Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Kathleen Quiring at Project M. I really enjoyed reading her perspective on how best to use our time. It seems that our approaches sort of boil down to being intentional vs. being intuitive with our time, but I’ll let you decide that.
Kathleen previously contributed an awesome post called An Educated, Artsy-Fartsy Protestant’s Thoughts on Natural Family Planning that you should also check out.
Recently, Dustin had a post over at Simple Marriage where he suggested that time is like currency: you only have a limited amount of it (168 hours a week, to be precise), and you ought to spend it wisely, wasting nothing. In fact, time is actually more important than money, because “while money comes and goes, time only goes.” In order to make the most of your time each week, then, Dustin recommends making a time budget.
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Time is linear, Dustin suggests with this model. It marches on in one direction, from point A to point B, never turning back, never to be seen again. In order to maximize one’s use of time, then, one ought to chop it up, make lists, make calculations, graph it, chart it, allocate tasks, and plan.
This can be a useful way of engaging with the passing of time. A time budget can be an effective way to reduce feelings of busyness and stress. But I would say that this view of time as currency or a one-way street is also utterly masculine, and it may not be right for all people in all circumstances. Not to mention it incites a fair amount of anxiety in more stress-prone individuals.
But our society runs on a masculine conceptualization of time. We value efficiency and productivity. We feel we need to accomplish as many things in as little time as possible – to maximize output. Quite often, though, as a result, quality is compromised in our attempts to maximize quantity.
As a response to Dustin’s post, I would like to offer an alternative, more feminine understanding of time.* It puts less emphasis on how much we do and more emphasis on how meaningfully we do each thing. It offers a different way to deal with busyness and stress.
Infinite Time Before Us
I am a spiritual person, as many of you probably are. I believe that humans are partly physical, finite beings, but also partly spiritual, infinite beings. As a consequence, I understand that once our earthly lives are over we are released from the bonds of time into eternity.
In this way, then, our time on earth is not all we have, as the time-as-currency model suggests, but an infinitesimally small portion of our total existences. Time spreads out before us in all directions into infinity. Our time here is a very important portion, to be sure, and every moment should be honored as sacred, but we won’t miss the train if we don’t get everything done in a single lifetime.
We literally have forever.
You Don’t Have to Do All That
We are bombarded with messages that we can – and should – do it all. We should strive to build strong careers, get married and have kids, be active in the community (both in the political and religious spheres), join sports teams and committees, makes names for ourselves, reach for our dreams, travel, take up hobbies, save lots of money, eat healthy, get plenty of sleep, make time for recreation, and leave a legacy behind us.
And we all feel stressed out about it. We all feel overwhelmed and inadequate.
I say, why do it all?
Who says I need to be super-successful in my career and an accomplished hobbyist? Who cares if only a handful of people know my name when I die? The Almighty knows my name, and that’s all that really matters.
What’s more, the overwhelming majority of the world’s inhabitants – past, present, and future – are completely forgotten after a generation or two; who am I to strive for more or think I’m worthy of more? Accomplishments do not equal personal happiness or meaning.
You Might Not Need a Budget
Some people probably find putting together a time budget relaxing and satisfying. Personally, I can’t think of a less enjoyable, meaningful way to spend my time than budgeting my time. If my time really is as precious as Dustin and I believe it is, I don’t want to spend it noting down every task I perform, dividing hours minutes on a calculator or mulling over a Google spreadsheet trying to maximize my Time Profit Margins.
I want to be out enjoying every moment!
Like Dustin, however, I believe in being intentional about how I engage with time. I believe that reflecting, and even writing things down, can be extremely helpful. However, intentionality can also be more intuitive and less mathematical.
It can take the form of meditation, free-form writing, or chatting with your spouse about it while sitting on your rooftop watching lightning in the distance. I’m with Dustin here: take some time to seriously reflect on how you want to live your life.
Instead of using a time budget to ensure I use my time in meaningful ways, I intend to rely on the following principles whenever I can:
- Do only one thing at a time. If I’m going to do something, I ought to do it fully, with my whole mind. This includes even the simplest acts. For example, if I’m tempted to read while eating, I should close the book and focus only on eating – on savoring the flavors and textures of the food in my mouth; on reflecting on the profound mystery of how dead plants and animals are giving me life; on being grateful that I am able to eat and be nourished.
