Making time and taking the time

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.)

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About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor is a Professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston where he teaches and directs undergraduate and graduate programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society. His research and writing focuses on the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context, incl. Unruly Complexity: Ecology, Interpretation, Engagement (U. Chicago Press, 2005) and Nature-nurture? No (2014, http://bit.ly/NNN2014). On reflective practice, see Taking Yourself Seriously: Processes of Research & Engagement (with J. Szteiter, 2012, http://bit.ly/TYS2012).

3 Responses to Making time and taking the time

  1. Teryl Cartwright says:

    I like some of the reminders that we can’t do it all, we choose as best we can and we acknowledge our limits as a positive way to stay humble. While I am interested in seeing an expanded edition of Taking Yourself Seriously, I think resting longer than ten minutes between roles is an important discipline to deliberately give up some control of our life.

    I can’t remember if I ever shared Henri Nouwen’s quote taken from a professor who said, “I was always complaining about the interruptions to my work until I discovered the interruptions were my work.” If interruptions are seen sometimes as gifts or opportunities, perhaps how we handle them can be accomplishments too.

    Today I dropped everything for a road trip, 6 hrs alone in a car. I will have to get back to a now longer to-do list, but what a great time to dream, come up with book ideas, think and best of all, put my daily routine on hold. Even came up with some ways to teach using doodles. Maybe even if I had a more serious reason for travel, what I was doing on the trip was doodling and dawdling, giving myself permission to play and get away, no music, just scenery and solitude. Sometimes giving up a whole day is worth it to go further on our journey of appreciating the time we have.

  2. Yes, it is important to allow for non-assigned time, to walk out of one’s way with someone to pursue a conversation, to drop everything to stay with someone who is ill, to dive in with enthusiasm when a new opportunity arises,… Yet, I feel that I am more able to make that kind of time when I have been caring for all my roles beforehand. In any case, because days do not work out the same, there is a need to have some priorities about which roles get left out on a day when other commitments take precedence over the assigned times.

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