Time Management an Inherent Impossibility

To reflect on and write about time management, we are struck by an inherent impossibility: we cannot manage time. I am not referring to the fact that time is very difficult to manage given all of the numerous responsibilities we attempt to juggle. I am actually referring to the fact that we cannot control the passage of time, thereby making time management an impossibility. Thus, our efforts to manage time are doomed to fail at the outset because we cannot control that which is out of our control.
This does not mean however that we should give up attempting to be timely and to live our lives to the fullest. It just means we need a new way to think about structuring our time. In this blog, I will write about time structuring, rather than time managing. I will focus this particular blog on writing about different ways to think about time, as well as ways to be more mindful of our time in order to make wiser choices. In subsequent blogs, I will talk further about ways to develop an individualized and integrated approach to time structuring, as well as to talk about some concrete strategies to effectively structure your time and to overcome any challenges to such effectiveness.
To begin to think more deeply about time, we need to make a fundamental distinction between time as we usually think about it, clock time, and time as we experience it, lived time. We have to thank existential-phenomenological philosophy and psychology for helping us with these considerations, and such a philosophy and psychology actually took root at our very own Duquesne University. Clock time is our attempt to measure time and put a number on it with hours and minutes, just like we can measure the desk at which we sit. Clock time is quantitative, a lifeless way to experience time, but a helpful way to schedule time. Lived time is our qualitative experience of time as it unfolds and we live it. Lived time can be fast or slow, depending upon what we are doing with our time and so lived time is full of life: our life as we live it. When thinking about life in terms of clock time, 8:00-10:00 at night on a Monday evening is the same as 8:00-10:00 on a Saturday evening in that both are two hours increments; however, our different experiences of Monday evening compared to Saturday evening provide evidence to the inherent difference in quality between these two increments.
The important point to remember is that when structuring your time, you have to rely on clock time to schedule, but you also have to make sure to be mindful of the lived time and the quality of your life. In so many instances people may be very effective at time management according to clock time, but will schedule themselves so rigidly and lose connection with what they are doing that they feel absolutely miserable. They may be running around to attend this class and to attend that meeting, hurrying to fit in a work out and fit in that friend, but they miss out on their connection with themselves, their field of study, and their relationships that they feel lost. This person remembered to schedule their life with clock time, but forgot to take into account lived time. Lived time reminds us to be mindful of quality of our experiences and mindful of life itself.
Life is so fast with so many different responsibilities that we tend to make mindless choices and to act mindlessly. We do not acknowledge the choice we are making and so may make an unwise choice that does not reflect the way we want our lives to unfold. Such a choice may be sending a text or surfing the internet rather than being present to a project we need to complete or paying attention to a friend in need. Thus, mindfulness is important when structuring time. Jon Kabat-Zinn defines mindfulness as awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally. Mindfulness allows us the opportunity to make wiser choice in the moment because we are connected with our lived experience of time and connected to what we need to do and what matters to us. Mindfulness starts with just a pause and the intention to focus. The Counseling and Wellbeing Center website has a link to Self-Help Resources and I suggest the ‘Just This Breath’ mindfulness exercise from the Relaxation Exercises On-Line Link as a great place to start practicing. The Center also has a wonderful meditation room to practice mindfulness, which I encourage you to visit. I look forward to writing again about time structuring in future blogs, and of course I appreciate your time!

Thomas Smith


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