Making the Most of our Time

dali persistence of memory
Dali, The Persistence of Memory

I‘ve written before that two of the resources that are scarcest in our society are time and attention. We parse our time so narrowly, and spend so much time in urgent and administrative work that is, in the larger scheme of things, unimportant, that there is not enough time left for what is important, the things that require blocks of uninterrupted time and focus.

Personal time management tools like Getting Things Done (GTD) can help, but they require us to filter and intermediate all the demands on our time, so that we end up spending almost as much time deciding what to do (and what not to do) as we spend actually doing things.

There are many calendaring systems available as well, but these don’t interface well with all the other decisions we face on what to do and not do. Your work calendar and scheduling system (MS Outlook etc.) doesn’t integrate with your personal calendar (e.g. Google calendar), or your GTD activities list, and none of these help you cope with all the just-in-time decisions (phone calls, drop-ins, things that break down etc.) that eat up so much of the day. It’s just a constant juggling act, and it’s no surprise we never seem to have enough time, and never seem to get caught up, even on the things we ‘have’ to do.

I’ve recently taken a leap of faith and opened up my work calendar to many of the people who work with me. That means instead of me deciding whether to accept a meeting with them, I just let them put meetings in my calendar. So far it’s worked well.

Could it work with our personal calendars as well? Could we just open them up to people we get value from spending time with, in love, conversation and community, and just let those people book our time, so all we have to do is ‘show up’?

I’m intrigued about how time gets consumed in Second Life, which has no calendaring system. You can send invitations to people for meetings and other events, either well in advance, or just-in-time. The advance invitations work much as they do in ‘real life’ — you put them in your ‘real’ calendar so you don’t forget them. The just-in-time invitations (e.g. for meditation sessions) go out to all the members who have subscribed to a group, usually just a few minutes before the event. The decision whether or not to attend tends to be spontaneous — because it’s so easy to ‘teleport’ to the event (and the teleport ‘landmark’ is sent to you with the invitation) you tend to go if and only if (a) you aren’t already doing something else you think important in Second Life, and (b) you feel like doing it. No RSVP needed one way or the other. You can even get these invitations sent ‘outworld’ to your e-mail address, so you can ‘join’ the event in Second Life as easily as clicking a URL.

If you’re not doing anything else (and even if you are), you’re likely to get IMs (instant chat messages) from people you have accepted as ‘friends’ in Second Life, since by befriending them you give them the ability to see whether you are ‘inworld’ or not, and to see when you come into and leave Second Life. Those instant messages usually start with small talk (“hi, how are you, what’s new, what are you up to?” and often end up in one of the messengers teleporting the other to where they are, so that the conversation can continue “face to face”. Second Life is an intensely social place, and these impromptu get-togethers are the virtual equivalent of phoning up and inviting over a friend or neighbour. 

Today I went to a presentation of an “event management” software. The tool was very thorough and well-thought out, but it only handled physical ‘events’ at external sites, not internal or virtual meetings/events. It worked through e-mail but was not integrated with common work calendaring and scheduling software like Outlook. And it didn’t allow for just-in-time IM invitations, or for RSS subscription to ‘categories’ of event invitations. One more set of invitations and appointments to juggle with all of the others.

So it seems to me that what we need to do is block out our time into periods allocated to different groups of people (co-workers, friends, lovers, family, and time alone) instead of into activities. So the ‘ideal’ allocation of time I wrote about recently (9 hours for sleep/hygiene, 2 for exercise, 3 for play, 3 for meaningful conversation, 2 for reflection, 2 for creation, and 3 for action) needs to be re-mapped, day by day, into time allotted for solo activity (perhaps the 9 hours for sleep/hygiene and some portion of the 2 hours exercise and 2 hours reflection time, say 12 hours a day in total), and time for each group or community of people that one gets value from spending time with (the other 12 hours a day). And then, by ‘publishing’ that available time, like a professor posting ‘office hours’ on her door, we could allow those people to take the responsibility for filling up must or most of those 12 hours, so we would just have to ‘show up’ for these ‘events’.

For example, I might block out 3 specific hours a day on weekdays (perhaps more on weekends) for conversations and activities with my Second Life community, 6 on weekdays (and none on weekends) for specific communities of work colleagues, and 3 on weekdays (and more on weekends) for specific communities in ‘First Life’ (family, friends) and online friends (IM and blogging community). Those blocks would be specifically allotted to these communities and filled, by them, on a first-come, first-served basis. Then I’d need to map those, over time, against the categories (play, meaningful conversation, reflection, creation, action) of activities I intend this time to be spent in, and if necessary ‘tweak’ the allotments to different communities to bring them into balance with my ideal balance of different productive activities.

