Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
In my endless meditations about time, the recurrent core concept is how time is indeed like money. While I dislike the very notion that time could, or should, be something that is valued like physical money—our nation and culture’s unofficial mantra being “Time is Money”—it becomes increasingly impossible not to see time as an object of value as our world speeds up. Father Time’s Column Number One addressed how, within a family, especially between married couples with children, time soon becomes traded like currency: negotiated, given, taken away. Going one step further, is it possible to treat time with the frugality in which we handle money? We know how easy it is to spend money frivolously, and in the context of time, one can make the connection that it too can be spent in such a way (i.e. wasting/killing time).
The idea of budgeting time—physically and mentally being aware of how much time an activity should take, or being actively conscious of the clock for certain tasks, events, etc.—is something we do everyday. For example, we know that work is around eight hours of our day, meals take about an hour and half to prep and eat, our commute is about twenty-five minutes, and so on. This is time budgeting at its most basic.
If we know how our time is being spent in large chunks (macro), what’s preventing us from watching the way we spend it in the smallest increments (micro)? Sometimes the smallest tasks or activities can stretch out longer than we anticipate, so why not limit even those things to specific, small units? This is not to imply we need to be staring at the clock every minute, however a general awareness of how long certain activites should take will help. For example, if we spend only a few minutes selecting clothes, 40 minutes or less getting ready and grooming, and one hour for grocery shopping, we start to see patterns and can begin to “blueprint” time usage (and wastage) when going back to that specific task. We also need to be aware that our subjective tasks require emotional brain power, so the more time we spend harping over a decision like what to buy at the mall or online, we waste time on a greater scale. All those pennies, that is minutes, add up.
One way to manage the account (i.e. pinch pennies) is to mentally lay out the day ahead by the minute and the hour. I typically have a running inner monologue on what I’m doing, how long I have to do it, and what needs to come next (in addition to how long that next thing will take). Yes, this does require some clock watching, but again, when you start to see patterns and listen to you own internal clock, you being to notice what twenty minutes online feels like, versus thirty, and even forty minutes.
Budgeting time at the micro level also means hard stops. If your wife needs you take over at 4:30 PM to be with the baby so she can go to her appointment, by all means, come to a hard stop at 4:25. Put it down, walk away. It will be there later. Hard stops are probably the most valuable thing to keep the passive wastage of time in check. Call it your body clock’s way of saying “no.”
The bottom line is that it’s easy to get caught up in something. Sometimes we need to. But we need to be able to move on from what we’re doing in order to stop and smell the roses later on.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.