Managing Time

At the tiny seminary where I sometimes teach, we have both on campus courses and online courses. Most of the online courses are taken care of by a man who lives in Tennessee, even though our campus is in southern California. It’s the wonder of the modern connected world. Periodically, he sends me a short email, just to ask me how I’m doing.

Not so very long ago, I got such an email. Rather than just respond with a short, “I’m fine” I decided to rattle back a list of the stuff I’m up to.

It took me longer than I expected.

When you discover just how overloaded you are, how many things are waiting for your attention, you might think that maybe one of those time management books might be helpful. I know, I’ve had that thought.

But what I’ve discovered about such time management books is that they tend to work very well for people that are already organized and detail oriented. Such people don’t really need that sort of help; they already manage things fine. It’s in their nature.

For the rest of us? I have yet to transform my life through reading about time management, or installing a time management app on my phone, or getting a day planner. Setting goals, visualization, checklists—none of them have been transformative. Instead, day planners and list making become another to do item that I’m trying to cram into my already over crammed life. And so I get to feel guilty about something else I’m not getting done.

In the end, I’m not sure that there’s a solution beyond just continuing to slog on as I’ve always slogged.

Back to my response to my colleague in Tennessee. Telling him all the stuff that I’m doing and need to do turned out to be somewhat encouraging to me. It explained to me why I was feeling so tired and overwhelmed. Thanks to the request, I took the time to take a step back. Plato wrote that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And so I suddenly had to examine what I’ve been up to. It was encouraging in a “wow, no wonder I’m feeling overwhelmed” sort of way.

Despite what the movies or TV may indicate, the life of a writer is not nirvana, paradise, or the promised land. It is simply life. Making books, writing essays, or creating short stories is just a job, with no more reward than any other job, and perhaps less, since you’re alone most of the time, no one is looking over your shoulder, and even your pay is intermittent and hard to come by. It resembles being unemployed, but without the perk of extra free time.

Then there are the normal sorts of things that happen: cooking dinner, cleaning the house, doing dishes, laundry, mowing the lawn, doctor and dentist appointments, grocery shopping, and occasional maintenance around the house.

So how do I manage my time? I just work on one task after another, and do whatever most needs doing at any given moment. There are twenty-four hours in a day. Theoretically, eight of those I will spend sleeping, but in reality I’ve not been sleeping anywhere close to that lately. Some half hour or so of my day will be spent traveling from place to place—I’m an author, so that means trips to my coffee pot. There will be some time taken by eating. The rest of that time is what is somewhat in my power to manage. And I’ve learned not to feel guilty about taking a break: websurfing has its place in my life. I only feel guilty when it takes up all my controllable hours.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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