every time you do it, you won’t do it for very long.

The reason is you’re lazy, not by nurture but by nature. I’m not referring to being lazy as being a slob; showers once a week, dandruff hair with underwear full of skid-marks. The laziness I’m talking about is a fundamental human survival mechanism—the need to get a desired result while spending the least amount of effort to get it.

Let’s unpack.

First, we have a limited amount of will power so we rely mostly on habits to get through the day. In other words, our ability to exercise self-regulating behavior—behaviors that require us to think about what to do, how to do it and then actually doing it—is dwarfed by our habits. Our habits are the closest thing to automatic, stimulus-conditioned behaviors. Having a habit frees up our ‘mental RAM’ to think about other potentially important things. Because if we had to decide every morning how to brush our teeth, how much tooth paste to use and how to maneuver the brush to get the cleanest teeth, in addition to other common habits like taking a bath, driving, grooming, how to use eating utensils, we’d exhaust ourselves to the point of being retarded.

Second, from a practical standpoint, the simplest way to achieve a result is the best way. Being busy, more accurately, doing a lot of things without questioning how what you’re doing is moving you closer to the desired result is stupidity. As long as it doesn’t comprise the integrity of the result or is an intentional lifestyle choice, don’t get fancy. For example, I’m somewhat of a ‘productivity nut’, I get sexual release when reading about the latest system, tool, trick, gadgets, framework or whatever promises me to more things done with less time. And this obsession has a lot to do with the ‘feeling’ of being productive, not actually about being productive. Because real productivity is about doing. Usually doing things that are uncomfortable, requires mental effort, physical exertion and sometimes, emotionally challenging. And so as long as I can put off actually doing work by jumping from one work management system to the next latest weekly planner, I will do that—procrastination by wanting to be productive. Oh, the irony.

The real cost of sophistication, of any system or tool, is having to think about how to do it too much that you don’t spend enough time using it to get actual work done. For example, a typical ‘time management’ system comes with its conceptual principles, physical tools like a planner or digital device, maybe a software and a set of best practices. It takes time and effort to learn the system, how it works and adjusting how your behaviors to accompany the system. While you’re doing this, you can’t be doing the real work which the system is intended to support. That’s a very, very, VERY important point. The system only supports the achievement of your goals (think GIGO). Getting the system isn’t the point, the point is getting your goals faster with the system. It’s a vehicle, not the destination. If you have a seamlessly integrated system centered around doing meaningless, trivial stuff, that’s not effective. Effectiveness is about results that count.

So while you have to invest some initial start-up cost, like any projects, you shouldn’t go over budget—decide how much time is sufficient to learn the system, make a schedule, decide on a deadline and get going. The worst thing you can do is learn something in a haphazardly way, making a half ass effort then jump ship seeking the next shiny thing. Because if you’re bad at time management, pick any system and getting started will be an improvement. You have to start somewhere. Build on it over time.

Nowadays, I’m sticking with tradition—a pen and paper. My rationale is, any time management system is first and foremost, a way of thinking and it’s a set of behaviors. Physical tools or digital software does enable great leverage but until and unless you have these mindset and behaviors nailed (i.e. the 20%), everything else is trivial (i.e. the 80%).

Third, almost anything will be difficult at first but once you habitualize it, it becomes easier and easier to do without requiring you to think about it. Given how limited our ability to spot our automatic behaviors and how limited our tank of self-regulation, the key issue is how can we strategically use our willpower to consciously create highly productive, self-reinforcing, healthy habits in our daily life—one habit at a time?

You don’t think about your habits, you just do them. That’s the beauty (or tragedy) of habits. This applies if you have a habit of overeating or exercising 3 times a week. A habtitualized behavior is easier to do. Not entirely easy, but easier—it requires less conscious thinking. The less you have to think about doing something, the more you’ll likely to do it.

This is how you take advantage of our lazy nature to be more productive: design rituals, which requires conscious effort initially but becomes nearly-automatic with practice, to make sure that if you’re going to have habits anyways (and hate changing your habits), your habits are healthy, productive, accumulative efforts that benefit you both today and for the long-term.

I Don’t Want To Think About It ‘Cos I’m Lazy (Why That’s A Good Thing)

Change Isn’t Progress; You Have To Plan For Progress.

Value planning for the thought process as your actual plan will inevitable change.

Most people say plans almost never work out exactly as they planned, so why have a plan anyway? That’s missing the entire point of planning—the planning process forces you to think, anticipate, and specify what are your goals and what are probable options of for achieving your goals. A significant part of planning is doing researching, gather information, making assumptions and testing those assumptions, deciding on the methods of achieving and measuring progress etc., all of which is demanding mental work, requires time and requires long-term, creative thinking; which is probably why most people tend to avoid it. Not to be judgmental but if you don’t have plans for your short-term and long-term goals, I consider that to be lazy and not being serious with your life. I think when we’re young, it’s easier to do things for the pure entertainment, for short-term gratification without thinking about the consequences simply because we have a lot of time ahead of us.

The details of your plan(s) will change to accommodate for both your personal and environmental change—expect it. For example, your personal goals for 2010 will probably be different from your goals for 2013. This partly reflects your growing or change in interest, ambitions and over general progress. This could also be affected about the new information you’ve gather through experience, reflection and other sources that better inform you of what you really want and your plans should accommodate for that. The value of asking, reviewing your answers and continuing to ask 1. What’s my outcome/goals/ambitions and why do I want it, 2. What are the things I need to do/plan for in order achieve what I want, and 3. What’s the next action? , is invaluable. This is the mindset of a doer, not a wishful thinker or an idealist.

