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The Skinny By Elaine Langlois


Time Management

When I was growing up, we never worried about managing our time. Maybe because we didn't have watches. We didn't get a watch until high school graduation. Before then, we just glanced at the occasional clock and knew where we were supposed to be.

Now kids have a dozen watches by the time they're 12. Watches with keen features like alarms and beepers and 123 cable channels and a lifespan of 14.3 months. They're probably getting watches in the womb. Which is just as well, because it is never too early to learn how to manage your time.

The first step in learning to manage your time is to write down everything you do for several days. This will probably lead to the following conclusions:

1. I don't have time to write down everything I do.

2. I do way too much.

3. Everybody else doesn't do enough.

4. I spend most of my time doing stupid things.

Make a Plan

The next step in managing your time is to make a plan, in which you write down everything you have to do each day and prioritize it. This involves:

  • Crossing out stuff you don't want to d

  • Offloading stuff onto others (is your cat doing enough?)
  • Crossing out everything that can possibly, conceivably be done another day

  • Leaving a core list of things you really, really want to do

Your plan can be as simple as a color-coded PowerPoint chart. Or a whiteboard in a central location where all family members can write down their priorities ("Git more fudge").

Perhaps you are thinking you can use Microsoft Outlook to organize your time. Ho, ho, ho, ho, ho! Have you ever met anyone who can make Outlook do anything useful? There are entire college classes devoted to teaching people how to use Outlook. Doesn't that tell us something?

Or you can join the ranks of soccer moms who tote around whopping great planners, thick as collegiate dictionaries and bristling with Post-its. It makes me tired just looking at them. On the upside, planners can be useful for knocking things off high shelves in the grocery store and whapping street people.

A PDA is a possibility if you are 21 or under and therefore not electronically challenged. That is the biggest generation gap, between people who grew up playing Mutant Megadeath Annihilation on Game Boy and people who grew up reading Freckles.

What Happened to Free Time?

How come we're doing all this stuff, anyway? Why do we feel we need to get so much accomplished that free time has all but disappeared?

For the answer, we must look to the Puritans, some of the earliest American colonists. When the Puritans arrived in New England, there was a lot to do, what with surviving, stealing land from the Native Americans, and cooking turkeys. So they came up with the concept of "the Puritan work ethic":

Giles Standback: Brother Wicksmith, I see thee idling here on the common while there is yet work to do.

Miles Wicksmith: But, Brother Standback, I have already this fine day slaughtered 14 and one-quarter turkeys, cleaned my flintlock, and whitewashed the entire community. I thought to relax myself these next few hours and watch professional sports.

Standback: Nay, good brother, for thy grass is full three-quarter-inch longer than that at thy neighbors' houses.

Wicksmith: But the sheep that might nibble this grass have all died of the murrain, and riding mowers have not yet been invented.

Standback: We Puritans are not people of shoddy excuses! Here, man, take this pair of scissors and go to! Or thy fellows shalt submit thee to peer pressure, and clap thee in the stocks, where thou shalt be hissed at, or make thee wear the scarlet A!

Wicksmith: Aah! No! OK, OK!

Executing Your Plan

This is the tough part. It may take awhile to get used to doing more of what you want to do and resist doing stupid stuff. You should also be prepared for the surliness of household members who have been co-opted into doing your stupid stuff while The Simpsons or SpongeBob SquarePants is on.

But it is worth it. Because now you will have free, quality time. Time that you can spend reading the complete works of William Shakespeare, baking cupcakes, eating cupcakes, walking through nature to work off the cupcakes, or sneaking in the next episode of SpongeBob SquarePants.

© 2004 Elaine Langlois