This past week I’ve struggled in various ways with how I spend my time. I’ve had a lot of client work lately, which is both a blessing and a challenge. It’s left me with a lot less time and energy to work on my personal goals for my current and future ministries.
I read once in a freelancing blog that scientists have discovered we are only at the “top of our game” for about four or five hours a day. That’s the peak time and energy that we have to devote to creative or detailed projects, where we need to pay particular and careful attention. When it comes to an eight (or nine, or ten) hour workday, chances are that the rest of the time is spent in meetings, on the phone, answering emails, and other types of less-focused activities. Now, we can sometimes push that focused time to eight hours a day when we’re working to meet a deadline, but we pay for it, energy-wise, later on.
In this season when I’m needing to balance personal work for my spiritually directed goals with work for my current editing clients, I’m faced with the fact that I just don’t have enough of that focused energy to give. For a few weeks, following the post where I celebrated the steps I had taken toward my personal goals, I found myself with a lot of energy to move those goals forward. I’d go back into my office in the evening (one definite advantage of a twenty-foot commute!) and dive into work on my SMART goals. I’d finish my load of client work and still be able to give focused attention to the projects I wanted to pursue.
But somewhere along the line, things began to shift. I emptied the energy well, and didn’t refill it. I found myself increasingly exhausted, and not able to focus or make progress if I went back into my office in the evening. After a certain period, I even found myself unable to concentrate during the day. I struggled with this, talked with my spiritual director, took it to prayer…and spent a lot of time feeling frustrated, lost, scattered, and overwhelmed.
And then a metaphor caught my attention. We are in the process of probably installing solar panels on the roof of our home. A site visit this week—to ascertain the capacity of our home and roof to handle the panels and assorted infrastructure—led to a conversation with Henry about the costs and benefits, and I found myself thinking about pinching pennies. As I climbed into bed that night, the concept of pinching time flitted through my head.
Pinching pennies is usually about saving money, or making our hard-earned cash work hard for us. I found myself wondering about what it might mean to pinch time. Certainly we can hoard time and waste time, just as we do money. I can waste time just fine if I’m not careful, posting on Instagram or Facebook and then following various pictures and posts down the proverbial rabbit hole. But I can also waste time by looking at a spiritual website (as I determine how I want—or don’t want—my own website to appear) and then follow their various links and posts and so on…until once again I’ve traveled far from my agenda. Theoretically it’s all related to my SMART goals and my need to know what other spiritual directors are doing online…but it’s not helping me to accomplish my tasks for the day.
So what might it mean for me to pinch time—and is that even a wise idea? First of all, my spiritual director and I agreed that it’s time to evaluate again all the things I’m wanting to do, and ascertain which ones are important and which must be released. I’ve got two potential situations in the next year where possible leadership or training commitments run smack-dab up against each other. I might well have to choose one or the other—or ask if there is any leniency on arrival or departure times—instead of saying I can do it all and booking a red-eye flight across the country.
But it’s also really difficult to say “no,” especially when everything has the potential to grow my spiritual ministry—and the problem in that sentence is with the word “everything.” I can’t do it all—can’t invest my time in it all—just like I can’t invest my money in everything. So it’s time to step back, take time (or make time!) to carefully assess the various agendas and goals in which I am investing my time. I must prayerfully ask for guidance about what is truly important—and then take time (make time!) to listen for some answers.
This is not easy work. Our culture bombards us with things we “should” be doing to further our goals, make more money, and “spend” our time. So in the coming days, I will be pinching my time—and paradoxically spending some of it in order to learn better how to most efficiently spend my time in the future.
How do you waste or hoard time? Have you ever taken your use of time to God in prayer? What might it look like for you to assess your ability to efficiently spend, or pinch, time?