Why You Can’t Have 5 Minutes of My Time

Okay, that’s not the nicest headline, is it?

But you’ve felt like saying it, haven’t you?

And don’t you wish you could say it sometimes?

Now, you would never say it that way. And neither would I.

But how many times have you set out to accomplish your to-do list in the morning only to have a series of  ‘I just need five minutes’ (which is never five minutes) or “I really need to meet with you” consume most of your day?

How many times have you got ‘nothing on the calendar’ (which you were going to use to knock that project out of the park) only to have someone ask you if you’re free and next thing you know half your day has vapourized?

So you

end up working at night

put in time on the weekend

fall further behind; and

never complete your most important priorities.

Or all of the above.

The truth is that five minutes (or 15 minutes, or lunch or a meeting) with someone you didn’t need to meet with is time:

Your kids need

Your spouse has been waiting for

Your direct reports deserve

That special project requires

Your true priorities demand

So what you do with those requests without being a jerk, or feeling guilty or losing all your friends?

How many times have you got 'nothing on the calendar only to have someone ask you if you're free and next thing you know half your day has vaporized? Click To Tweet

1. Be kind

Show some empathy. (They probably want to meet with you for what to them is a great reason).

Even begin by saying “I would love do that, however…” and then tell them why you can’t (I’ve got a project I have to follow through on etc).

In fact, here’s a six-step strategy on how to say no nicely.

2. Redirect

I amazed at how many times people think I can help them when in fact others are in a much better place to assist them than I would be.

So spend 1 minute referring or directing them to someone who truly can help them.

If you decide to meet with them anyway (because you can’t say no), just remember, you not only wasted your time. You wasted theirs.

I amazed at how many times people think I can help them when in fact others are in a much better place to assist them than I would be. Click To Tweet

3. Defer

If you think you should meet with someone, say “I can’t now, but how about later? Can you email me and we’ll set up a time?”

It’s amazing how many times people just don’t follow through.

Or when they do, they say “Don’t need to…the problem is solved.”

I guess it wasn’t that important after all.

4. Be clear on your priorities

If you haven’t thought through what’s important, everything will seem important.

Most of the time you probably don’t say no because you don’t know why you should say no.

Change that. Set priorities. Decide which tasks and people will require your time and schedule standing appointments with them.

I blogged about how to do that here.

If you haven't thought through what's important, everything will seem important. Click To Tweet

5. Change Expectations

This one is huge. I’m a pastor, and stereotypically, everyone expects a pastor to visit them and be there for them.

We just happen to have 1500 people who call our church home.

So that doesn’t work out too well. We’ve trained our people to look to each other for care (in small groups) and every week, we refer people whose needs are a bit deeper to outside counselors we trust.

That frees me up to teach, lead our team, advance our mission and work with key leaders. You can retrain peoples’ expectations.

That also frees me up to care for our elders, staff team and senior leaders. It allows me to do for a few what I wish I could do for everyone.

6. Schedule Appointments with Yourself

Schedule space in your calendar to work on it, not in it.

If you need time to write a talk, start a project, think through an issue, solve a problem or set goals, write it in your calendar.

I rarely book appointments on Mondays and Wednesdays. Then when someone asks you whether you are free, you can truthfully say “I’m sorry, I’m not free…I have a commitment”.

And by the way, the commitment on your day off is to your family. You aren’t free then either.

Schedule space in your calendar to work on it, not in it. Click To Tweet

7. Leave a few open spots in your calendar

Sometimes you do need to just meet with random people. I keep a few spots open in my calendar every month for that.

Just because you can’t be accessible to everyone doesn’t mean you need to be accessible to no one.

I usually keep them short (30-60 minutes max, sometimes shorter), but I go in with an open mind trying to learn.

I also vet those meetings ahead of time to make sure I’m not wasting their time when they actually should have met with someone else.

Just because you can't be accessible to everyone doesn't mean you need to be accessible to no one. Click To Tweet

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I’ve helped over 3000 leaders free up hundreds of hours each year and often 3 hours a day to do what they feel they never have time for and get healthier in the process.

The High Impact Leader course, is an online, on-demand course I designed to help you get time, energy and priorities working in your favour.

It’s perfect for leaders who feel like they never have enough time in the day to get the really important things done.

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What About You?

It’s amazing what can happen when you begin to protect those “five-minute” segments in your calendar.

What are you learning about saying no to people who ask for your time?

Why You Can’t Have 5 Minutes of My Time


  1. Mark Hanson on April 10, 2021 at 12:03 pm

    Correction on my last reply…

    I do Not have to give a reason for not meeting.

  2. Mark Hanson on April 10, 2021 at 10:42 am

    On the first point.
    1. I may not want to meet with them.
    2. I do. It have to give a reason.

    I have quit giving reasons for why I will not or cannot do something.

  3. Justin Klatt on April 10, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Love this Pastor Carey

    most people who want “5” minutes of my time this last year have been Pastors. My church was already 100% online or in peoples living rooms all over the country. So COVID did not change anything for us.

    So what I did when all these pastors started reaching out to schedule a time with me to ask how and what we do. I first send them to the “Pastors Resources” page of our website that has like 6 podcasts and webinars we have done for people about our church format.

    And I tell them, once you have watch all those videos you will have 80% of your questions answered and you will be left with only the deep questions for your context. Then let’s set a time.

    This weeds out the people who are not willing to do the work to reach me. And the people who do the work and still set up an appointment are really in it to learn and win.

    That has been so helpful.

