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Are time-saving tips actually making our lives harder?

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Ukki Studio | Shutterstock

Cecilia Pigg - published on 08/22/23

I tend to choose the task at hand first and put the person in front of me second. However, that choice never makes life easier or more fulfilling.

I started to check out. We were having a great conversation on the phone, but I had finished all of the quiet chores I could do while talking, and the dirty dishes loomed large in my mind. The clink of dishes and a stream of running water is distracting over the phone, so that was out. I tried to let go of the nagging feeling that I was wasting time talking. We finished our conversation not long after, mostly because I didn’t supply the necessary momentum to keep it going.

As I finished the dishes and checked everything off my to-do list, I congratulated myself on a job well done. I looked back at my day, seeing my commitment to my list, and reveling in how many things I had accomplished.

Accomplishing tasks, but at what cost?

But a little nagging question kept coming to mind. It wasn’t a nice question and I wanted to ignore it, but it kept returning. “Did I hurt anyone in order to have this ‘very productive day’?” Turns out, the answer was “yes, several people” when I allowed myself to see it.

I had repeatedly put off my son’s requests throughout the day — brushing him aside many more times than I had acknowledged or truly engaged with him. My husband had suffered, too, as I had been snippy and just plain mean when he had interrupted my projects with his conversation. I also postponed for the third night that week his favorite dinner that we had been planning since the previous weekend.

And then there was my friend on the phone. She got much less of my time and attention than she might have because I was so desperate to get all my “important” things done.

What’s really important?

I had a productive day as far as tasks go. Tasks, however, are not made in the image and likeness of God and they don’t have immortal souls.

My concept of time, and how I use it, is often a little out of whack. I find myself regularly pouring my attention on getting stuff done, while shunting aside the human beings in front of me. Sure, there has to be a balance — sometimes the dishes just have to be cleaned or no one will be able to cook or eat. But my personal temptation is to always choose the task first and the person second. That choice never makes life easier or more fulfilling.

Key questions

Here are some questions I ask myself when I notice that tasks are starting to pile up and my to-do list becoming uppermost in my thoughts.

I start by trying to pinpoint what happened.

  • Did I take on new responsibilities recently or did something significant change in my schedule? Maybe I started volunteering more, for instance. Sometimes finding the source of the problem is as simple as realizing one of my children has hit a new developmental stage and has required a lot more attention and energy.
  • Have I been using my time more haphazardly or recreationally lately? More scrolling, more reading, more thinking about what I need to do rather than actually doing it?
  • In general, have I carved out time to prioritize people in my life? Or have I just tried to fit them in when I can among other tasks (errands/projects/chores/etc.)?

The more multitasking tips and tricks I add to my repertoire, and the more time I save, the more time I feel that I have. And when I have more time, I tend to take on more — and by that, I mean adding more tasks, not more spending of intentional time with people.

Slowing down

Instead of bending over backwards to do one more thing, or to do five more things at the same time so I can do one more later, I have to choose to slow down. If I am suddenly spending a lot of time keeping a newly walking toddler safe and entertained, then I should revisit how many tasks I can expect to accomplish in a day. The answer isn’t “cram more in” as that leaves me distracted, grumpy and distant — and also leaving everyone concerned unhappy, me included. 

Overall, the first step is always to make sure I’m making an effort to organize my time with people first, and tasks second. Once that is how I view my time, (combined with assessing how much time I am spending frivolously every day) I can better make the moment-to-moment decisions when faced with the choice between a person and my to-do list.

Remember, I tell myself, the person in front of you was made in God’s image. Your to-do list was not.

Catholic Lifestyle
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