So what are the standards against each of us should evaluate how we use our time? I believe they are as follows.
1. Do I have my priorities in order? Fishing or golfing or collecting stamps may be perfectly fine activities, but doing any of them when I am supposed to be working would not go over well with the boss and we all know that. That is why we do not pursue these activities while we are on the clock–at least not as long as we want to stay employed. That is because we know that our hobbies cannot take priority over our work. Why, though, do we sometimes allow our hobbies to take priority over our relationships with our family members or with the Lord? If I spend every Sunday morning fishing instead of going to church I am not going to get fired by God but my priorities are quite skewed. The same would be true, by the way, if I spent every Sunday morning sleeping in. Sleep is important, but not at the expense of my relationship with the Lord–and Scripture makes it clear that being an active member of a church is an important part of that.
2. Am I giving my best to whatever I am doing? If I apply myself fully to my work only when the boss is watching then I am not working as unto the Lord. If I put halfhearted effort into my job, my lawn, my laundry, my relationships or anything else then I must not be surprised when I get halfhearted results. Nor, by the way, should I be surprised if (1) I do not get satisfaction out of what I am doing and (2) I will not be doing it long if the “what I am doing” is paid employment. I worked for a while in a setting in which employees were eligible for bonuses based on their annual performance evaluations. It boggled my mind that some people thought they were entitled to a just for doing exactly what they had been hired to do. If you’re one of these delusional individuals then I need to let you know: “bonus” means extra. Beyond the minimum. More than required. In other words, expect not a bonus for doing only what thou hast been hired to do. If you are not doing the best that you can in whatever it is you are doing then you are not maximizing your time. Notice, by the way, that I did not say “if you are not the best at whatever you are doing.” By definition there can only be one “best.” But each of us can do our best at whatever it is we do.
3. Do I have a realistic understanding of “my” time? When you are not at work, when you’re “off the clock”, your time is yours, right? Well, not really. Not completely anyway. I would suggest that if what you are doing with your time is having a negative impact on what you are doing on your employer’s time then you are shortchanging your employer. If you are busy all weekend doing whatever it is you may doing, and thus you are worn out and sluggish on Monday morning, you’re not giving your best. If you stay up late watching a movie, reading a book, chatting with a friend or doing anything else, and do not get the sleep you need to perform at your peak at work the next day, you’re not giving your best. By the way, if you do any of that on Saturday night and thus can barely keep your eyes open in church Sunday morning, you’re not giving God your best. And if you give all of your energy and effort at work and get home zapped with nothing left to give your family, you’re not giving them you’re best either. In any of these scenarios what you are really saying to your boss, to God or to your spouse is that they are not as important as whatever it is you were doing before that has left you unable to give them your all. In other words, your time is only your time insofar as what you do with that time does not interfere with giving your best when you are on someone else’s time.
4. Am I content? If whatever you are doing, whether it is work, play, relationship or whatever, is causing you to be discontent then you need to do one of two things: do something else or get your heart right. If you hate your job and you’re just putting in your time and collecting a paycheck then you need to find a job that will give you fulfillment or you need to correct whatever is wrong with your heart, your brain or your attitude in order to find that contentment. Sometimes, by the way, doing something else is not even one of the options, leaving only the heart adjustment. When your marriage is not bringing you contentment, quitting it is not an option except in a very, very few specific situations. When effectively, meaningfully, lovingly parenting your children is not bringing you contentment, you need to get your heart right, because you cannot quit being a parent. I would suggest you as well that if you are not content in whatever it is you are doing the answer to at least one of the three questions above will be no. You might answer no to two or even all three of them. Inversely, I would suggest as well that if you can answer yes to questions one, two and three, you will almost certainly answer yes to question four.
There are plenty of other places to find tips about the effective management of your time and I am not really sharing anything new here. For whatever reason I have had multiple conversations within the past week about wise use of time and proper time management, so the subject is on my mind. My hope is that these four principles will be helpful reminders to you if (when) you find yourself struggling with time management. We all have the same number of hours in a day but none of us knows how many days we have. May we each manage our time well and make the most of each and every day.