Life is busy, seemingly endlessly busy. Busy when we’re young and ‘over scheduled,’ busy when we’re working and raising families, and often busy in retirement. Thus, the need for managing our time is ubiquitous.

So, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on current approaches and the assumptions upon which they are based and considering alternatives.

But why? Are our current approaches broken? Do they not meet our needs? The short answer is that, indeed, our current approaches to time management are lacking in some way. If they weren’t, there would not be so much discussion around time and its management, such a ubiquitous sense of stress and time hunger, and not such a level of interest in considering alternatives.

In any case, even if some methods would be working – which our current ones are not – alternates, ones more personally attuned and offering greater meaning, fulfillment, and happiness, could still be sought. So, let’s do some seeking.

Time. Our societal default is to think about time as if it were a type of one-dimensional container, a line which is sliced and demarcated into various durations – seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. – and then filled with our life activities, each one filling a certain duration on the timeline stretching before us. (Also, because of the way many calendars and daily planners are laid out, we often think of blocks of time, thus, moving to a two-dimensional visual representation of time.)

On a metaphysical and spiritual level – you can skip this paragraph if you wish – this conceptualization of time can be interrogated and supplemented or replaced. I will only provide the briefest of sketches here: consider time itself as the incessant arising and unfolding of the world around you, of everything in it, and of you. Every moment you are gifted the multi-colored, infinitely rich experience of the unfolding whole. Each moment is a wonder and the most precious gift. This view does not directly answer our quandaries regarding managing our time but can be a touchstone whenever we consider how to handle all the tasks that we face.

Next: is it time, then, that needs to be managed? Let’s try replacing the word ‘time’ with ‘task’ and consider what using ‘task management’ grants us. I like this somewhat better; I feel I can be more in control of my tasks than of my time. Using the term ‘task management’ reminds me that it is I and no one else who decides what I do. This leads me to think of other aspects of tasks: discerning whether to accept or reject them (task discernment), prioritizing the ones I accept (task prioritization), and finding ways of doing them well and without undue wasted effort (task planning and management). And also, how to maintain focus on them and avoid ‘task distraction,’ such as getting lost in some digital media feed when I meant to take nothing more than a 5-minute breather. So, here we have also found words to supplement ‘management’: discernment, prioritization, planning.

Task discernment leads me to think about which tasks that I have had assigned to me and have assigned to myself are not worthy of my time. Of course, I have a lifetime of having built up commitments and I am not planning on thoughtlessly and irresponsibly jettisoning them. But I CAN consider which commitments I need to reconsider and remove myself from, even if gradually and with due notification. You may have read me saying, “More Nos Lead to Bigger Yeses” and this motto is relevant here.

Next: there are other still other alternatives to ‘time’ and ‘task’ to consider. Maybe ‘project management’ or ‘life management’? These terms sound odd and don’t really resonate with me. But ‘life’ may be more resonant if coupled with something other than ‘management.’ Like what? How about ‘the good life’. I like this but how does ‘the good life’ help me decide how to get through all the responsibilities and work I have in front of me?

I’m not sure but one thought that rings out is make each and everything you do more meaningful, more joyful, more worthy of the gift I have been gifted.

For example, when it’s my turn to make dinner, perhaps I can do it more mindfully – what meal and ingredients I choose, how I cut, how I cook and arrange the food on the plate. How I can involve my 15-year-old son in participating. How we can set the table. Which reminds me: my wife and I ate dinners for the years before we had kids, always with candles lit. Then, you know, with kids, candles and many other niceties lost their priority. But now … it sounds like something to bring back.

So, on my own journey to ‘the good life’ I would summarize what I touched on here as: do fewer things better. Easier said than done, but at least there’s a goal and a touchstone. I must remember it every day.

Thanks, and let me know what you think and which topic you would want me to cover.

Dr. Jack

Language Brief

“One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words.” — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

“Good deeds through the day makes you sleep well at night.” ― Abhijit Naskar

“Some people are so much sunlight to the square inch. I am still bathing in the cheer he radiated.” ― Walt Whitman

“Mellow doesn’t always make for a good story, but it makes for a good life.” ― Anne Hathaway

“Every heart sings a song, incomplete, until another heart whispers back. Those who wish to sing always find a song. At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.” ― Plato