I know, this sounds very arrogant — allotting my time out to specific groups of people as if it were some precious and priceless resource. But isn’t it precious and priceless? Do we not, in one way or another, do this now — just not very effectively or systematically. And by letting others ‘sign us up’ for specific activities in these allotted time slots, activities they care about, couldn’t we both save a lot of time scheduling our own lives, and make ourselves more available to people who care about us, who need us, whocould benefit from our ideas, knowledge, insights, and loving company?

Maybe this is wildly idealistic, but there must be some way to make the most of our time, without using up all our time trying to figure out what to do with it. What do you think?

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11 Responses to Making the Most of our Time

  1. Jon Husband says:

    I can’t help but think that you’d have to block in or block out the appropriate feelings and emotional states to your alloted blocked-in times, and do so pretty consistently … and good luck with that. At least in my world .. I’d rather go with the flow, sometimes yes to talking and sometimes no, and I never mind when someone tells me they don’t feel like it or don’t have time, just as I expect someone else not to take it personally when I haven’t got time or the right frame of heart and mind.

  2. Amanda says:

    More or less, I agree with what Jon said. This sounds really formulaic, really systematic, almost in an electronic/robotic kind of way (no offense by that, of course). It just sounds too… structured, which isn’t always a negative thing; but in this case, I think it’s a bit too cemented. Personally, it’s just too much. Too much planning; too much rigidity; too many time slots to fill or assign… Wouldn’t this sort of lifestyle make it awfully difficult to “live in the moment?” I told you the first post of yours I ever commented on was Grateful (you used this same picture in that post, too), but the first post of yours that ever made any kind of impression on me was Time As Chimera, which seems a striking contrast to this one… Then again, that post was some months ago. If this works for you now, by all means, more power to you. You don’t want to live your life at the reins of a clock, though…You say there must be some way to make the most of our time without spending too much time figuring out what to do with it. How much time did it take you to conjure all this up?

  3. Guy Cross says:

    I think putting boudaries in place is a good ideas, but it does make things very rigid.Personally I think we need the allocated blocks of time, and the brain to know when to ignore them…but always the routine or the disciplne to go back to them once you have broken the cycle…I am terrible at time management though.As a side I have staretd using Google Calender for my worl diary too… very few people share my work diary, so they can just check it on google now if they want to.

  4. Good input, Dave. I have been thinking along the lines that in the ideal world the day could have a wonderful rhythm to it, attuned to our bodies. The night time is time to make love and relax to wind down to sleep, late evening for romance and intimicy and company of good friends, morning, meditation, then planning the day’s practicalities preferably with physical work, middle of day eating – afternoon, practicalities, with perhaps a research period thrown in ( body is feeling good after physical exercise). For those interested a “report from the future” link is included below.

  5. Siona says:

    I prefer to just pay attention, and to be present, to whatever I’m doing, whomever I’m with. I imagine committing to blocks of time might be easier in some ways, but I find the ongoing practice of flexibility and presence is worth more than I could possibly put into words.

  6. Jon Husband says:

    I really like Siona’s take on it … it seems clear to me that paying attention, being present, awake and aware of our feelings as much as possible is the best way to make the most of our time.If I could do that consistently, I am sure I would be a better human being … and proud of myself, to boot.

  7. patti digh says:

    I’m curious with our Western fascination with time, and your post sparked that curiosity again, for many reasons. There’s much to comment on, but the one question that intrigues me most is this one: “what if no one fills up our days?” What an interesting image of hours of blank space, open to interaction, but finding none. What then? In some ways, what a glorious gift, and in other ways not…. Thanks for the food for thought on many levels.

  8. I have heard that there is more information in one Sunday edition of a big city newspaper than a person would have taken in during his whole lifetime 200 years ago. Is it any wonder time management is so challenging?

  9. Theresa says:

    I think it seems a little rigid. I don’t think it will result in having more time in the day.

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Patti et al:Hi Patti: the way I see it working is that each person would block out some time for specific groups/networks/communities, and allow their members to ‘sign up’ for time in those blocks. Each person would also be out signing up time of others they want to converse and collaborate with. For each person it’s a balancing act — opening yourself to others’ conversations, initiating conversations yourself, and spending some time in solo reflection. Some people will have to be proactive, while other more ‘popular’ people will have to limit the time they open themselves to others. A self-organizing system. :-)

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