Winning the War For Time

By Fred Smith

A short battle for time can be won with quick techniques, but you can only win the war for time control with a philosophical foundation. You have to face such questions as "Why do I want to get more out of time? Is it my fear of God or judgment? Is it because I want to become famous or make money? Am I part of a peer group that always seems busy? What's the real reason to squeeze more into my days and weeks?"

These days, haste has become almost a status symbol. People assume. If I'm busier than you are, I must be more important. They don't wait for planes to stop before they're up grabbing coats and carry-on luggage. They drive their cars aggressively, trying to get someplace thirty seconds sooner. I was in a cafeteria recently, and a fellow was trying to get past me to the cashier. I could tell I was supposed to be impressed with the fact he was so busy.

Maybe I've missed something, but I always thought if you were successful, you had more time, not less. That's why they used to call the wealthy "the leisure class." In fact, the ancient Greeks made a great case for succeeding in life, reasoning that only those with leisure could think about ideas, which was, after all the highest calling, the mark of true achievement. But these days, as Donald Bloesch puts it, "busyness is the new holiness.". If you really are somebody, you are in control of your time, not the other way around.

What, then, ought to be our approach to time? Do we assume that time is meant to be "maximized" or utilized? We need to know our goal if we're going to win the war for time.

Personally, I think optimizing opportunities and talents— in a sense, bringing redemption to everything around—is a valid reason to use time well. This arises from my philosophical cornerstones:

1. I'm a created being and therefore responsible to the Creator for my life.

2. Time is simply life's dock. Time is a tool—a means in life, never an end. Time is not something to be pursued for its own sake but for what can be done with it.

3. Since my life is measured by time, I have a responsibility to control it. Most of us don't let other people spend our money; likewise, we should limit their power to spend our time, also.

4. I have been given the same 24 hours as everybody else. The great achievers of the world don't have any more time than I do. It is simply untrue to say, "I don't have enough time." What is not the same for everybody is energy. Unless I recognize my level of energy and realize that it comes in ebbs and surges, I won't accomplish all I could.

5. I believe that anything I cannot accomplish in the time I have is apparently not my God-given responsibility to accomplish. God is not going to hold me accountable for what I cannot do because of genuine lack of time.

6. When I know the ultimate purpose of my life, I can know whether I'm using my time properly. If I do not know, I have no way of judging my efficiency. Only God and I can know for sure whether I'm stewarding the time well.

Charles Frauds Adams, the nineteenth-century political figure and diplomat, kept a diary. One day he entered: "Went fishing with my son today—a day wasted." His son, Brook Adams, also kept a diary. On that same day Brook Adams made this entry: "Went fishing with my father—the most wonderful day of my life!"

My ultimate goal in life is to stretch other people. I want them to live a bit better and more nobly than if they hadn't met me. This is my sense of redeeming the time.

When I was a young man, I would jot items to talk about on a little card in my shirt pocket. Instead of making small talk, I thought it would be profitable to talk about subjects on which I wanted to expand my thinking. I found I had certain viewpoints I wanted to "sell." I would work up outlines and then maneuver the situation around to practice my "teaching."

As I have gotten older, my agenda has been to discover the other person's immediate problems. Maybe something in my experience can be helpful. I can take a little extra time and say, "What do you see in life? What's interesting? What kind of problems are you facing?" without prying or being curious. With a goal in life and intentional conversation, I think I'm more efficient, more effective. I am using my time well.