There just doesn’t seem to be enough time to do it all, right? How do you choose between spending time on work, family, personal prayer, or friendship? Let’s look at some tips for time management, both from secular thinkers and Catholic time management gurus like St. Thomas More.
Time x 2
What if you could pull out a life calculator and multiple your time and days? Rory Vaden, a New York Times best-selling author, suggests that people spend up to 25% of their time disengaged or in trivial tasks, whereas they could be actually “multiplying” time. “You multiply your time by giving yourself emotional permission to spend time on things today that will give you more time tomorrow,” Varden explains. One of Varden’s principles is that modern business persons have to resist the temptation to be caught up in the short-term tasks that seem pressing today, turning their eyes more to the long-term jobs that will affect their goal or business.
Christian Time Management and St. Thomas More
The attractiveness of Varden’s term “multiplying time” aside, there are other perspectives worth looking at when considering time management. Also worth considering is the example of St. Thomas More, a man whose reputation for efficiency, while also being a family man, has gone down in history.
St. Thomas More demonstrated diligence and efficiency in his work in Parliament, often writing letters to his children while away on business. He found time to partake in meaningful friendships such as with the scholar Erasmus, as well as spend time studying theology and literature and writing books, such as his best-known work, Utopia. More’s famous words before death, “I die the king’s faithful servant, but God’s first,” hints at the principle that guided his use of time, a principle well-worth adopting.
Use Time for the Top
If charity is one key to living an integrated life, are you ready for another? Here it is: They key to Christian time management lies in hierarchy, understanding the order of things and starting with the top, the best, when making strategic decisions about our time. The closer an activity is to God, the more it will aid in the attainment of lesser ends, not vice-versa. St. Thomas More started with the top when he committed to God first, the king’s affairs second.
Rhythms for the Christian Life
How do you start with the top? Intentionally setting your life in rhythm can be a practical aid for living out a well-prioritized order. Here are three rhythms to implement in your life to manage your time more intentionally.
Rhythm 1: Start Right
The first rhythm has to do with starting your day with God. Choose to start each morning with a prayer routine, which can be as simple as a morning offering. If you can devote a bit more time to morning prayer, consider praying lauds, the morning prayer said by members of the Church throughout the world. Or make 15 minutes of spiritual reading over coffee a morning habit. Though it means getting up a little earlier, create that time to begin the day with a conversation with God.
Rhythm 2: Schedule Your Priorities
A second rhythm to write into your life is this one: Don’t prioritize your schedule; schedule your priorities! What goals will you hit each week? Each month? What are your priorities for your relationship with God? For your family? For work? Make a personal commitment to what is most important to you. Make sure to include at least one activity each day directly for your family, whether it be going for a bike ride with your children or watching a TV show or playing a board game with family members.
If you simply aren’t sure what your true priorities are, one way to think about it is by reflecting on your identity. What are the major roles you are playing in your life? Father, husband, friend, and insurance agent? Child of God, student, daughter, and sister? Identify the tasks or commitments that each of those roles requires.
What intentional commitments do you need to make to be a faithful husband, friend, or sister? Scheduling a phone call or coffee date once a week to catch up with at least one friend? Giving thirty minutes after dinner each night to helping your wife with housework? Spending the weekend at the insurance conference that may help you better perform in your job?
Rhythm 3: Look Long-term
A third rhythm to write into your life is the habit of looking long-term. Little commitments are like twigs that fuel the fires of our commitments and responsibilities, but sometimes we need to throw a log into the mix: An annual retreat or an annual family event are like big logs, fueling the flame of an integrated life in a special way. Look for a retreat center or style of retreat that resonates with you, be it an Ignatian retreat or a silent retreat. Plan an annual adventure that fits with your family’s budget and interests, be it an American roadtrip or a weekend trip to a lake. Whatever you do, don’t neglect having a long-term vision for how to use your time.
Part of what rhythm does for us is eliminate choice; instead of making so many choices each day, we’ve intentionally committed to doing certain things each day, week, and month. These things become ways of life rather than flurries of pressing decisions to be made. Narrowing our choices may seem like a negative thing, but such is not actually the case!
Business writers Chip and Dan Heath talk about the phenomenon of “decision paralysis,” which refers to how having more choices can paralyze us and make us actually less likely to choose the best option or even the most rational one. As the Heath brothers note, while a display of 24 jam jars attracts more customers than a display of 6, customers are actually 10 times more likely to buy jam from the 6-jar display! Similarly, Chip and Dan Heath say, a human resources department increasing its number of investment options can result in a decrease of employee participation rather than an increase. As humans, too many choices simply overwhelm us.
Intentionally “scripting” what you want the status quo of your life to look like through the implementation of rhythms and routines can prevent you from experiencing decision paralysis, giving you more energy to live your time eagerly and without exhaustion.
The Divided Life
Implementing short-term, medium-term, and long-term rhythms in one’s life can help avoid the dangerous pitfall of the divided life, where one’s identify in faith and relationship to God is divorced from work and even family life.
“Business leaders who do not see themselves as serving others and God in their working lives will fill the void of purpose with a less worthy substitute,” warns the Vocation of the Business Leader. “The divided life is not unified or integrated: it is fundamentally disordered, and thus fails to live up to God’s call.”
Again, intentionally prioritizing what is most important and most worthy is key: If God is most important in my life, then family, then I must be starting and ending my day with Him and making time for my family throughout the day.
Equilibrium in Ebbs and Flows
The natural reality of rhythm suggests that we cannot be at our peak performance at all times— whether that relates to creativity, productivity, or spiritual fruitfulness. Accepting this, and even finding joy in this limitation, grants us an equilibrium and allows us to live an integrated life even as we experience life’s ebbs and flows. J. Philip Newell says:
The extent to which we are divorced from the complementary rhythms of restfulness and creativity is the extent to which we are cut off from patterns of well-being within ourselves and in our relationships. If we fail to establish regular practices of stillness and rest… our countenance, instead of reflecting a vitality of fresh creative energy that is sustained by the restorative depths of stillness, will be listless or frenetic…. Creativity without rest, and productivity without renewal, leads to an exhaustion of our inner resources.
Time will feel crunched and insufficient some days, and that’s a part of being human. Embracing life’s natural rhythms and supplementing them with intentional patterns and commitments that we make is the best kind of Christian time management, and that can help us taste the sweetness of an integrated life.