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5 Unproductive Phrases to Eliminate from Your Vocabulary!

Nov 17, 2023 | by Cindy Sullivan

There are several phrases I frequently hear from clients – and have been known to say myself from time to time– that prove counter-productive to accomplishing your best work.  Each of these phrases highlight common misconceptions and may be fooling you into some unproductive thinking.


Check them out:


"I don't have time!"  We all have the same number of minutes in each day, and we will spend every one of them - on something.  So, to say "I don't have time" is an untruth.  It's become an everyday acceptable excuse for backing away from an activity.  The problem is that it's a passive response that avoids the truth.  Try replacing it with something more decisive:  "I have another priority that I'm working on right now", "My day/week is already committed." "I can't add this to my plate right now." Or simply "No, thank you." If it's a request from the boss, it's an opportunity to share your current workload and offer to discuss priorities, timing, etc.


"I'll take time for me when things aren't so busy." Honestly, if you don't prioritize your own needs, who will?  Often our own self-care or our individual goals are the first to get put on the back burner when life gets busy.  And for most of us, life is ALWAYS busy!  If taking time for yourself is important then give it top billing in your time.  Be intentional with scheduling those activities that best support you.  Sure, there will be plenty of times when we adjust for other priorities or deadlines but make sure those don't limit your overall ability to take care of yourself well.  


“But it’s ALL a top priority!”  I typically hear this when someone is dealing with a task list that feels far too large for the container of time to get it all done.  What they often mean is “Everything is important and I’m not sure how to prioritize it all.” That is a much more actionable statement to address.  Avoid the trap of throwing up your hands and simply diving in to tackle it all when the reality is that something simply can’t get done in the time you have.  Consider what factors influence priorities for you – is there a deadline to be met? Who’s asking you to do it? Can you break it down into smaller steps and get the ball rolling vs. completing the whole task? Which items have the least impact if you do them later?  When feeling overwhelmed with competing priorities, tackle the stack from two angles – which are the most pressing, and which are the least pressing.  Even if you only identify where to start and which to delay, if needed.  You are being more proactive and intentional with where to put your focus.


“I work better under pressure.”  That shot of adrenaline we get when we know a deadline is looming can be helpful in keeping ourselves on track, but I challenge you to ask if it actually makes you work BETTER.  Maybe you’re more efficient with your time when there’s not much to spare, but does it allow for creative thought work to happen or give you space to adjust for any unknowns?  For some, this statement is more about their inability to block out other tasks or distractions unless they feel the heat from an impending deadline.  There are times that working right up against a deadline is fine – just be sure it isn’t a tactic that’s masking trouble with an ability to focus or difficulty saying no to other things unless a deliverable is due.


“Delegation takes too much time.”  Effective delegation does require an initial investment of time up front, but the time saved should be much greater in the long run.  That said, not all tasks are good candidates for delegation – something that happens infrequently or requires your special skills or know-how.  But, if a task is to be ongoing and does not require your direct attention, it warrants evaluation to see if the work could best reside elsewhere.  Delegation is a great opportunity to grow the skills of others.  If past delegation left you burned, was it due to an unwilling recipient or were there gaps in the transition?  Delegation should include clarity around the end result you expect, any required steps that must be taken, access to the tools to do the work, check-ins to insure progress or if further training / information is needed, and being accessible for questions.  Letting someone shadow you while you do the task is another great gateway to effective delegation.  If that task that takes you 1-3 hours every week could be done by someone else, would it be worth effectively handing it off so that you could save 4-12 hours every month? 


The next time you find yourself muttering any of these, it’s a good time to assess what’s going on.  What’s really behind that statement?  You may find opportunities to think differently about how you’re operating.


Are you looking to strengthen your time management skills, combat unproductive habits, and start operating at a higher level? 


Take my 6 Pillars Assessment (the tab to your right) and learn where you can focus first to boost your productivity. Then, email me at to hear more about upcoming training or do try out coaching to see if it’s a good fit for you.



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