Thursday, September 25, 2008

A Dismal Time

Economics has been called the dismal science, but that title might better fit the challenge of personal time management. Our pastor has mentioned more than once that there aren't enough hours in a day to do what "they" say you should.

Here's how it (doesn't) work:
  • Poll health care professionals for an idea of how much sleep you need. Not how much would be ideal, but just the amount of sleep that a human being should get regularly over the period of a month (say).
  • Get information from experts on how much time you should spend on work-related things: time on the job itself, work-related reading, in-service training or seminars. Not what it takes to turbo-charge your career, but what it takes just to stay current.
  • How much time should you spend on physical exercise--not "to prepare for the Olympics" -- just to stay in shape? Poll personal trainers or whoever the right set of experts is.
  • How about on your marriage and friendships? Again, we're not talking about being the best spouse in the world or the most excellent girl/boyfriend, but just maintaining.
  • If you attend a church, synagogue, mosque, temple (etc), they probably have an idea of how much time you should be spending on their prescribed activities: prayer, meditation, Bible study, etc. -- not to become a "religious professional," but just to maintain your current spiritual/religious state.
  • Of course you occasionally need to buy stuff or take it to be serviced (or fix it yourself), etc.
Add those up and it comes to something like 35 or 40 hours... a day. Over a period of months.

So you're going to shortchange something or other -- at least as defined by the experts. What'll it be?

In an ideal world, we could figure out limits on various activities, and stop when we hit that limit. These days we might track that stuff on a Palm Pilot® or iPhone™ or CrackBerry device.

But most of us aren't that organized; I know I'm not. What I do instead is kinda dumb, but it is sustainable (i.e., it's easy). Basically, I have habits. It's important to me to worship God weekly with others, so I have a habit of doing that. But I also have an idea that about 4 hours (wall-clock time out of the house) is my limit for that, based on the load it puts on me to have to be "up": friendly, sociable, etc. Meeting new people is OK, but I can only do so much of it if I'm going to have a pleasant day.

We have home improvement mini-projects that I could spend time doing, but I've found out that on weekends I need some time reading and writing, or I get grumpy. For a similar reason, I want no more than one weekend a month with church-related "special" events.

What about crafting a schedule from scratch?

All that's fine once you've figured your limits out, but suppose the school year has just started. Then I think what I'd do is write out what I think I did last week and say, basically, "How many hours did I spend on activities X, Y, and Z?"

Then tweak it. "Not enough sleep -- wanted 10 hours more spread from M-Th; spent 4 hours shopping, 9 hours in club activities, 4 hours in church, 5 hours at the movies..." and some non-negotiable time going to and from class, personal hygiene, eating....

What if you cut shopping to 2 hours every other week, cut club activities to 4 hrs/week, and for the movies, do one the week you go shopping and two when you don't? That gets you about 10 hours a week on paper, but if you're distracted with the reduced recreational schedule that might make your studying less effective; on the other hand, getting more sleep might make you more effective at studying. Basically I think you just have to try it.

And adjust as needed.

Most likely adjustments will be needed over time, because there really aren't enough hours in the week.

But the good news is...

... you have enough time today for all the things God wants you to do today.

Can I prove it? I think this is indicative, if not an iron-clad proof:
For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:12 (NIV)
And as it says in the psalms: "he knows our frame; he remembers that we are but dust"

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