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Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Philosophy of Education: Time Management

Have you ever clicked on a website, and upon finding it takes a few seconds to load, switched to another tab to “make use” of the time? Do you find yourself doing the same thing when toasting or microwaving food for a minute? I know I have. Why are we so impatient? I believe we fear wasting time by not being productive, and thus we find it hard to focus on anything that does not provide constant stimulation to make us feel productive.

Multitasking truly can increase our productivity. For example, while waiting for your bread to be toasted, you can pack your backpack for school. However, for multitasking to be effective, there must be enough time to do another task. How much can you accomplish in the three seconds of waiting for a website to load?

Despite potentially increasing productivity, multitasking can mentally exhaust us, especially if we switch rapidly and frequently from one task to another. In order to switch, we must abruptly break our train of thought on the old task and switch to a new train of thought. If we switch after a few minutes, such as in the toaster or microwave example, the strain is minimal. However, if we switch every few seconds, such as in the slow website example, we may quickly become mentally fatigued and thus less productive in all of our tasks.

Knowing that we cannot accomplish anything in a few seconds, why do so many of us feel compelled to try? Are we that afraid of wasting time? I believe many of us are without realizing it. We constantly hear messages like “time is money,” making us think that any time spent not doing anything is wasted. However, while time is money, that is not the only thing it can become.

I think of time as a liquid that can be distributed between different vessels: money (productivity), relaxation, sleep, entertainment, friends, etc. We have a fixed amount of time; we merely decide how to distribute it. Thus, not putting it into the productivity bucket does not mean we are wasting it! In fact, all of the buckets are essential. Working constantly and never resting mentally turns us into stressed-out zombies, who are not capable of productivity. We need time to relax, sleep and have fun as well as work.

In large part because many of us fear wasting time, we are uncomfortable when not “doing anything.” Most often, we feel that we are not “doing anything” when nothing is stimulating us. For example, while a webpage is loading, it is blank and thus not stimulating us. As a result, we may unconsciously or consciously feel uncomfortable, and thus feel compelled to do something else for the few seconds the page takes to load. If we cannot control these urges, we will be unable to relax and thus constantly be highly stressed.

Yes, productivity and money are fine goals, but are they all you want from life? My goal in life is to be happy; money is merely a means to that end, not an end in itself. I need food and shelter to be happy and thus require some money. However, would twice that amount of money make me twice as happy? Would 10 times make me 10 times as happy? If I do not need it to enjoy my life, I will not seek it or worry about obtaining it.

However, I need time to relax, sleep and spend time with friends to enjoy my life. Thus, I set aside time for those activities. But just like with money, these activities have diminishing returns. Thus, we should not spend all of our time on one activity and then have no time for other essential activities. Many of us feel pressured to spend all of our time working and thus never relax; others spend all of their time relaxing and thus never work.

We should take the middle way by doing each activity in moderation. Do not let any activity consume your life, no matter what it may be.

 

To share how you spend your days, email WILLIAM CONNER at wrconner@ucdavis.edu.

 

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