- When given a choice between spending money or time in order to obtain something, always choose to spend time. Anything obtained through the expenditure of time will feel more satisfying, wholesome, and meaningful. For example: in order to obtain a loaf of bread, I should make it myself – mixing, proofing, kneading, rising, baking, and slicing it myself – rather than grabbing it off the shelf of the grocery story and paying for it. It’ll be so much more gratifying. (And then I don’t have to work as much, because I don’t need as much money!)
- Aim to own as few material possessions as possible. Acquiring possessions takes precious time. Every additional possession is a burden that will make it harder for me to be mindful of what I already have.
- Accomplish as little as I can get away with while remaining responsible to the people around me. I will be healthier, happier, and more pleasant to be around.
I can foresee that this way of thinking might strike some people as lazy, backwards, and irresponsible. That’s OK. It’s counter-cultural. I’m not suggesting that it’s the right way, or the only right way, but it’s another way. Feel free to embrace it. Or not. I’m not going to spend time worrying about it.
*Just because I am calling this a “feminine” way of understanding time, I don’t mean it is only or even primarily for women, only that I believe it is inspired by a more feminine way of looking at the universe.
*I also want to be clear that I know Dustin encourages us to use our time meaningfully and not just efficiently. I consider myself on the same page as Dustin, and together we’re presenting two sides of the same page.
How do you feel about the time-as-currency paradigm, and making time budgets?
How do you feel about being more intuitive and less efficient with your time?
Do you think the two approaches can work together and complement each other?
I like your focus on “less emphasis on how much we do and more emphasis on how meaningfully we do each thing” and agree with you that this “feminine” approach is good for both women and men! That said, I do not understand how doing “one thing” at a time rather than multi-tasking is particularly feminine. It seems to me that it is more masculine to focus on one thing (say, public success) and more feminine to try to do many things (raising children, maintaining many strong relationships in both the extended family and community, writing simply for the love of writing rather than business/self-promotion etc. etc.). Even the idea of spending time rather than money to make one’s food seems to imply an appreciation for adding yet one more thing to a woman’s day. It is not that difficult for me to focus on making homemade bread, but for the mothers that I know it is another way that they are multitasking.
So I completely agree with your advice and focus, but I don’t see how it is particularly feminine.
You know, Rae, I think your point was subconsciously nagging me too, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it until you expressed it so well. You’re right — multitasking does tend to be a feminine skill (one that I, unfortunately, don’t excel at). I may be putting efficiency and multitasking in the same category when I shouldn’t be. I’ll definitely have to reflect on that a little more. I’m still working through these issues as I write about them.
However, I don’t think that spending time rather than money to make one’s food (necessarily) adds yet another thing to a woman’s day. Buying food rather than making it (generally) necessitates working at a day job that is separate from work at home, which adds another thing to her list of responsibilities. I would personally rather do more unpaid, highly satisfying work at home than paid, unsatisfying work outside of the home. (Of course, this is just personal preference: plenty of women certainly find their day jobs satisfying).
I still have a sense that this way of looking at allocating time is more feminine, though I take your point. To me, it still seems more intuitive, meaning-full and fruitful, rather than strategic, efficient and productive. But maybe I’m wrong.
Life on earth is finite, so from an earthly standpoint, I’d like to squeeze as much as I can into my life. However, I want to do it in a way that I enjoy the journey and don’t get too overwhelmed.
So as with most things in life, it’s not a black and white issue. There are good points to both views, and we should seek them out.
“When given a choice between spending money or time in order to obtain something, always choose to spend time.” I don’t agree with this at all. Do you have kids? I will most always choose to spend money over time. My time with my kids is too precious!
Katie — sadly, no, I don’t have any kids. But I think my “principles” still work in your favour. I’m suggesting that instead of, say, spending money to entertain your kids, spend time with them. And instead of doing three other things while being with your kids, focus all of your attention on being with the kids. Does that make sense?
I’ve really been feeling the impacts of not enough time lately. So much so that I had to take a nap when I got home from work last night, even though I had a lot of things I needed to get done. The problem is, when I analyze my day (being the analytical man that I am) I see where I am wasting so much time. Your comments on being intentional are right on the mark for me. Thanks for the post.
I like the anti-productivity outlook 🙂 I am one of those people who does so much at once nothing gets done, so it’s good advice – it’s better to achieve one thing that is awesome that you are truly passionate about instead of settling with mediocrity in everything else.
It's a matter of using time wisely to maximize time. It was also mentioned that time is more important than money because money comes and goes and time only goes. So make sure that we know how to manage the time properly—hoping to share this page as well. https://www.mindfullyaliveonline.com/in-a-tug-of-war-while-parenting-your-teen-drop-the-rope/