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Why “Not According to Plan” is Not Always a Bad Thing March 20, 2014

I admit that today didn’t go quite as planned. I didn’t get my study time in this morning. Or manage to tidy my room. (Not that anyone would notice if I did.) I didn’t write the scholarship essay that’s due in two weeks. And from where I sit, it looks like I may not even finish the blog posts I’d hoped to bash out.

Unfortunately, I’m in no position to ask, “Where did the time go?” I know exactly where it went, beginning at 6:30 this morning. I woke up half an hour early and, on most days that would mean that I had the time to cram in some extra language study or a few more minutes on the treadmill. I might have the opportunity to put a little extra elbow grease into the day’s housework or get ahead with a few of my writing assignments. Time is money (or at least production opportunity) and I usually treat it as such.

Today, however, was different. Part of my morning ritual includes logging into “Hobbit: Kingdoms of Middle Earth.” I’m what, in game parlance, is known as a “might hugger” – someone who builds troops, but never actually uses them in combat. Building these massive armies doesn’t require a great deal of dedication to the game, but it does benefit whichever alliance a player has joined and, with that benefit, comes the right to fellowship. (This usually takes the form of random small talk in an online chat room and is a good way to pass time with other people who are as crazy as I am.)

I had planned to proceed as usual, queuing a few troops for training and sending any spare resources to the “bank” where they could be used by other players. I had just begun to clear the messages in my mailbox when one caught my eye: the game was running a promotion.
“Boxes” of random goodies could be “purchased” for a mere 6th of their usual price. The boxes were awarded randomly through a game of chance and, since I had won quite a few of the gold tokens to that were used in the game, I thought I’d take a look. I did, after all, have a spare half-hour.

I logged into the exchange and began redeeming the tokens. Box after box was added to my knapsack and, as I began to open the boxes, I realized that the prizes (which included additional tokens) were actually quite good. Desperate not to miss my opportunity, I returned to the game of chance and redeemed the additional tokens.

I continued this process until I’d exhausted all of the gold coins, then decided to take a look at my alliance’s standing in one of the server competitions and call it quits. I admit that I might have been better off leaving well enough alone. We were in third place and I knew that some of the prizes I’d acquired with the boxes would help us along the way. So instead of setting the game down, I began using the goodies I’d won.

It was a process that went on for hours. On and off throughout the day, I logged in to release my new troops into my cities. Each spare moment I had (and a few that I didn’t) was spent unleashing the flood of might. My citadels were brimming with hungry, belching, beer-drinking dwarves. And I was pleased.

The sun began to set and I suddenly realized that I had squandered most of my day playing a game. For a moment, I felt guilty. It seemed such a wretched waste of time. Then, again, I can’t deny that I enjoyed it. So maybe it really wasn’t a waste after all.


On Time Management Part II January 9, 2014

It wasn’t long before my newfound method of “mapping” my schedule began to evidence oddities in my routine.  For example, even in my small town, I was wasting a good 45 minutes each day trying to commute from one side of town to the other first for work, then again for school.  With an hour or two in between meetings, it seemed rational to find a more centralized location between activities and apply the extra time to study rather than travel.

Other time-saving opportunities also presented themselves and I found myself cutting “fluff” from all sorts of places.  I reduced the time spent reading my magazines by eliminating the less “useful” material, slashed the time spent watching television repeats (and a few less interesting shows), and even dropped a few “relaxing” activities that weren’t really as relaxing as I’d hoped they’d be.

Next on the chopping block was “business” – things I considered important, but which merited a second look.  From checking stats on my blogs, I was able to determine that four posts a week was too many (a time-savings of several hours).  A good look at my housework schedule yielded similar results: why was I doing laundry every week when I only had enough for full loads every other week?  My schedule was getting tighter… and my free time was actually growing!

It was at this point that I was able to consider those two overlooked categories: “relaxation” and “relationship” and begin to give them some serious consideration.  The latter could be mixed with other activities throughout the week – three or four walks with my sister were far more satisfying (both physically and intellectually) than a frenetic run on the treadmill in a secluded corner of the laundry room.  A coffee with a friend, far more thought-provoking than an hour on the couch with “Dancing with the Stars”.  The blank spaces began to fill up, but this time with activities that had the potential to provide relaxation, encouragement, and support for all who were involved.  And this time, without the sense of frenzied rush which had accompanied the knowledge that there was too much to do and too little time in which to do it!

Keeping a schedule is, of course, only a start when it comes to efficiently managing our time.  Taking the time to sit down and assess our priorities, reorganize our lives, and ensure that we are being the best possible stewards of all that God has given is a vital part of living a productive life.  So I encourage you to give it a try!


On Time Management Part I January 2, 2014

I admit that I’m not a big fan of spring cleaning. I appreciate the results (in my case, marginally organized chaos), but I don’t particularly enjoy all of the sorting and decision-making that’s involved.  The result is that I often leave questions like:  “When was the last time I wore this?”, “Does the sentimental value I’ve assigned to this random block of wood outweigh my need for more closet space?”, and “What exactly is this sticky thing, anyway?” to a two-day whirlwind blitz designed to numb my brain and cause me to forget that the “cleaning” ever took place.  (The exhaustion which accompanies this numbness proves quite helpful when I begin to question whether that block of wood really did have sentimental value and begin to contemplate making a dumpster dive in order to retrieve it.  Without enough energy to get up off the couch, I can almost always guarantee that the “trash” will stay where it belongs!)

Recently, I found myself forced to undergo a similar “cleaning” procedure with my time.  The situation was not entirely unanticipated: a new job, a 16 credit school schedule, and a pressing need to spend more time with my fiancé had backed me into a corner.  I was running from well before dawn until long after dusk and the physical effects of my marathon life were taking their toll.  Something needed to go.

The question, of course, was, “What?”  Being a relatively resourceful human being, I had managed to pack my every waking minute with things which I considered more or less “useful” – tasks which could be justified (at least marginally) as “educational” or “developmental”.  These activities ranged from semi-regular exercise and the manufacture of my own beauty products to the “historical research” I did every time I re-watched an episode of “Downton Abbey”.  (The latter could clearly go, since its designation as “research” was just a bit contrived.)

A quick assessment of my schedule yielded a few good candidates for the chopping block, but not every decision was as easy as I had hoped.  To begin with, I found myself incapable of answering even simple questions about my routine.  How long was each task taking?  Did I really need just thirty minutes to clean my aquariums?  How many hours was I actually awake each day?  Truthfully, I didn’t know.  And without knowledge, there was no way to make educated decisions.

It was at this point that my mother gifted me with a beautiful red book which organized each day into easy-to-manage fifteen minute increments.  Photocopying several pages (the volume is for 2014), I began filling in each blank, color-coding the task “category” with highlighters as I charted my day.  The pages quickly filled up with bright orange (for study) and neon pink (for business-related tasks).  Bits of yellow (for health-centered activities) and fluorescent green (for housework) dotted the columns.  Every now and then a subdued purple would appear, indicating that I’d taken some time for “recreation” and nearly as infrequently, bright blue for “relationship building”.  That something was out of balance was evident.  And fixing it would start with cutting the time I wasted on unproductive activities.  (To Be Continued…)


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