All my friends and colleagues feel pressed for time. There’s never enough of it—for work, family, friends, activism, staying healthy, eating well, household projects, or having time off. Yet we also feel that we waste a lot of time—in unproductive meetings, sifting out junk email, clicking on links, and so on. And we also slip into time wasting when we feel dissatisfied, distressed, disconnected, or even depressed because we haven’t made time for our important work, for hanging out with friends, and so on.
One response to this situation is to implement regime change: “From now on, I only do emails from 3-4 in the afternoon.” “I will stop working at 5pm and keep evenings and weekends clear for preparing dinner, family visits, household maintenance,…” Such measures sound good, but, like New Year’s Resolutions, don’t often get followed for long.
Another response is to acknowledge each of the different personas you have and assign time for each every day. Your roles might include, for example, dog walker and child’s homework supervisor, writer and reflective dreamer, administrator and teacher, household fix-it person and more. If the waking hours in your day only allow 50 minutes for your writer persona, at least you have kept it from being reduced to 0. (Why 50 minutes? Because it is necessary or, at least, healthy to take a 10-minute break every hour to get up and stretch, look out the window, make yourself a drink, change gears.) Conversely, if you confine your administrative role to 50 minutes, a long to-do list of tasks won’t eat at your relaxation during dog-walking time or at your attention during writing time. You will have done as much as your time allowed; what’s left will have to wait till the next day. If the “urgent” tasks don’t get done as soon as other people might have hoped, you are sending them a message not to assume that you are a super-person. At the same time, you are affirming to yourself that you value your other personas enough to protect time for them.
When you send to others that message about not being a super-person, you are also sending a message to yourself. The limits of what can be done in the time you can make available may lead you to decline requests to take on some additional task. You may factor into household budget funds to hire someone else to fix the broken downpipe; you may temper your ambitions about what writing you can complete, and so on. When this message to yourself sinks in ,you might move from frustration at what you are not getting done to appreciation of the quality of what you are doing when you take the time it takes.
(This post is a draft of a possible addition to Taking Yourself Seriously with a view to an expanded second edition.)