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Do you have the time?


What is time? If you’re struggling to answer that question, you’re not alone. It’s something that we think about all the time but it’s almost impossible to describe what time is. This isn’t a new struggle – in the fifth century, St Augustine wrote, “what then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Often, about the only thing we do know about time is that we don’t have enough of it.

It’s a faulty paradigm, of course: we treat time as if it was a commodity, which it clearly isn’t. If we don’t have enough of something that we want, we’ll generally go and get some more but you can’t do that with time. It’s not possible to pop down to Tesco and pick up an extra half an hour. So we often look for time management systems to provide that “extra” time – some new process, some new diary, some clever system to give us the time we need. But what do we find? All time management advice is fundamentally the same, regardless of how it’s dressed up, and I’d be willing to bet that you already know most of it.

Time management is a myth; there’s nothing we can do to time to give ourselves a 61-minute hour or a 25-hour day. It’s not time we should be managing: it’s ourselves. I was working with a group recently, talking about time, and one of the delegates was in training for an Ironman triathlon competition. He estimated that he spent about 24 hours a week in training and one of the other delegates barked with laughter and derision at this, boldly claiming that, as a working mother of two children, she couldn’t possibly do something like that because she didn’t have enough time. Of course, what we discovered after a little questioning, was that she spent around 30 hours a week watching television.

It wasn’t that she didn’t have the time to train for a triathlon – it just wasn’t as important to her as watching TV. Time management, at its heart, is self-management: it’s about the choices we make on how to spend our time and every choice we make has consequences. Recent studies have shown that the average Facebook user spends about 70 hours on the site per year – three whole days. The biggest users spend a full week. Users of social networking sites estimate that they spend around 40 minutes a week, at work, on the sites – at a cost to the economy of about £1.4bn a year. Most eBay bids and sales are made during the hours of 9am to 5pm. I guarantee that most of these people “don’t have enough time”, either.

I’m not criticising television or Facebook or Twitter or any other website – I watch TV and use social networking sites like most other people. But the fact is, we have all the time we’re ever going to get: we’re never going to get any more. We have the same 24 hours in a day, 365 days in a year as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Barack Obama or any other significant achiever you could mention. What it comes down to, at heart, is the choices we make on how to spend that time. Choose wisely.

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