"Wealth will increasingly be defined by our ability to go offline whenever we want." - Fernando Gros
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Blog // Thoughts
June 30, 2008

Why Time Is Not The Issue

“If only I had more time.” “I’m so busy I don’t have the time.” “Of course you can do that, since you have more time than me. How many people claim that the only reason they can’t volunteer for an activity, or cook decent food, or tidy their home, or improve their relationships, or do […]

“If only I had more time.” “I’m so busy I don’t have the time.” “Of course you can do that, since you have more time than me.

How many people claim that the only reason they can’t volunteer for an activity, or cook decent food, or tidy their home, or improve their relationships, or do better in their work is because they don’t have the time? We’ve all heard the excuses; time is always the reason why people can’t undertake a task, or excel in an activity, or commit to a lifestyle change.

Time, or the lack of it is a factor in all our lives; what economists call a limited resource. There are only so many hours in a day, so many days in a week, so many weeks in a year. Moreover, excellence in any field will take time – lots of time. If you want to be a great musician, or writer or parent, you will have to invest your time, regularly and over an extended number of years.

So, it’s easy to see why time is such a universal excuse in daily life. But for a long time I’ve been wondering if the pretense is overused and whether, in some cases it is nothing but a bogus lie. After all, a lie isn’t just when we say something that is untrue, but also when we tacitly allow others to believe things which are untrue.

Let’s change tack for a second and consider another (time-consuming) component of contemporary life – television. Studies indicate that in many western countries television consumption averages more than 20 hours per week and not infrequently rises over 30 hours per week. That’s 2.5 to 4+ hours of TV a day!

Let’s, for the sake of argument, imagine that everytime someone says “I don’t have time for activity X,” we expand the statement to, “I don’t have time for activity X, but I do have time to watch 3 hours of TV a day.” Clearly the problem then is not the lack of time, but rather it’s about what we choose to do with our time.

“I don’t have time to cook my family a decent meal, but I do have time to watch 3 hours of TV a day.” “I don’t have time to develop a hobby, but I do have time to watch 3 hours of TV a day.”
“I don’t have time to go for a walk or exercise, but I do have time to watch 3 hours of TV a day.”

Of course, it isn’t that simple. Some people’s lives really are that short of time that they struggle to get through the day. We are, in a way, conditioned to be cautions about judging folks to harshly on this point, since most of us know at least someone (or many people) who really are doing their best in every area and struggling to get through the day (perhaps with little support).

But, in many cases our de-constructive questioning may be close to the truth. The reason why time still works as such a effective cover comes down to the some lies about how we use time and the way it functions.

First, busyness is not a virtue. Imagine the conversation,

“Can you do X.”
“NO, I’m too BUSY.”
“OK, sure. I wish I could be as busy as you. You must be special and wonderful in every way.”

Of course, we don’t actually hear that, but it seems to be the undertone of how we use busyness, as a marker of significance, importantance and maybe, standing in the world? If we are busy, maybe out of control busy, then we have “made it.”

I can’t help but feel that this is a sign that we are losing the sense of what it means to have a craft as our tasks become ever smaller and more fragmented. I wonder if craftsmen from past times thought of themselves as “busy.” The luthier making a fine guitar in 18th century Spain, or the monk hand lettering a fine Bible and so on. Did they wake up and say, I’m so busy today, or did they just get one with the slow, solid task of building on each days tasks?

Maybe we are busy not because we are important, but because we are lazy, disorganised and have so little sense of what we should be focussing on that we focus instead on anything that catches our attention. What if busyness is nothing but a consequence of our choices and those choices may be either good or bad?

We are, perhaps all of us, creatures of habit. Sometimes that gets in the way of using our time well. Take food – many people are locked into thinking that cooking in the home must be tied to eating. So if they get home at, say 6PM and want to eat by 7pm, then the only options are meals that can be prepared in the 30-45 minutes. So ready meals, prepared food, frozen food and other junk are the order of the day.

Then they sit down and watch three hours of television.

But, what if the post-meal time was occasionally used to prepare food? Lots of relaxing and easy to cook food can be made after a meal time – Ragu, Shepherd’s Pie, Stocks, Casseroles. These can then be left to be re-warmed before dinner time the next day. A simple switch in thinking, a few times a week can make a big change.

Time management was hugely popular in the 80s (and in churches during the 90s). As an approach to personal productivity it didn’t work because it was focussed on the wrong thing. You could always tell people who had recently been on a time management course because they would just say no to every request for a meeting because their diary was already full, or you would walk past their desk and see them in a panic, tears streaming down their face as they tried to figure out if that letter in their hand (which would take two minutes to answer) was a low, medium or high priority.

The harsh fact is that not every minute is equal. When we read the biographies of people who have excelled in the arts, for example, one thing that stands out is how much the geniuses could achieve in an hour and how widely they could spread their imagination in a day.

I’m no genius but the point was clear to me before my twentieth birthday. In my late teens I spent a lot of time playing guitar, but not as much as a number of my friends. So, why did most of them never manage to write tunes, or arrangements, or get much recording done? Put simply, there is a big difference between an hour spent noodling in front of the TV and an hour spent at a desk with guitar, metronome, notepad and pencil.

The lack of time excuse, or busyness give us a ready made strategy for not having to discuss publicly our choices about how we invest our time. The risk that maybe our lives really are hard will keep some from questioning us about that (out of fear of being impolite) and the cult of busyness will keep many others in awe.

But, if we have that kind of smokescreen in place, can we really build community. After all, that could of excuse-mongering is really just a way of lying, a way of presenting ourselves to the world as something other than what we really are.

[tags] Busyness, Time Management, Lifestyle [/tags]

Responses
Toni 14 years ago

Time resources for most of us are down to priorities, really. I’ve heard the ‘importance’ thing before, and seen it used toward me by others (suggesting I was too busy) but in my experience it’s relatively rare.

But for some, finding time for things IS difficult. We’re trying to balance being part of 2 churches right now, plus lead a housegroup and worship team, take part in village life and provide pastoral input for some people. And my mum is back in hospital. It’s not that I’m important, so much as finding time to do stuff etc IS tricky – right now I’m cooling after cycling home, and I can sit quietly blogging instead of sitting quietly doing nothing.

Johnny Laird 14 years ago

Hey Fernando,

…started to read this, but I ran out of time. Plus, there’s something on TV I want to see! ;-))

Pax

J 🙂

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