I have a new metaphor for time management, and I’m not sure if I’m going to use the metaphor very well, but I’ll give it a go.
Time management is like gardening.
Now, if you’ve read my short story The Useful Plants then you might know just how much I like (or rather don’t like) gardening. But I have a little bed of succulents near my front door that I take care of so I know something about it.
The thing I’ve noticed about gardens is that you can spend time on them, pull them into shape, prune and weed and tidy, and they look wonderful. But if you then think, ‘The job is done’ and leave them alone, the weeds creep in, the plants get overgrown, and the garden becomes messy again and require a lot of work.
This is the gardening cycle that I have experienced in my lifetime. But I know that the frustration is my own fault. Because the better way to deal with a garden is to work in it regularly. Head out there every week. Pull the weeds while they are small. Tidy up a little. And then, and this is important, spend time out there enjoying the beauty of what you’ve created.
So I hear, anyway.
But I know for sure that the same principle applies to our calendars, to our time management. You can set up the best system in the world, but it is not a set-and-forget situation. Over time little bits creep in. Extra jobs appear. Worthy activities find space. And suddenly you’re living in an overgrown mess, running from one thing to the next, head spinning, feeling really busy.
And I think the main point of this metaphor is not to be surprised that this happens. It’s just the second law of thermodynamics in action: The entropy of the universe is always increasing. Things tend towards disorder and randomness. It’s the way it is.
So we should not be surprised that the schedule we planned in January is now out of control in March (as mine was). Instead, maybe it’s easier to accept that and then deal with it, than to worry about it getting out of control again. Like the weeds in the garden, it’s just going to happen. We just need to be prepared.
We need to regularly head into our time garden and weed. We need to check where we’re at and make sure that our priorities are being taken care of first. We need to make sure there’s space in the schedule for rest, and space for time with those we love, and space for time with God.
And then, and this is important, once we’ve tidied out time garden, we need to take the time to enjoy its beauty. To rest in the rest. To appreciate the calm. As Eugene Peterson says, ‘Leisure is a quality of spirit, not a quantity of time’. We can have a totally clear schedule and still feel busy. It’s better to enjoy the restful activities that we’ve built in, to really be present when we go for an evening walk, to actually concentrate on the book that we’re reading, rather than to be always thinking about our incomplete to-do list, having the worry whir away in the back of our minds even when we’re supposed to be resting.
I garnered this metaphor from an excellent book I read last week — Off The Clock by Laura Vanderkam. This is the most people-centred time-management book I think I have ever read. It doesn’t tell you how to structure your life to shut people out so that you’ll get more work done, instead it suggests ways of making the most of the time that you have so that you feel less busy (and still get the work done). I cannot recommend it more highly.
So happy gardening everyone! If you’re in Australia I hope you enjoy and make good use of your 8-hour day holiday, especially if the good use is resting. And if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere I hope that the advent of spring helps you to think about your time garden and how you can make it just as beautiful as the blossoms that no doubt are coming out now.
Do you like gardening? Are you surprised by the creeping disorder of the universe? What do you do to keep your time schedule under control?
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