在英文中，“你有时间吗”（Do You Have the Time?）有两种截然不同的含义。
第一种含义是“你知道现在几点吗？”虽然这种问法并不少见，但比起直接问“几点啦”（What time is it ?）用得还是比较少。
英语中有个说法叫“take your time”，意思是“放松，别着急，跟着自己的节奏走”，和中文中的“慢慢来”颇为相似。
Do You Have the Time?
In English, this question has two different meanings.
The first one is: “Do you know what time it is?” While not uncommon, this is less frequently used than the simpler question with the same meaning: “What time is it?”
The other meaning is: “Do you have the time (e.g. to do this or that)?” This is a very commonly asked question, whether in American, British, or Australian English.
If I were the editor of the Grand Encyclopedia of Excuses (a book which does not yet exist), I think that the response — “I don’t have the time” — would win the prize for being the most commonly used excuse, year after year.
After all, it’s such a convenient excuse.
Think about how often you (and I) have used this as an explanation of why we couldn’t do something, take on a new task, help someone, visit someone, etc. We’ve all used this excuse countless times. Sometimes it’s a statement of fact, and let’s face it, sometimes it’s just an excuse.
The distinction here between a when it’s a statement of fact and when it’s an excuse is blurry and subjective, but deep down we each have a pretty clear idea of the difference.
In practical terms, the lack of available time seems to be, and often is, a valid reason for why we cannot take something on. Unless, of course, we make the effort to re-arrange our time, within our abilities to do so, probably making a sacrifice of some sort in the process.
“I just don’t have the time” is — all too often — a dodge, a hedge, and a cop-out. Once we get to a certain age, when we are generally considered to be “grown-ups”, we are expected to have developed improved time management skills.
In many instances, “I don’t have time” has the same meaning as “I am not willing to make time.” Sure, we’re all busy; but in the end, it’s a matter of priorities: within work, work versus family, spouse or partner, friends, community, etc.
No one gives you the time. It doesn’t grow on trees or fall from the sky like raindrops. You make the time, as well as most of the related decisions about what is important. The key is what criteria you rely on. It may be coolness, a money-making opportunity, hanging out with the right crowd, or reaching out to people in need.
If you don’t decide on the use of your time, the decision will be taken away from you. Lots of powerful magnets surround us, ready to pull our time from us like loose iron shavings off a table top. It’s really up to us to decide on how to balance and manage time, and that’s a challenge.
Another saying in English is “take your time,” which means “relax; no great rush; follow your own pace” similar to the Chinese, “慢慢来”.
I see a deeper meaning to this simple phrase, which is that if you don’t take (control of) your time, someone else will do so for you. It’s a bit like a child being told “eat your food, or someone else will.”
That does not mean we should ignore unpredictable urgent demands on our time which can arise, which often impinge on our ability to do other more meaningful things. But it does mean we need to develop a clear-minded approach to prioritizing, and a disciplined approach to time management.
If you consider customer relationships, how often is the root of a customer’s dissatisfaction the perception that we were too busy to pay attention to his or her needs? This is often a core element of customer unhappiness, and part of the reason we lose customers.
If you consider friends and family relationships, how often is the root of hurt feelings the perception that “so and so” has become too busy to call, visit, answer our communications, etc? Left to people’s imagination and common fears, these feelings easily evolve into a sense of rejection, an erosion of trust, and eventually a breakdown in relationships.
That is, unless we really care. And if we care, all it takes to avoid these speed bumps — in the workplace or elsewhere — is keeping a clear focus on priorities, and not getting swept up into the hectic pace to the extent that we begin to overlook some of the really important stuff.
What helps to make “I don’t have the time” the most common excuse of all is that we often don’t even say it out loud. We simply think it, and act on it; so the other party is left wondering what the reason for our inattention is. That creates uncertainty, plants the seeds of doubt, and hurt feelings.
If we find that that has happened, whether at work or outside, the best antidote is to have the courage to say “I’m sorry.” It won’t solve the whole problem, but it helps repair the initial damage, and sets the stage for ongoing repair.
If you think about your friends, colleagues and business partners, it’s not difficult to divide them into two categories: those rare ones who always make time for you when you need them, and those common folks who mostly don’t. In the long run, your loyalties will naturally gravitate to those who do.
Beware the world’s most common excuse, whether you speak the words or just think the thought.
When you look back on your life, you’ll be more appreciative of those occasions when you made the time than for those when you seized the advantage.
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