Managing Time Management

The professional class in our society, a group in which I find myself at work, makes a lot of noise about time management. You have to synchronize your Blackberry with your Outlook folders and keep a complicated to-do list. Multi-tasking and advance planning are absolutely necessary. The most successful person in this world is the person who gets the most things done (well) in the briefest time.

This mindset sat in the back of my mind yesterday when I found myself at home around 1 pm and resolved to get a great deal done with my remaining hours of daylight. Listening the Wuthering Heights on my iPod, I headed out to the barn. I would jump in the truck and make several water runs before turning my attention to other necessities. That’s when the first fly jumped into the ointment.

Hearing a vehicle coming up the driveway, I turned to see Josh approaching. Josh had arranged to stash some of his family’s belongings in my barn while they’re between houses. I’ve been in that situation, hunkering down with parents when buy and sell dates didn’t line up well, so I have sympathy for the guy.  A couple of minutes later, Brad arrived with a truck and trailer full of Josh’s stuff.

Had I gotten into the truck ten minutes earlier, I could have been gone when Josh and Brad arrived, but being present, I had to pretend I owned the place, opening the door, turning on the lights, and helping to unload the trailer. In the time we did that chore–and in the few minutes we all stood around jawing after the trailer had been emptied–I could have gone to town and brought 425 gallons of water up the hill. That’s three or four days worth of water in my house. But the opportunity had flown.

As soon as the sounds of their tires had disappeared down the hill, I jumped into the truck and started off toward town. At the bottom of the hill, I found Jim, my excellent neighbor, abusing trees with his tractor. When he saw me, he pulled the tractor alongside the road and turned the engine off. Obviously I was meant to stop.

Jim and I sat there on the driveway for at least a half hour–long enough that Kate, my dog, was whimpering and whining about the delay–talking about buying gravel, the winter, deer hunting, and a host of other things. Three different times, I indicated that I needed to get moving, but then we’d both tumble back into conversation. Only when I turned the key in the truck did we manage to break it off.

All in all, I’d guess that I lost the opportunity to haul two and possibly three additional loads of water yesterday. I wound up getting two delivered, enough to keep us supplied for a week. The time-management gurus would not smile on my failure, but I’m not so sure that I didn’t come out ahead in this exchange.

Time is money, our society says, but time is more than that. Time is value. Time is relationship. In the end, my money will flicker and fade, but relationships have the potential to endure. The time I spent helping Josh or talking with Jim will not show up in Quicken or appear on my tax return, but they have value.

You can’t always schedule these sorts of time usages on your to-do list. Careful planning doesn’t usually foresee pulling a friend’s van out of the ditch, unloading a trailer, or just chatting with a friend you haven’t spoken to for months. That’s as it should be. After all, if your life can be completely laid out in the confines of a Blackberry’s database, it’s a pretty poor life, regardless of your income.