Time management is futile
The tricky thing about attempts at time management? The goal is wrong. Time management is futile.
Time is completely beyond anyone’s control. Time simply is, and it goes flowing by without asking my permission or changing to my will.
If you am going to attempt to manage something, it must be something that you can control — or at least influence.
So instead of “time management,” better to set your sights on “self-management.”
The one thing you can control is your self — and even that is an overstatement.
“Teach us to number our days,” says the Psalmist. That is a pretty small starting point, actually. Just number them. Keep track of them as they come up with their well and poorly spent hours and minutes.
Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom. (Psalm 90:12, NIV)
A small step, but a good one. Maybe what Duhigg calls a “keystone habit.”
Numbering our days
Pay attention. Log the time spent on projects, the words written written on works in progress. If I number those days, turn the invisible shifting of time into actual numbers, I’ll be aware of each step forward — and that will be rewarding enough to keep me taking steps.
And I’ll be aware of gaps, neglected tasks, too.
We need help for self-management
The writer of the Psalm is onto something in another direction too: he makes this a prayer. Teach us, he begs, to number our days.
He knows that left to his own devices he isn’t going to pay that much attention.
St. Anselm thought that elemental sin was misuse of our will — the one thing we are given some control of. We were intended to devote that will to God and God’s purposes, but we turn it to different, lower goals. Anselm thinks of this as a kind of theft.
St. Augustine, half a millennium earlier, wrestled with the consequences of our misuse of our will. Whether as a species or as individuals, by turning our wills away from God’s will, we become damaged.
Each of us is like an athlete with a muscle tear. Range of motion is lost and must be repaired.
So that’s my prayer today in my work as a writer: I’m asking God to teach me to number my days.
I wish it were automatic and easy. It isn’t. I have to work up a spreadsheet, note my time, log my word-count. That’s part of getting my inner life in order.
That’s the shift from futile time management to the workable, if challenging, goal of self management.
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