I Do Not Have To

Crystal HourglassOnce we recognize what is a time suck, we can take proactive steps to stopping the sand from slipping through the hourglass unchecked. If you referred back to your list, you found some items there which were sucking your schedule dry of reward time. If you were not here for the beginning of the MAD journey, you may want to take a quick scroll over to Make a List to see what goes on and gets off of the list.

The number one time suck is the things we believe we have to do. It would be foolish to say those things are not important, however, exercising moderation in them is the key to keeping them rewarding and fulfilling. Moderation takes a few different forms.

Less is More, Revisited

The obvious choice is to merely spend less time doing the things which suck away our time. In some instances, it is possible to choose spending less time at a particular task without sacrificing the quality of the end result. In other cases, it is not possible. For example, volunteering is a very rewarding experience. When left without boundaries, volunteering can consume an entire schedule.

Girl Scout Volunteer

How many others are you already working?

Since volunteers drive many organizations, there is always more which can be done: More projects, more hours on a project, more support to be given. Without a finite goal, the hours can slip away and rob the volunteer of the sense of accomplishment which comes with satisfying the goal of donating time.

In this case, rather than focusing on the amount of work left to do, the volunteer must focus on the completion of the time allotted to the task. Once the goal is met, whatever time remains in the schedule can be devoted to other pursuits.

Not Today

Sometimes, we find disappointment in our inability and the implausibility of taking on a new project. Instead, we have to be realistic about the time we have to spend. There is no shame in saying I do not have the time to devote to this project today.

By saying not today, we are opening the possibility of tackling a new task when free time is available. When we have too many things to do, we run the risk of focusing on how much we have to do instead of the tasks at hand. Inevitably, the lack of dedicated attention means we are not giving a full effort to what we are doing.

When we spend time on something whose end result is less than stellar, we deem the time wasted because we did not get the result we intended. Rather than doing many things on a mediocre level, it is more rewarding to do fewer things really well.

Not Me

Have you ever been asked to do something which:

  • You did not know how to do?
  • You are not proficient?
  • You had to learn all of the steps?
  • You have failed to do before?
  • You do not have the resources to devote?

All of these situations create a time suck. Similar to taking on too many things, being the wrong person for the job creates a situation unlikely to be fulfilling. You want to be able to do your best, but you also want the end result to be deemed sufficient (at least) or wonderful by the people you are assisting.

Learn Blocks

Do you need to know?

Learning something new is most often a very rewarding pursuit. Before you commit to learning how to do something completely new, gauge the likelihood you will repeat the task. Decide if this knowledge will be instrumental or influential in other tasks in your future. If this will be the only time you will ever use these skills, is it worth spending the time to learn them?

Being honest about your abilities and the time you have to devote is freeing. By simply saying, I do not know enough about this to do it justice, you are giving the person who asked you the opportunity to find the perfect person for the job.

In the end, being truthful leads to a better result on the job and keeps you from feeling you wasted your time achieving a mediocre or failed result.


This single syllable has the power to be the most difficult word in the language to use. There are many legitimate reasons to say no. Honestly weighing the costs and benefits of an offered task results in more rewarding, more fulfilling choices and completely averts the time suck.

  • I am committed elsewhere.
  • I have not been successful before.
  • I do not like doing this.
  • The people involved are not those with whom I prefer to work.
  • This presents more danger than with which I am comfortable.
  • It causes a conflict of interest.
  • I do not morally support this.
  • This is not in the best interest of my family.

While this is not an exhaustive list of all the reasons available to say no, it will give you some ideas how to evaluate the projects which will be the best choices for you. Saying no does not mean any of the following:

  • Your project is not worthwhile to anyone.
  • No one is interested in this project.
  • I do not like you.
  • I do not want to help.
  • I am afraid to do this.
  • I disapprove of you.

The last statement is very important. Saying no to a project does not mean you do not (like, respect, enjoy) the person who asked you to help. It also does not mean you are passing judgment on the person who asked.

When projects cause a conflict of interest, either for us or our families, we open ourselves to long term complications. We regret helping in these endeavors when they are complete because we have spent our resources furthering a cause we do not fully embrace or feel we should be actively working against.

Because I said so.

The question which is even harder to answer than Will you help me? is Why not? You are under no obligation to answer this question with details. Because we have battled the have to do this factor internally, we have no reason to show our internal battle scars to the person who asked for our help.

  • I simply cannot help.
  • I do not have time to help.
  • I have other obligations.

Choose one.

In fact, one of these statements is true. If you do not know how to do something, the first is a perfectly plausible explanation which will not offend the person asking.

The second statement is merely a fact. If you have decided this project is a time suck, you truly do not have time to help.

The third statement is shrouded in privacy. You have no reason to tell the person some of your obligations are to roll around in the grass with your child, throw a ball for your dog and take a nap.

Give a very short explanation and do not explain further. If you face the four-year-old stance of But why not?, simply repeat your statement. You have been honest. You truly do not have to do what you are being asked to do.

Next, we are going to tackle the time sucks we put into place for ourselves.

Are there other reasons to say no, not today or not me? Can you stick to the simple statements when someone asks you Why not? Can you remember a project which was a time suck?

© Red Dwyer 2012
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