Time Management is really Self Management
People talk about time management all of the time. There are seminars, classes, online tools and smart phone apps for time management. People have developed activity logs, electronic to-do lists, action programs, planners, prioritizers, and nearly religious convictions about multi-tasking (either for or against it)!
I don’t believe in time management. I have never seen it happen. Regardless of how fast we go, how easy we try to take it, how structured or random our day is, time continues to elapse. One second at a time, we all move into the future together. One minute after another, we pile up the past. For every single creature in the world, time goes at the same rate. 60 seconds per minute, 60 minutes per hour, 24 hours per day. There is no managing time.
We manage things that change: flocks of sheep, crops of corn, the adjustment of sails on a boat. Time doesn’t change. It marches on relentlessly from the present into the future. We can’t adjust the rate and we can’t make it stop.
There is No Such Thing as Managing Time
So why do smart people talk about time management? One reason is that “time management” sounds external. It sounds like something outside of ourselves. Like water management or forest management. Using the term “time management” gives us the illusion of options. The false conviction that we have influence or even control over time. We compound the self deception by talking about how we “spend” our time. Money is something we actually spend. We can spend our energy. But you can only spend something that you also have the option to save or conserve. But despite the wishes of Jim Croce, we can’t “save time in a bottle.” No one has a reservoir of time they saved from when they were frugal. None of us has any options to save more time, spend more time, or borrow or loan it. We all get the exact same 168 hours per week. There is no managing time. But the illusion of options is comforting. It feels good to believe that we can ration our time. the we can somehow get more or multiply it in the future. It seems to me that we wish for the super power to manage time because we are uncomfortable with our behavior IN time. If we waste time, we want to believe we can somehow make it up through good time management in the future: “Yes, I squandered two hours looking at Youtube, but I’ll use my time wisely tomorrow.”
Make The Choice
We were given 24 hours today. And if we find favor we will receive another 24 hours tomorrow. The only thing we can really manage is our own behavior within the confines of time. Looking at Youtube for two hours is not a matter of time management, but self management. Wasting time or using time well is not really about time. It is a judgement about our own choices. About our decisions regarding what we will do, for how long, with whom, and for what purpose. By the way, there’s nothing wrong with looking at Youtube. Unless there is a higher quality behavior that we avoided. Or worse, a higher quality behavior that we ignored because the emotional pain of making decisions is too great. For many of us, facing the consequences of our own choices is too revealing. Making decisions causes us to look at ourselves and reckon with the quality of our choices. This makes us feel exposed and naked before the harsh light of our own expectations. And so we don’t choose. We let things and circumstances choose for us. And we end up watching two hours of cat videos. Or baseball. Or [fill in the blank].
We Must Manage Ourselves
In his Apology Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I think this applies to how we make decisions relative to time. Not that we all need to become philosophers: my favorite modern philosopher, Dallas Willard, said several times that, “Philosophers can go down deeper, stay down longer, and come up drier than anyone else!” But allowing time to march by without deciding – intentionally considering – our behavior will result in a life that is far less than it could be and should be. We can’t manage time. But we must manage ourselves. It is imperative that every day we decide what behaviors and activities are best. It may well be on occasion that the best for us is to let a day unfold. To see what happens. To allow room for serendipity. And yet a lifetime of serendipity is much more like that of a frog than the high calling of human beings. Will you join me in rejecting time management? Together can we try to be intentional about our behaviors? Can we join forces to resist the temptation to let life slide by unexamined?