Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Diminishing Value of Time

I wasn't sure how to title this post, since a general trend of my life now is to have a bountiful supply of time to enjoy with my wife and kids.  Odd then, that I would suggest time is worth less when you have more of it.  This isn't always the case, as it is more dependent on whom the extra time is given.  But I have discovered in my four months of (mostly) employment free living that having more available time hasn't equated to a more productive me.  Goals are slow to be accomplished, or even started.  Somehow I thought more time would mean more productivity, and increased goal accomplishment.  

That isn't to say that I, nor my wife, don't keep busy.  It seems there is an endless number of diapers to change, toys to re-clean, or mouths to feed.  But even faced with the onslaught of tasks known as parenting, the goals of personal fitness, as well as spiritual and educational growth should not be ignored.  Perhaps three children, even with two stay-at-home parents, takes up more time than I can even understand.  Whatever the reason, these intended life changes haven't happened yet.  

Remember long ago when you had a term paper due at the end of the semester, which of course you had known about for months.  It was in the last week, day, or even hours that the bulk of the work was accomplished.  At least that is how it worked out for us procrastinators.  And that's the trouble with a great deal of time with no deadlines.  Any task, chore, or life goal can simply be put off until tomorrow, with no immediate consequences.  After all, with no deadline it will get done "on time"... eventually.

It's possible many people don't perceive this as a problem.  

"Hey! No job, no deadlines?  Do what you want, when you want?  Sounds like sweet retirement living to me!"

Considering I've chosen to forgo likely millions of dollars of a traditional 65+ retirement for an abundance of time with my family now, wasting that time is akin to lighting that presumptive millions on fire, one dollar at a time.  I shouldn't be foolish enough to do such I thing, but it happens gradually.  Without even realizing, weeks can turn to months or even years while the aspirations of life remain neglected.  

There was a time in my life, not long ago, that I was able (with the help of my wife) to juggle 70+ hour work weeks, 10-20 hours of weekly homework for my Masters, and raising a baby while remaining active in the church.  How was I able to get all this done in a given week, when the 20 minute chore of rinsing out the 6-gallon RV water heater took me six weeks?  The answer of course was the increased value of my time based on its limited availability.  With less time available, we were focused and reasonably efficient.  We managed our busy schedule out of necessity (which most of us needlessly force upon ourselves unknowingly).  My job, my school work, and even the church all had their own schedules, each of which unconcerned with any plans I might make for myself.  I was left no choice but to work around the clock at times, my wife doing the same, to stay afloat in life.  This necessity developed discipline, allowing us to buckle down and get things done when needed.  Would I trade my current "free-time rich" life for that high stress life which developing such discipline?  Not a chance.  But I recognize the structure and deadlines I once had created a disciplined life of focused task accomplishment.  And that was a good thing.

And the structure I now have to keep me straight?  The sun rises and falls, and the kids (usually) nap each afternoon, but beyond that life is a loose gathering of rough housing with the children with spatterings of outdoor activities throughout.  Toss in a Chuggington episode and we've accomplished a full day.  Outside of the occasional part-time work in the Reserves, that's just about all the structure I have, and keeping me on task it does not.  In order to live this life as fully as I once imagined, and actually take some steps toward positive life-changing habits, I need to establish structure.  Having the discipline to force this upon myself is the challenge.  

I think this is what most retirees refer to as "keeping themselves busy."  They find activities they enjoy, and schedule them on a weekly basis.  Tuesday: tennis, Wednesday: bridge, Thursday: volunteer at such and such.  In essence what they are doing is removing the excess time and replacing it with joyful activities.  But since the activities I seek (personal fitness, daily bible study, educational/recreational reading) can each be home-bound single person tasks, the only one to hold me accountable is, well, me.  This makes it far too easy to let these goals slip by as quickly as time itself.  To make the most of each day God lays before me, not just in spending time with my family but in maximizing my personal life, I must be more disciplined than ever.  

It's was about two months between when I first wrote the above and then actually typed it up, proving all I've written, I suppose.  In that time I've been introduced to a couple of ideas.  First is Parkinson's law: "Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion."  I'm haven't read up on it anymore than that single quote, but it seems to fit here very well.  Additionally, I have discovered that though I am often not efficient with my time, I still occasionally become overtaken by this sense to accomplish something!  It may be straightening up around the house, some minor bike or vehicle maintenance, or any other small task.  I think I like to see measurable and tangible results from my work, and such tasks fill that need.  I get that inner urge from time to time that I need to be more productive.  These "Nagging Voices of Success", as described by blogger Mr. Money Mustache, pop up from my subconscious frequently enough to keep me from destroying myself through laziness, but not often enough to make me a workaholic.   I'm somewhat like Mrs. Money Mustache, requiring intentional routine placed in each day to make the most out of life.  "Routine Will Oil the Machine", as she says. Routine certainly seems to be the trick, since I have biked more in my last five day string of work than I did in the previous five months.  That's saying something.  

With the goal now simply to create routine and deadlines within my own life, we'll see if I can achieve the productive yet low stress balance I'm looking for.

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