An improvisation exercise to help you talk about time pressure

In this exercise, you will produce a short speech (5-10 minutes) using several idioms or phrases related to time.

I am providing you with a scenario to use for inspiration, but you are of course free to adapt it, expand it, alter it, or whatever you like!

Ban on single use plastics in the UK

Background reading:

article in the Guardian

article from the Independent

Article about time (see below).

Scene-setting for your speech:

You are a campaigner for a ban on plastic items such as drinks stirrers, straws, and cotton buds. You welcome the UK’s announcement that it plans to ban these items, but you believe we need to go much further and look at legislation to tackle all forms of plastic packaging.

Prepare an introduction to your speech, giving your background, the current legal situation, and any other background you think is relevant.

Choose Option 1 OR Option 2.

Option 1: time is short, and time has been wasted

Explain why it is urgent that this ban come about soon. Use several idioms and phrases to indicate the urgency of the situation, and back up your points with some facts and figures (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).

Point out that the UK could have acted much faster in proposing legislation on this matter, and will now have to make up for lost time. See if you can come up with some reasons for the delay.

Option 2: this proposal comes just in time; the EU legislation will be too late

Explain why this proposal comes just in time – because the EU is about to legislate, but the EU legislation will be too late for Brexit-related transposition into UK law. At least if the UK legislates now, it will keep in step with EU environmental legislation.

Use several idioms and phrases related to time, and some facts and figures to back up the urgency of the situation (e.g. about plastic waste in the sea).


Conclude your speech with a call to action about future, broader, legislation on plastics in general.

Vocabulary assistance: how to talk about…time

Here are some tips to help you talk about time: time passing, time being short, getting things done in time, etc. etc.

The time is ripe

Here is a collection of phrases to express the idea that it’s the right time, or perhaps past time, to get something done:

It’s about time… Curiously, this can mean either that something needs to happen immediately, or that it is now happening, but should have been done sooner.

It’s about time the government provided more funding for mental health services.

It’s about time they tied the knot – they’ve been together for 17 years!

It’s high time…. This phrase is synonymous with ‘about time’ (see above), but a little more emphatic.

There’s no time like the present! The meaning of this phrase is ‘now’, ‘immediately’.

‘When would you like me to start working on the project?’ ‘There’s no time like the present!’

The time is ripe for… means the time is right, the timing is good.

The time is ripe for a remake of this classic film.

Being short of time

Let’s imagine you’re interpreting at a meeting, and the agenda is very long. The Chairman might say one or all of the following:

  • I’m just keeping one eye on the clock, because we have a lot to get through this morning.
  • Time flies! It’s already 11 o’clock, so we need to wrap up this point.
  • Time is marching on, and we need to move on to the next agenda item.
  • We’re short of time today, so we’ll have to come back to this proposal next week.
  • We’re a little pressed for time, I’m afraid. Perhaps we could discuss this bilaterally.
  • In the interests of saving time, I won’t read out the whole document.

What if there is a sense of urgency about a proposal/piece of legislation/action on the part of the authorities? Try:

  • Time is of the essence with this proposal: it will be discussed at the Plenary in a fortnight, so we need your written comments by Monday evening.
  • There’s no time to lose. We need to act immediately.
  • We’re in a race against time. Our competitors are ready to move on this, so we need to make our offer immediately.
  • The emergency services are working against the clock to reach earthquake survivors under the rubble.
  • It’s crunch time! Something needs to be done urgently.
  • Desperate times call for desperate measures.

If time has been lost for some reason (delays, illness of the project leader, documents lost in the post…), you might say:

  • We’re working around the clock now, to make up for lost time.

If there is no great urgency, you might say:

  • All in good time. We don’t want to be too hasty.
  • We have all the time in the world, as there’s no deadline.

Just in time

If something was done/adopted/achieved at the last possible moment, you can use the following phrases:

  • at the eleventh hour: The Parliament was still proposing changes to the Bill at the eleventh hour.
  • in the nick of time: We arrived at the airport in the nick of time; the flight was just about to start boarding.

If it’s too late, you might say:

  • Better late than never!


    • in no time means ‘very quickly’: the revised proposal was ready in no time.
    • to make good time refers to a journey, and means it took less time than expected. We’ve made good time, so we can afford to stop for lunch before hitting the motorway.
    • ahead of its time means radical, innovative (for the time): The play explored ideas about prejudice and tolerance in a way that was ahead of its time. The company was ahead of its time in its employment practices.
    • before my time means before I was born, or before I was old enough to understand. Margaret Thatcher and the poll tax? That was all before my time.
    • to buy time means to delay an event so as to improve your own position in the meantime. I bought some time by telling my supervisor I was ill. He postponed the essay deadline by two days. 
    • to call it a day means to stop for the day, even if you haven’t finished what you’re doing. OK, we still haven’t covered Item 5 on the agenda, but it’s 6 o’clock and we’re all tired. Let’s call it a day and reconvene tomorrow morning.
    • in time vs on time. What’s the difference? ‘On time’ means at the pre-arranged time, e.g. The meeting began on time, at 9 o’clock. ‘In time’ means before a deadline, before something begins: he arrived in time for the beginning of the meeting. He turned up just in time for the beginning of the speech. Imagine a meeting that begins at 9 with a presentation by an invited speaker, but the speaker starts a few minutes late. You could say: I didn’t arrive on time, but I was in time for the presentation.

Last few…

To stand the test of time means to remain popular or in force for a long time.

  • The US Constitution has stood the test of time.
  • Few pop songs of the 2000s will stand the test of time.

Time will tell is an incredibly useful phrase. Will a proposal be adopted following a round the amendments? Will the public support a groundbreaking idea? Will Donald Trump be booted out? Will the UK really leave the EU? Time will tell.

I haven’t mentioned it so far, but the adjective timely can prove useful. It means ‘happening at the best possible moment’ and can be a good translation for words like ‘opportun’ in French, for example.

  • The protests in London at the weekend were a timely reminder that this is still a controversial issue.
  • The change in the exchange rate provided a timely boost to the company’s falling profits.
  • Your comments on the proposal are very timely. We’ll amend the text as soon as possible, since the deadline is next week.

Finally, don’t forget a week is a long time in politics.

6 thoughts on “An improvisation exercise to help you talk about time pressure”

  1. We have so many expressions to talk about time in English!
    One small note on a typo: I think it should be “better late than never”, rather than “better late than ever”. (I had to look it up to make sure I hadn’t had it wrong for years, as the pronunciation is the same.)


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