Time is fixed and passes at its own pace. Goals can grow, contract, adjust and evolve.
Often advice for time management includes instructions to make lists, dedicate time for tasks, be organized, get up early, multitask, do more, and just generally be different than you’ve been. While some are good suggestions, the attempt to fit an individual’s unique experience into a fixed and uncontrollable passage of time can miss the mark. It can be overwhelming and unrealistic when not considering a person’s specific life circumstances, obligations and health. When already feeling like there isn’t enough time, the advice to do more can feel offensive.
Time management seems to inherently approach the future from a perspective of scarcity. It is true there is only so much time in the day, the week, the year, and a lifetime. Each moment passes whether we’ve spent it intentionally or not. Even so, I’d rather approach the future with a feeling of abundance. There is limited time, I have limited energy and abilities, and I also have the opportunity to fill that time in ways that fulfill my needs and goals. I can do this by being clear about my immediate and long-term needs as well as my goals in each moment and for my life.
Time management advice recognizes that it can be a project to fit everything in, but it often forgets it can be effort to fill the time. I’ve had both in my life, and at times they’ve paradoxically co-existed. There were fast-paced workdays where dedicated, productive accomplishments never seemed to put a dent in the backlog, and there were evenings with long stretches of solitude where loneliness was at the ready to dominate my head space. The daily schedule of surge and stagnation with such severe contrast was exhausting. That experience is telling for how different needs and goals dictate different choices and solutions.
If I approach each of these challenges as time management exercises, it seems like two very different undertakings. If I consistently approach them as need fulfillment and goal management, the questions to ask myself and decisions to make can follow a single thought process.
My goals for most weekends are to get outside, be active, spend time with loved ones, and rest. Asking myself what I need helps me determine how I want to accomplish my goals. If I’m experiencing symptoms due to Multiple Sclerosis, I can shorten the time spent visiting friends or modify connection to something requiring less exertion like a phone call or text. Activity intensity can be lessened, and I can include more passive rest. Sometimes a goal is to go for a jog, but my body isn’t up for it. The time is there, but no amount of time management will address my needs. Managing my goals based on my health needs helps maintain my sense of well-being.
Another example of the difference between task scheduling and goal achievement involves paying bills. I need to pay my bills. I also need to make the best use of my energy and minimize stress where I can. I vividly remember the days when I dreaded paying bills and couldn’t be certain the money would be there when bills were due. It wasn’t a matter of making time to pay bills, it was a matter of designing a path toward financial stability.
I don’t pay bills because I love the task or because it’s penciled in the schedule; I do it to keep my belongings and services and to avoid paying late fees, interest or overdraft charges. Among my goals is to not waste money when I can avoid it. Because I want to minimize the effort that bill payment requires, I open my mail when it arrives and file paperwork soon after. I set up automatic deposits and payments where I can and balance my checkbook in increments of a couple minutes at a time. Doing this in small portions means I don’t need to schedule time or put a lot of thought and energy into it.
I have a list of questions I ask myself to help me manage my goals while meeting my needs:
1. What do I need in this moment, this week and longer term?
2. What are my goals and what needs to be done to accomplish them?
3. What would help my body meet its needs? Would I benefit more from pushing myself or resting?
4. What needs to be done by me? Could it be done differently with less effort or by someone else?
5. How can I adjust my goals to meet my needs?
Your list may be different, and mine will likely evolve with time. Whether I’m making time or filling time, I hope to make sure my needs are met, my goals support them and in the end my life has been fulfilling.