The conclusion we drew yesterday was time is valuable. Let’s take Ben’s perspective and think of time as money. We are not going to think of time as how much you can earn in an hour. Instead, we are going to look at where we spend our time away from our occupations and assorted jobs.
I have to _________.
Probably the largest time-suck is the laundry list of things we feel we have to do. We are not talking about the everyday existence things we do: dishes, meals, yardwork; but we are talking about the other things we feel obligated to do.
- Volunteering (PTA, church functions, community projects)
- Answering every email
- Loaning money or donating
- Rescuing others from the consequences of their actions
- Controlling others’ behaviors
- Picking up the check
- Listening to the drama du (jour, semaine, vie)¹
Each one of these thing requires us to spend time. For the ones which require money, we had to spend the time to earn the money. Each of these things individually are not wasteful pursuits when undertaken of our own volition…because we want to do them or they serve an edifying purpose in our lives.
When we feel like we must do them, they become a burden. That burden breeds resentment. To understand why we resent the things we feel like we have to do is, we have to look at why we do them and why we feel like we cannot say no.
The Right Thing To Do
How often are you guilted into doing something you would prefer not to do (at least not at this particular moment) because what is being asked of you is the right thing to do? The term guilted is appropriate because the asker comes to you exalting the goodness of what you should be (doing, funding, spreading). All too often, this plea results in a momentary internal audit. The results?
- Am I a good person?
- Good people do this.
- If I don’t do this, will I be a bad person?
- Bad people do not do this.
- If I am going to be a good person, I have to do this.
The problem with using if/then logic on good versus bad is good and bad are subjective and inherently not logical. What is a good person? To give a Larry Flynt answer, I don’t know what it is, but I know it when I see it. Being a good person does not have a list of requirements; there is no job description; and the only person who can evaluate you is you.
I am expected.
Your daughter is quick to drop your grandchild at your home every Saturday. Why is that? Because one Saturday you said, I would love to spend more time with the baby. Then, your friends decided to schedule a trip to the one theatre production your life will not be complete without. You politely decline the invitation, providing the excuse, I am expected to watch my grandchild.
I got that.
You have a job. You have always had a job. Quaint, on the other hand, has never been at a job for more than six weeks. It is poker night, and group is headed to the bistro for a bite before the game. You order your food, and Quaint stands there. Both of you know Quaint’s wallet has moths in it. You tell Quaint, Order what you want. I got that.
You’ve Got Mail
In the last three weeks, you have seen your inbox explode. There are hundred of notifications of posts, comments, articles, solicitations, newsletters, complaints, friendly chats, reminders of things you had forgotten, jokes, pictures …it is full. You sit down with a large cup of coffee, sigh and begin answering, reading, visiting. Four hours later, there are still a hundred left. Some of your responses generated responses. You feel like you have to answer them all because someone took the time to send something to you.
You are such a good listener.
Your neighbor in sitting in your kitchen with the 47th chapter of the ongoing saga. Despite hundreds of hours of listening, assessing the content and advising the best course of action, here you are…again. Your advice remains, still the same, still not taken. Your heart has been squeezed in the vice, again. You want to help, but only those willing to help themselves ever get the help offered. Your neighbor is not one of those.
Let’s have a picnic.
It is time for the family reunion. Even though you do this every single year, your cousins sit on the sidelines bird dogging everything you should do. They can endlessly lament the fiascoes of years gone by, but cannot give a solitary suggestion for how to make anything better. Their ineptitude leaves you wishing they would disappear so you can do things all by yourself, as you always have, without their running commentary.
Susie told me you gave.
It is fundraiser season.
- Your niece showed up in her Girl Scout uniform, and you dutifully bought a box of cookies.
- Your neighbor’s son knocked on the door, and you bought a bar of chocolate.
- Your boss came in your office, and you bought a silk flower arrangement (which clashes with everything in your house, but was the cheapest thing for sale) for his child’s school fundraiser.
- At church, you dropped an offering into the plate.
- You returned a check in the envelope from the charity, whose name you now cannot remember, to research a disease you had never heard about, but affects thousands of children.
- You sponsor a child in a third world country.
Then, the SPCA calls.
My kid never does that.
Super Mommy is droning on about how fabulous her child’s behavior is. She quickly points out to you, and all the other parents within 300 yards, how if you would use better forms of discipline your child would not be the muddy, unruly, tantrum-throwing, sniveling, whining little monster he is at the moment…after preschool, a doctor’s appointment, two vaccinations, an hour late lunch, no nap, Gymboree and now this playdate which was not called off due to the two-hour long thunder shower.
But we will be homeless.
Your sister-in-law and her three children are on the verge of bankruptcy…again. Your brother-in-law has just quit the eighth job this year. The money they had was used on, what exactly? As it turns out, not rent. Rather than see the children on the street, you allow them to stay in your home until a job presents, and the family can get out on their own.
Three weeks later, BIL is still sitting in your recliner with SIL bringing his dinner to him in front of your 50 inch television. Not a single one of them acknowledges you spent 60 hours this week to earn the money to put the roof over their heads, gas in their car (so BIL could find a job), groceries in the cabinets, electricity and water, plus all the creature comforts. Mate is still consoling you with, But they are family.
Would you head the committee?
So far, you are the troop leader of the Scouts, the assistant coach for the soccer team, the sponsor for the pep squad, treasurer of the garden club, driver of the church van and, every third Saturday, supervisor at the soup kitchen. Then, the telephone rings. The Chamber of Commerce wants you to chair a committee to find the entertainment for the gala…next month. Oh, and it is already the 22nd.
Time slips away from us. It is sucked into the vortex from which there is no return. We spend it as though we can sleep when we are dead. We run ourselves to the brink of insanity. We fill our days doing for everyone else. When the day is done, we have nothing tangible to show for our time investment. The emotional reward of doing for someone else is dwarfed by our fatigue and harried emotions.
Before we can eradicate the time suck, we have to acknowledge it for what it is: Activities whose reward is outweighed by the cost in time.
Next we will take positive steps for eradicating the time suck.
What in your life is the biggest time suck? Do you have some examples from the list above? Do you know where the line is between rewarding time spent and time suck really is? Are you ready to be rid of your time suck?
(c) Ann Marie Dwyer 2012
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¹day, week, life