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Not Right Now

Stopwatch Anybody who wears the title "Mom" or "Dad" is very familiar with the phrase, "Not right now."  It's our noncommittal safety net when we don't want to give our child a "yes" or "no" answer at the moment.  It's our "Let me think about this one before I answer" contingency plan.

I personally love "not right now" because it gives me a reason to pause and catch my breath, an excuse to stave off a decision when I don't have all the facts or the mental bandwidth to process the facts that might be in front of me.

I use "not right now" whenever my system is affronted with too many demands.  I use it when I've been blind-sided or offended and I need to process my next steps.  I use it when the output decision is low priority compared to the other things in my life.

"Not right now" is not merely a stall tactic, nor is it passive aggression.  I will give an answer, and I expect to be held accountable for providing an answer.  I just can't or won't give it at this exact moment.

Our Six-Sigma-infested business world is not on good terms with "not right now."  The phrase means a lag in the system.  It creates inefficiency.  It's not "lean" enough for fast-paced processes.  We tell people we want to do a root cause analysis, but we want it yesterday and we want it accurate.

I love systems thinking guru Peter Senge's story about the "Beer Game" exercise he gave his students.  You get to see firsthand why and how fast decisions lead to wrong decisions.  And you get to see why and how those wrong decisions compound themselves further down the line.

One question I've started asking religiously whenever a demand is presented is "When do you need this by?"  Then I take some time to negotiate a response.  If I make demands of others, I try to build in their "not right now" time for them.

"Not right now" will do one thing for you if used correctly:  it will improve your over-all effectiveness.  By delaying things of lesser priority, you can now focus on the really important things in your life and bring them to fruition.

If you are shooting for an accomplishment, you'll need to learn to embrace "not right now" on occasion.  It will save you a lot of anxiety... but maybe not right now.


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Karen Swim

Love the wisdom of this post. Quick thinking and action definitely have a place but there is great value in taking time to breathe, think, evaluate before acting.

Crysta Wille

Excellent post!! I am enjoying the maturity of a decade of project management and the "art" of timing and prioritization. You have given me a great reminder that good decisions aren't always a race but are made in due time.

Timothy Johnson

@Karen - it's always a balancing act. Our knee-jerk "fight or flight" sometimes needs to be put on ice.

@Crysta - project managers always seem to face this pressure, as we live for the clock and the calendar. "Not right now" has been a life saver for me.

Ms. Admin

From a very wise parent I learned when a child wouldn't settle for the, "Not right now" that a deftly placed, "Do you really want my answer right now?" worked extremely well. They knew the answer would not be what they wanted, plus I had smart children & after about 3 times of this, they quit their nagging!! I've yet to try on an executive but I have certainly thought it many times. Great post!!

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