Time management is one of those go to subjects that most ministers try to touch on at least once a year. My minister calls it “margin,” a reference to the space on the edges of a piece of paper. It’s about finding room for life and family and rest amidst our busy schedules. And they are busy. In fact, here’s something I read once:
Harvard economist Juliet B. Schor, in her book The Overworked American, writes that “The average employed person is now on the job an additional 163 hours, or the equivalent of one month a year, compared to figures for 1969.”
Don’t speed passed the whackness of that research, let it marinate a minute. We work a month more now. That is uncool on so many different levels. I’m getting better at dealing with life balance and margin and all that, but I used to really suck at it.
I worked roughly 60 hours a week when I was writing advertising for a hardware company. Couple that with a two hour commute each day and 70 hours a week I was somewhere decidedly not home. After a burnout that contributed to a severely damaged marriage, I determined to never let work steal more of my time than it deserved. The trick I realized is to establish your hours the first day you start at a company. If you come in as the 7-4 guy then that’s what everyone knows you as. It’s much harder to be a 7-7 guy for a few months and then decide you want a better quality of life and try to become 7-4.
A few months ago I wrote about what happened when I told my friend D that theory. He decided to try it out at his next job. He’s an accountant, and although the lines of 7-4 got a little blurred during tax season, he held strong to keeping his true time commitment at home instead of at work. The result was fairly expensive.
In his first annual review, his manager told him that they were happy with his performance except for one thing, his time management. While everyone else at the company had spent 60+ hours of work at the office during the busy season, D had spent about 50.
The cost of that time difference was going to be reflected in his annual bonus. The bonus had been reduced by $2,000 to reflect D’s decision to work less.
I got a call a few minutes after that conversation. D seemed pretty content with everything. He would have liked the money. Being a Christian doesn’t make you immune to the woos of the world, but he wasn’t swaying. He was still going to leave at 4:00 that day. And the next day after that. The reduction in bonus hadn’t changed that.
Every act of obedience has a cost associated with it, we just usually don’t look at it the right way. We focus on what we’ll be forced to give up. What we’ll miss as a result of our decision. For D that meant losing $2,000. For my other friend it meant ending a four year relationship. For me, it meant leaving that job. But rarely do we take the time or the insight to dig into what we gain by obedience.
When D did, when he took off his filter of “more money equals more happiness” he was able to laugh at the loss of money. The reality is that after taxes, $2,000 only translates to about $1,500. And if he had only worked 10 more hours a week for an entire year he would have received that money. So the equation is simple, his company offered him $1,500 for 500 hours of his time or $3 per hour. But D decided that hanging out with his wife and child was worth $3 an hour. He decided that if someone offered to sell him 10 more hours a week with his family for only $30, he would buy it.
So he didn’t lose $2,000. He paid $3 an hour to get to know his kids during a period of their lives that is fleeting and fast. Would you make the same decision? Probably. I know some horrible dads but I’m not sure if any of them would say that time with their kids wasn’t worth $3.
This isn’t about what hours you keep at the office. Honestly, there are a lot of situations that require sacrifices where you working more is by no means an act of disobedience. I don’t know your situation and am not trying to establish that I’m a better dad because I work certain hours. That would be ridiculous.
What this is about is weighing the cost of the decisions we make. As you go through your day, you’ll be faced with your own unique decisions. They might make $2,000 seem small and pale in comparison. But look beyond the obvious. Please take the time to think about what you’ll be gaining. Find out if what you’re worried about is really a $3 decision. Don’t get intoxicated by what you’ll give up, but also consider what you might gain. Chances are, you’ll be surprised.