Recently, I wound up in the system failure portion of Hyperbole’s and a Half “Level of Responsibility” graph. I was dropping responsibilities at home and in my role as a volunteer. I’ve been there before and I can get out, but this time was more difficult than in the past (I think irregular sleeping patterns were hindering). You wouldn’t think that one sentence would help fix it, but it did. That sentence is “It’s not a priority.” This trick went semiviral after appearing in a Wall Street Journal article by Laura Vanderkam:
Instead of saying “I don’t have time” try saying “it’s not a priority,” and see how that feels. Often, that’s a perfectly adequate explanation. I have time to iron my sheets, I just don’t want to. But other things are harder. Try it: “I’m not going to edit your résumé, sweetie, because it’s not a priority.” “I don’t go to the doctor because my health is not a priority.” If these phrases don’t sit well, that’s the point. Changing our language reminds us that time is a choice. If we don’t like how we’re spending an hour, we can choose differently.
I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now, and it works beautifully. “I don’t have time to exercise” versus “exercising is not a priority.” “I don’t have time to go over a retirement plan” verus “my retirement plan is not a priority.” Even “I don’t have time to just sit and think for a few minutes” versus “sitting and thinking for a few a minutes” is not a priority. And then taking things you apparently do have time for since you’re doing them and asking yourself if they’re a priority. The unimportant things still creep up, but it’s easier to fight them this way.
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