You can’t be positive expectancy without concrete justification. If you don’t workout regularly, how can you expect to have fit, muscular body and feel energized? If you don’t study, practice and have discipline in your business, how can you expect customers to be happy and turn a profit? If you don’t take time and plan out your strategy for your health, business, personal learning, relationships—amidst all the inevitable ups and downs of life—how can you expect your future to be better, with more fulfillment and achievement? In short, there are a lot things you can’t control in life, but you can control your time, energy and focus and it’s prudent to use your valuable resources in a way that enables you to have the most fun, rewarding life.

p/s: Money, as I’m slowly learning, is only a secondary utility. In other words, it magnifies what you already have and a important indication of how well you’re doing in life is how well are you managing your time, energy and focus—are you spending most of your time, energy and focus on the top long-term priorities, everyday?

If your plan doesn’t turn out as expected, it means you’ve already taken action (which seperates you from 80% of people who talk, talk but rarely act) and now you have a clear indication of how to redirect yourself towards the right path. That’s it. Don’t dwell on how far or how costly side-tracking is, learn to focus on making sure you won’t ever make the mistake again. This, once again, often involves a change in behavior(s). And I admit, this sounds like the most logical thing to do. In my experience, the process of change in an emotionally visceral experience because it means admitting I was wrong, I’m fallible, lazy and far from my ideal of who I am. But that’s okay. Ideals aren’t meant to be reality-checks or descriptions of reality. Ideals are, forever, standards for what could be—standards for who I could be. I’d choose to be reminded of where I am so that I can push forward to where I want to be, rather than drift hopelessly without knowing both.

Change Isn’t Progress; You Have To Plan For Progress.

Any (Sustainable) Change Boils Down To A Change In Daily Behavior.

Nothing will change—don’t count on it—unless you start doing something differently or new in your daily routine. Change is an eventual outcome of an accumulating process that starts with a decision to change. And the true measure of a real decision is not just saying you’ve decided but what actions you’ve taken since you’ve made the decision. If you say over and over again to want to make a change, yet haven’t followed up with real, concrete action, you’re kidding yourself.

Possibly the highest leverage form behavior change is creating rituals. A ritual is a conscious habit that you deliberately design and consciously practice until it becomes automatic in your daily routine.

The opposite of a ritual is a bad habit you’ve simply picked up, often unconsciously, a long time ago that fails to add value to your life but you continue anyway. The reason you continue with bad habits is you don’t know how to change, you’re surrounded with people who have the same habit who aren’t willing to change themselves and would like you to remain the same so they keep their influence—control—on you.

One of the most common reason people fail to effectively change their habits is fatigue. People try to change too many habits, often all at once, with no clear direction of how to change, how to measure their progress and to add insult to injury, they have surrounded themselves with other people who have the same habits, feeding off the same environment and wouldn’t encourage the individual to make the change. Even with the best intentions and strongest will, most if not all people will give up due to being emotionally and mentally tired.

The most persisting fallacy when it comes to habit (behavior) change is thinking that relying on willpower i.e. forcing yourself to do something whenever or wherever you want to, alone will be enough. Though this often makes a better story of agency, perseverance and the triumph of idealism over moral temptations, it’s a bit far from reality. The reality is, we only have a limited amount of willpower to do self-regulating tasks. Neuroscientists and behavioral researchers have repeatedly shown that once our limited reservoir of willpower is drained, we fall back on habits or automatic, stimulus-triggered behaviors to do the rest. The scientific term for this phenomenon is ‘ego depletion.’ Typically, any activity that requires mental strain like solving a difficult math problem, reviewing a lengthily contract, a intense discussion requiring a lot emotional self-control or diverting your attention away from a sexually attractive mate will all drain your willpower.

We must make strategic use of willpower to effectively change our behaviors. By strategic, I mean figuring out all the main factor that plays a casual-role in behavior change, then use our willpower to focus exclusively in tweaking those factors to make it easier for us to make the change. Depending on the specific behavior, how clearly you define the new behavior, how you create consequences for failing to adapt the new behavior, how you organize your physical and social environment are key factors for any change.

One of the most productive rituals I developed this year was to focus single-mindedly on one single task in time increments of 60’-60’-30’, often at my peak hours during the day. This basically means I decide beforehand what’s a priority task, set my timer for 55’, then I work on the task while ignoring everything, not even getting up. After my 55’ timer goes off, I get up and take a break for 5’-10’, completely disengaging with the task. Afterwards, I work for another 55’, followed by a longer 30’ break. I often divide my time in these time 2-hour blocks to help estimate how much time I’m willing to commit to a task but most importantly, when I focus, to have clean, laser-like focus on the task. I’ve been doing this for 6 months now and it’s a key ritual in my time/self management.  In addition, this type of engaged focus is very demanding the more complex the task so I can only do two 2-hour sessions per day. Now, disciplining yourself to focus is an important—but focusing on what and why is another (strategic) issue. Lastly, if you work in an distraction-prone office like I do, you’ll have to multi-task or run around but the issue is if you don’t give significant (real) focus to your priorities, everyday, all the distraction will rob you of time, focus and you won’t even achieve anything significant to show for it.

Any (Sustainable) Change Boils Down To A Change In Daily Behavior.