  4. Holly on April 10, 2021 at 8:41 am

    Finding this very helpful – thank you so much for all the prayer and time you put in to writing these posts.

    Just a quick thing that I, and I think others may find particularly helpful. The assumption in the posts (that I have read) leans to leaders who are married with kids. I’m single, and to have time out with friends and family, and for my relationship with the Lord, it is so vitally important to carve out free time to rest well. As a leader who is single, it’s often all too easy to over work and burn out because you don’t have dependants or a spouse needing your time. I’ve learnt the hard way that we need to stop too. Just a thought to perhaps bare in mind when writing?

    With many thanks!

  5. Dan on December 30, 2019 at 1:28 am

    I want to share this post—you’ve made it very difficult…

    I don’t want to share it publicly (FaceBook; Instagram etc.)… No option for text or email? Why? Your losing “shares”!?

    Ive spent a while trying to figure out how to share this privately—no luck.

    Most would have left long before now… help ?

    • Carey Nieuwhof on December 30, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      Hey Dan,

      Sorry for the confusion. If you would like to share this post, all you have to do is copy the link in your browser search bar and paste it into an email or text you would like to send.

      So sorry for the time this cost you.

  6. Sarah Greenwood on June 27, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    This post makes me sad. It sounds like we people in church are just a nuisance to Pastors, Carey. Sorry for that. Jesus was all about people – he wouldn’t defer and delay us. He would help us and love us, as misguided, needy and bothersome as we might be. I think many “deferred” people do not find other solutions, they just walk away from a church that wouldn’t help them, and perhaps even from faith. I know Pastors are busy and I respect that. Yikes. won’t be asking my Pastor for help any time soon, that’s for sure.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on June 27, 2014 at 11:37 pm

      Sarah….it makes me sad that this makes you sad. Unfortunately, the reality is a lot of pastors burn out because of not being sure of how to handle all the demands on their time. Even Jesus would ‘finish’ ministry at certain points and walk away to rest, despite there being more need. This post is designed to help leaders serve everyone better. And Point 7 is for exactly people like you. So please don’t walk away. Managing your time well actually creates a church even more people can attend. Hope this helps. Sorry Sarah.

      • Sarah Greenwoord on June 28, 2014 at 9:28 am

        What a gracious and kind answer, thank you ever so much, Carey. You raise some excellent points. Thanks 🙂

  7. […] 5. Intentional white space in your calendar. You can schedule time off and down time in the same way you schedule meetings. Just do it! I wrote a post on time management that links to many time management tips here. […]

  8. Steve Frissell on September 3, 2013 at 9:16 am

    I do 30 minutes one-on-one with one non-direct report every Wednesday morning. I have no agenda for that time and allow the employee decide how they want to use the time. We talk about life, faith, parenting, and sometimes work. It takes a few months for me to rotate through my whole staff, but the routine has been a great solution for me. I don’t have to say “no” to five minute meetings often, but when I do the staff members already know I care. Some of them ask less often for the five minute meetings now because they know we’ll have thirty in a couple of weeks.

  9. Daniel Decker on March 5, 2013 at 8:48 am

    Excellent. I’m not so good at saying no to some things but I have learned how to say no to the random “5 minute” meetings. Most people don’t understand the “no” but my time is a finite resource… there is only so much of it and I must protect it for myself and for those who I love. I’ve learned that I’m not superman when I try to be everything to everyone. 😉 That doesn’t mean I don’t make time for people, I do… I just do it more intentionally and I hope with greater impact.

  10. kmizen on March 2, 2013 at 11:00 am

    Excellent. I struggle with these areas in ministry, it’s so easy to say yes all the time. Saying no isn’t easy. Appreciate this, thanks Carey!

  11. Rielly on March 1, 2013 at 11:03 pm

    I’d be curious to know what your thoughts are on Bob Goff’s book Love Does… he seems to take a little bit of a different approach.

  12. Roy Opata Olende on March 1, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    So spot on.

    I remember leaving my wife waiting for ages Sunday after Sunday just because someone wanted to chat, ask a question, etc. It felt like a good thing to prioritize people who seemed to be in need, and it was a real drag on my relationship.

    That was then, and things are great now…but as others have mentioned, these are lessons I wish I’d learned a long time ago.

  13. Mike Berry on March 1, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Carey, this is spot on. I especially love #6. I’ve never thought of doing that. Just recently I sat down with my assistant and gave her specific times throughout my week that I would take outside appointments. All she has to do when she receives a request is look over my calendar and decide when I can meet. The times are blocked up against on-going onsite meetings so there’s an escape hatch. I set up boundaries like, “If this is a repeat appointment then I can only meet with them for 1 hour onsite”, or, “If I have to travel to meet with them, the travel time will be included in the appointment time.” My assistant is super nice and can spin it really kindly to folks. I’ve found my time is better spent now that I’ve gone to this system. Thanks for your words! -Mike

  14. Charlie Lyons on March 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Very good thoughts, Pastor Carey. As one who’s planning on going into the pastorate, these are lessons learned well now, to be sure! 🙂 Thanks!

  15. cnieuwhof on March 1, 2013 at 10:40 am

    I wished I’d thought of all this stuff years ago Charles. And thanks Christy!

  16. Charles Hodsdon on March 1, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Wish I had read this before I sent an e-mail yesterday… I have a fence to mend and an outline for doing better in the future, Thanks!

  17. Christy on March 1, 2013 at 9:37 am

    Reading this was a very valuable use of 5 minutes of my time 😉

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