One morning during my teen years, my father reminded me I had not done my household chores of the previous evening. As I gathered my books to head for school, I casually replied that I hadn’t had time. He paused for a moment and then said with his penetrating look, “You had just as much time as anyone has.” I have never forgotten that truth. Every person on this planet has the same 60 minutes in an hour, the same 24 hours in a day, the same 365 ¼ days in a year. In a world where resources are often not divided equally, time is a resource we each share in exactly the same quantity.
Since that day so many years ago, I have caught myself many times nearly saying, “I don’t have time.” Each occasion I remind myself I have the same amount of time as anyone. Abundance means an ample quantity. Since we share the same amount of time, we must also all share an ample quantity of time. It often doesn’t seem that way though. Most women I know feel they have a scarcity, not an abundance, of time. “A woman’s work is never done” has become a common phrase for obvious reasons.
The issue is one of prioritizing the use of our time. In his landmark book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R Covey explains that our activities fall into one of four categories: I – Urgent and Important, II – Not Urgent and Important, III – Urgent and Not Important, and IV – Not Urgent and Not Important.
In Category IV are, of course, the time-wasting things we do. In Category I are the crisis or deadline-driven tasks. Many of us spend much of our time in this category, but it leads to stress and burnout. If much of our time is in Category III, we end up feeling used and out-of-control because we are usually responding to other people’s sense of what is important and urgent.
The activities in Category II are the ones that lead to a sense of fulfillment and peace. They are the things that take time, for example, building lasting relationships, raising children, developing skills and talents, long-term planning, practicing healthy habits, or organizing ahead to prevent future problems. Because these tasks are not urgent and don’t demand our immediate attention, it is far too easy to put them off for later “when I’ll have more time.” Doing so leads to discouragement, depression, anxiety, and frustration because we know we are not accomplishing what we really want to do and be.
I am not what anyone would define as a structured, organized person. I have studied books and websites on time management, household organization, and workplace effectiveness. I have tried all sorts of organizational plans, most of which are based around fairly specific lists of when to do what. I have concluded that I just am not a “To Do List” type of person nor do I do well with rigid schedules. I have been accused of being a procrastinator, though I don’t feel I am because I spend a lot of time in mentally planning how I will accomplish something, or when I will fit it into my schedule. It probably looks like procrastination to others though.
I have come to a few conclusions on what helps me in using my time well. I will explain a few things here as a way of encouraging you to ponder how you will make your abundance of time work for you.
First, I had to be realistic about the type of person I am and about what is important to me in the long run. I analyzed the way I was using my time and determined in which of the four categories the various tasks fit. I revisit this exercise periodically.
Second, I realized that I was being a perfectionist about some things that didn’t really need to be done in the time-consuming way I was doing them. That insight necessitated some difficult changes, but it has been worth it.
Third, there are mundane, repetitive chores that need to be done to run a household. I found that a shift in attitude made a huge difference for me and helped me move some of those chores from Category I to Category II. For example, instead of feeling frustrated with piles of laundry in all its stages, I decided to be grateful my family had clothes to wear and that I could spend my time preparing those clothes for them because I love them. I could also spend my time helping them learn how to do their own laundry and care for their own clothes as part of my long-term goal to raise independent children.
Fourth, I learned that making lists of when I would do which tasks only made me more frustrated. Sometimes the list made me feel overwhelmed. When something would come up to interrupt my well-planned day, I would feel angry or discouraged. I need lists so I don’t forget to do things, but I found I do better with a master list of things I need or want to accomplish on perhaps a monthly basis. Then I determine priorities and which tasks I plan to work on during which weeks of the month. When I wake up each day, I can take a look at the possible tasks and match them to other obligations I have for the day, to the weather, to how I am feeling, etc. I like this freedom to choose what I will work on that day rather than feel I am locked into a self-imposed schedule. The necessary tasks get accomplished, but without the pressure I felt with daily to-do lists. An additional benefit is that I don’t feel stressed about all the long-term tasks I have piling up. I have entered them on my list, and I know they will be tackled during the appropriate time. This flexible process also provides additional time when a task takes longer than expected or when other obligations require my attention.
Fifth, there are some times when we really do have too much on our plates. We have probably all felt like we are juggling too many things and that they are all about to come crashing down on us. Though it seems counter-intuitive, taking time to evaluate in which of the four Categories our various obligations fit, can help with these stressful times as well. Maybe something that seems urgent actually isn’t, or maybe it doesn’t need to be done with the detail and time commitment we initially thought. We do not have to do everything ourselves. At times we need to let go, delegate, or ask for help.
Sixth, it helps to be philosophical. Few stages in our lives last forever. Time will pass, and our life circumstances will change. Making wise use of our abundance of time creates the best memories.
“Life moves in one direction only – and each day we are faced with an actual set of circumstances, not with what might have been, not with what we might have done, but with what is, and with where we are now – and from this point we much proceed; not from where we were, not from where we wish we were – but from where we are.”Richard L. Evans