Slippery as a fish, time is the most fleeting and the most valuable thing we have in mortality, yet we often berate ourselves for ‘wasting’ it. But what wastes time? I’ve learned from study and experience that ‘wasted time’ falls into different categories. We may feel the time we spent talking to that person at the bus stop was wasted because we intended to be doing something else. But for the person we spoke to, it might have been just the gift of time they needed. Then there’s the time we spent reading after lunch when we ‘ought’ to have been washing the dishes, but how much more ready we feel for the afternoon because we took a rest. So, how do I know if I’m wasting time? I’ve discovered a few truths about time.
Truth number one: unless we know how we intended to use our time or with whom we intended to spend it, and why, we cannot know whether we have wasted it! I know that seems obvious, but think about it for a bit. So, you’ve got through your day and you don’t seem to have accomplished much. The painting you planned is still an all-too-blank canvas. The appointment you needed to make is still on the to-do list. The floor looks a mess and dinner isn’t ready. What did you spend your time on? Your friend called in distress and needed to talk. The dishwasher spewed water all over the floor. You wanted to cook something special for family dinner and found you needed to go and buy a vital ingredient. Was your time wasted? Or did you just choose to use it differently?
Which leads to truth number two: there will always be someone, or something, that turns out to be more important than all the other someones, or somethings on our calendar. Put another way, however organised we are, life has its own agenda.
But having said that, and returning to truth number one, I’ve found if you have an underlying plan, you give yourself the freedom to choose what to prioritise at any moment in your day. One woman says,
“God has given us a great gift: our time. We must do with it what matters most.”
She prays about the list she makes each day and listens to the promptings she gets as to what is a priority. Her pattern is: Pray; Plan; Pray; Listen; Revise; Act.
Her list has tasks, prioritised numerically, and goals – the things she expects to achieve that day.
We all have a few categories that need to be incorporated into our plan for the day.
- There are ‘NO CHOICE’ items, things you have to do, like take a child to the dentist, keep an appointment. They have to happen. How long they take may be negotiable but it’s usually longer than expected and they have to be in the plan.
- ‘HAVE TO DO IF…’
These are things that have to be done if something else is to happen. For instance, you need to get the laundry done if you’re to have clean clothes to wear; you need to pray to have the Lord’s help; you need to read the scriptures to keep your spiritual levels up. Other things might include ordering materials or paying an invoice or getting everyone out of the house on time. Determine their importance based on the ‘if’. Will anyone die or will I suffer or be unable to accomplish something else if I don’t do this today? Do I have to do this to fulfil a commitment?
3. ‘NEED TO’s’. My ‘need to’s’ list usually consists of specific tasks, things that really need to be done, sooner or later. They may not get done today and no one will die, or even notice, if they don’t.
And then there’s the rest of life!
4. WORK – if you are employed, this is obviously non-negotiable. If you’re self-employed, see below. If your only work is housework, you’re ‘self-employed’. Treat yourself as you would an employee and take care of #5:-
5. SLEEP, REST and RELAXATION. Oh, and don’t forget to EAT and DRINK!
Most of us need 8 hours of sleep, perhaps 2 hours to eat three meals a day and stop occasionally for a glass of water. We also need family time, so allocate another 4 hours or so on a weekday, depending when the children go to bed. Then add a couple of hours with your spouse.
That leaves us about 8 hours for everything else.
Let’s talk about work. As a wife and mother, this can mean several different things, school runs, meal preparation, housework, gardening and a job.
As an employee, your work hours and time off are contracted. If you need to have extra time off, you have to arrange it with your employer. This is not negotiable.
However, suppose you are the boss and you are your only employee? If you are to avoid burn-out and that guilty feeling of not having done enough, your plan needs TIMING. I’ve learned that it’s important to decide how many hours you are planning to work each week and on which days. Then stick to the plan!
It might seem counter-intuitive when you are building a business, but you need to practice saying, ‘I’m not available at that time/on that day’, or ‘I’m afraid I only work x,y, and z,’and offering an alternative. Recognise that every time you agree to go beyond your allocated hours you are stealing time from your family and yourself.
Have you noticed how housework expands to fill available time! Try timing a chore. I was surprised how much I was able to fit into the available space in my plan. My home might not be perfect all the time but it is habitable and homely, that’s all I need. After all, I’m not a professional housewife, i.e. no one is going to sack me if they can’t see their face in my kitchen floor. But relationships are likely to suffer if the tidiness of your home is more important than a snuggle on the sofa.
Lists are key to using time effectively. Ten minutes spent planning is really worthwhile. One technique I learned from a wise Bishop was to number my lists, not according to the order of execution but by importance. So you might have three or four items numbered ‘1’, because they have to be accomplished. ‘2’ are the ‘have to if’s and ‘3’s are things it would be nice to get round to, if there’s time. Putting a time allocation by each thing, where it’s possible, also helps curtail its length to end up with a manageable list.
Don’t over-schedule your day. That is my most frequent mistake. Allow time for the unexpected and for a little me-time, even if it’s only a few minutes! During the time that I was experiencing ME/CFS, I could only do 10 minutes of anything and then needed an hour or more to recover, sometimes the rest of the day. I learned to expect less of myself – not an easy lesson for a perfectionist!
You might feel you ought to clean all the bedrooms today. Actually, today could be clear the floor day. Tomorrow is dusting day and the day after is vacuum the floor day. Beware of what my doctor called, ‘hardening of the oughteries’. Its symptoms are feelings of guilt, shortness of temper, low energy, high levels of stress and a feeling of failure – i.e. a recipe for depression!
Fill your life with things you ‘want’ to do, not things you ‘ought’ to do. Sometimes the latter can accumulate because our expectations of our day were not realistic. Sometimes they’re the result of someone else needing our time more than we did. Pat yourself on the back for getting your priorities right.
Take time to enjoy the moment and watch your business, your family and your relationships develop. Many of these things I am still learning to implement myself. I just wanted to share some principles I have learned over the years and through the discussions in our Self Reliance class, a group of self-employed individuals struggling to organise their lives appropriately. Hope it helps and you can be a ‘happy herring’ in the swim!