Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Goals, planning, and Free Time

I shamefully hang my head as the first Salsa Night Blogger to bust a suspense date (that's government contractor lingo for miss a deadline). On this Tuesday morning, I lamely make up for it by posting something I wrote over a year ago, a little after I first moved to this area. What follows is a short personal essay on how I must manage my time in order to accomplish my goals. It came from some moments spent musing after I wrote down several of my goals. The essay reflects what those goals are; it's interesting to see what I've accomplished since then (being accepted to GMU, for example) and what I still really need to work on. It's also a valuable meter for me to gauge how well I've been using my Free Time--how true to myself I've been.

Anyway, here it is:

I have reached a point where I need to lay down a plan for keeping these goals central in my life—I need to plan out my weeks and days so that I can be doing what I have said I want to do above. Of course, I am hesitant to do so. A strictly regimented life has never appealed to me. I have always valued what I conceive to be Free Time.

The problem facing my valued Free Time is what I end up doing with it. Quite often my Free Time becomes Wasted Time; I while away hours on television or inane movies or even too much reading. My precious, untouchable Free Time must be touched and tempered in order to protect it. What’s the point of discretionary time if it becomes lost to indiscretion?

Another problem arises: some of the activities I have listed under goals lose some of their intrinsic value if they become too structured. For example, to me there is value in picking up a book simply because I feel like reading. Reading is a metaphysical activity that transports me to other places and allows me to be other people. There is something magical about it. Part of that magic would be lost if it were scheduled to begin and end at predetermined times. I must be able to decide when I will leave and how long I will be gone. Sometimes ten minutes is enough, and sometimes an hour is too little. And reading is just one example; there are a number of things that just cannot be scheduled.

I think the solution lies in leaving some Free Time. A little here, a lot there. Watch a television episode in one instance, or read for a bit. Go on a date or out to a movie in another instance.

In addition, as little as possible needs to be set in stone. The most important things should be, such as scripture study. Others that take a certain amount of time might need to be more strictly scheduled as well; working out at the gym requires travel time, an hour or so of workout, plus showering and more travel time. It needs a place in the schedule so that it doesn’t interfere with other things and so that I can be sure to do it.

Aside from the things that must or ought to be strictly scheduled, perhaps the rest can be handled as Joseph B. Wirthlin suggested in his October 2003 conference talk entitled “Three Choices.”

We become masters of our lives…by focusing on first things first. We all have a pretty good idea of the most important decisions we need to make—decisions that will improve our lives and bring us greater happiness and peace. That is where we should start. That is where we should place our greatest effort.

Each night before I go to bed, I take out a small card and write a list of the things I need to do the next day in order of their priority.

…In the morning, I check my card and put all my efforts into the first item on the list. When I accomplish that item, I move on to the second and so on. Some days, I finish every item on my list. On other days, some tasks are not completed. I don’t become discouraged, however, because I’m focusing my energies on the things that matter most (Wirthlin 2003, 80).

So maybe up until I take the GRE, studying for it will take a higher priority than practicing the guitar. I may still have time for it after studying, but I may not. That will not mean that the guitar has disappeared from my life, nor that I have used my time poorly. One will take priority over another. If I find that I’m never playing guitar or that I wish I could play more, I can reevaluate my priorities.

As I look back over my goals and the associated activities, I think that scheduling for the present will be somewhat easy. I think that there will still be plenty of Free Time. I think that it will also feel Free because of how I will prioritize and not necessarily set a time. Everything’s going to be okay—I’ll progress, waste less time, and still feel Free.


Wirthlin, Joseph. 2003. Three choices. Ensign: 78-81.


Cabeza said...

As an aside--yes, yes that is Chicago-style in-text referencing with a reference list at the end. The BYU political science department left an indelible nerd-mark on my soul.

Jenny said...

Nice reference :)

Actually, that talk by Elder Wirthlin is one of the ones that keeps on coming back to haunt me. I've even tried to implement his system at times, to varying degrees of success. I think it's interesting how what you've written here kind of connects back to Nick's post on Sunday: we all have a finite amount of time to do the things we want/need to do, and learning to structure (or unstructue, as the case may be) that time is something that I'm continually struggling with. Like right now. Lucy's asleep, the house is a mess, I'm behind on my work for some of my clients, and, of course, I'm here at Salsanight. Oh dear ...

Nick said...

***(snaps the whip)***

Get back to work!