The Meaning of No Time

by Krishna on March 2, 2008

In both business and private life, you often hear people saying that they had “no time” to do something. In many situations, the amount of time required for the task is something that you would expect the person to have, so what do they mean when they say they had no time? It is important to get to the root of the problem because usually the something that they didn’t do is something you care about. Pointing out the obvious (“you had a lot of time”) does not help you. So what is going on?

Here are some reasons:

  1. They were mentally pre-occupied with something else. Maybe a deadline at work. Maybe a family issue. Unless they get moral support and mental relief from that, they will not be able to work on your task. What can you do? Ask them what is going on and try to help if you can. Otherwise, move the task to some other person or to a future date.
  2. They are waiting for some time to dedicate to the task. For example, if they know that a task takes 4 hours, they will not start on the task until they know that they have 4 hours to dedicate to that task. The problem is that tasks keep coming and they can never allocate a continuous stretch of time. What can you do? Break down the task into smaller pieces that must be submitted separately. Also, if you have the authority, you can create the conditions where the person will be uninterrupted for that time.
  3. They don’t like the task or they have lost interest. Chores and repetitive tasks fall into this category. One indication of this problem is that the person gets irritated (instead of being worried) when you remind him/her about the task. What can you do? Partner the person with someone else so that the task seems less tedious and boring. Also, examine the task to see if it is really that important and, if not, cancel or transfer it.
  4. They never knew about the task or forgot about the deadline. I am serious — this happens! The indication of this problem is that the person shows signs of alarm and panic when reminded of the task. All you have to do is ask when it will be complete, and usually it will be ready by then.
  5. They don’t know how to do or complete the task. They may have accepted the task without understanding its nature or complexity. They may retain some confidence that they can pull through, so they are not yet willing to throw in the towel. You can understand this problem by asking to see the work in progress and seeing the extent and quality of work done. The next step may be to provide additional training or guidance, or transfer the work to someone else.
  6. They have over-estimated the scope of the task. Usually employees just past the beginner stage over-analyze tasks, reading more in them than what is needed to get the job done. Both beginners and experts simplify — the former due to lack of knowledge and the latter out of experience. Try to understand the details of what the person is doing, and then simplify it for them.
  7. They are having starting trouble. Sometimes a task overwhelms a person that they find it mentally difficult to tackle it, even though they are capable of doing it. To handle this, start the task together with them and establish yourself as a go-to person if they have any problems. This will give them additional confidence to continue with the work.
  8. They are not receiving support from other team members. When a person works on a task, but does not see other people working as hard, they start losing interest in the work. For example, people are more likely to go to the gym if they have a partner who is also motivated to become healthy. It is never about the 30 or 60 minutes they need to spare. Look for this team dynamic and manage the resources accordingly.
  9. The outcome of the task (such as a report) is bad news. That is one reason why audits are done by people who have no stake in the project or operations. If the information provided as the result of a task could reflect badly on a person, do not assign that task to the person. But if you must have that person, make it clear that the information will not be used against him/her. Otherwise you will be waiting for a long time.

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