Time management


When it came to emperors, Rome didn’t have very many good ones. Although his statue in the Piazza del Campidoglio shows him to have a huge head and buggy eyes, Marcus Aurelius was considered to be one of Rome’s better leaders. Also, a philosopher, Aurelius famously wrote, “Do not live as though you have a thousand years.”

How many clichés are there about the fleetingness of time? How often have we heard not to waste it? Apparently, such admonitions go back at least as far as the Roman Empire. Also, I’m sure we could dig out some Proverbs from the previous millennium, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the ancient Egyptians even had something to say about it centuries before that.

Time may be our least replenishable resource. We all know this innately, but our awareness of its passing doesn’t seem to have much of an effect on how economically we use it. We let the minutes flow into hours, hours into days, days into weeks, and on and on until we can’t believe how much of it has passed and how little we have to show for it.

Have you ever known someone who seems entirely oblivious to the passing of time? They move slowly, have no schedule to keep, and seem to feel no pressure to make use of the sands running relentlessly through the hourglass. A friend of mine marvels at this by saying, “Have you ever noticed how people with nothing to do always seem to want to do it with you?”

Contrast those people with their opposites: the frenzied, hurried people. Have you known some of them as well? They seem to never be at ease, are always in a hurry, and never have time for anyone else. They are at the constant mercy of a tight schedule. I am reminded of the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland who was always “late for a very important date!”

If we are going to accomplish anything worthwhile in life, we need to make good use of our time. This means that we can’t behave like those who are oblivious to its passing, but it also means that we shouldn’t obsess about it to the point of being frantic. This, indeed, is a difficult balance to strike.

In her book The Writing Life, author Annie Dillard made a profound statement: “Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spent reading—that is a good life.” I had to think about this sentence quite a bit after reading it. At first, I wasn’t sure I understood what she meant. Then, once I thought I’d gotten it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it off and on for weeks afterward. Here is what I took from it: No one can read all day every day; that would be way too taxing and tedious. But the accumulated benefit from a habit of reading at least some each day can add up to a lifetime of learning and the enjoyment it brings.

This principle can be extrapolated into a broader application. We can’t go to extremes in chasing after every little second of every minute of every hour of every day. That would drive any of us insane and be a terrible way to live. However, we must be ever mindful of the aggregate of time we are given and shepherd it constantly in the right direction. If we spend enough time on enough days doing enough activities consistently in the direction of our highest purposes and calling, the accumulation of this will produce astounding results when lived out over the course of our entire life. This is the key to making the best use of one’s time without becoming frenzied and rushed.

Maybe I can make this concept clearer with an illustration from my days of motorcycle racing. At one point in those crazy long-haired teenage years, I was taught that the best racers look the furthest down the track. Amateurs focus right in front of the motorcycle, taking each obstacle one by one in turn, in a first-come-first-served manner. But true professionals look way down the track, not worrying about the next few obstacles but instead keeping their mind fixed on the distant sections of their path.

I tried it for a while and found the results astounding. When I did it correctly, I was much faster. But it was difficult to master, and I continued slipping into the old habit of focusing too closely on just the next obstacle to come along. Eventually though, I learned to look farther and farther down the track, realizing that I could more easily handle all the short-term bumps and ruts if I maintained a longer field of vision.

We all know that we are not supposed to waste our time, but we cannot (and will not) make better use of it by managing every little second and fixating on efficiency. To do so would be like looking no further than the edge of our front fender. Instead, we need to keep a long-term view in mind for what we really, truly want to accomplish overall, trusting that by doing so, we will make the correct maneuvers in the short term