Valuing Time

Posted: January 15, 2013 in Tuesday Reflections
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At work recently I have learned the hard way (how else?) that if I don’t value my time, no one else will.  It’s a weakness of most egocentrics to believe that everyone is aware of how much time we’re spending doing what and how much spending the Time doing the What “costs” us–in terms of emotional energy, hours or days spent away from loved ones, etc.  The truth is very simple.  Most people are too busy spending their Time on their multitudinous Whats to care about our time.  Moreover, anyone benefiting from our time (employers, needy friends, volunteer organizations) will be more than happy to take as much of our time as they need without the slightest compunction.

Here is how I managed to arrive at this underwhelming conclusion:  My boss called me into her office for a chat.  She’d already called me in two hours early that day to fill a staff shortage.  I was pretty tired by the time this invitation rolled around.  She said she’d noticed that I seemed “Frustrated.  More frustrated than usual.”  Believing these were the opening bars in the symphony of How Can We Help?, I admitted that I had indeed been feeling frustrated–“Overworked and little undervalued” was a phrase that came most readily.  We’re woefully understaffed, and I’ve been doing at least two people’s jobs at once.  It’s not getting any better, and management’s promises for genuine relief come in drips or not at all.  At the office, this is one of the more expected daily headlines.

To my astonishment, my boss counter-intuitively suggested that my real problem was that I wasn’t managing the meager staff I had very well and that management needed me to be doing something else in addition to what I’d been doing (or something like this).  In other words, the key to my happiness lay in working harder.

I stared open-mouthed at her, as she nodded grimly, and nodded myself (astonished), and left.

After a day of meditating on this drive-by shooting, I decided I was glad it had happened.  Very glad, in fact–though my boss herself could not have been more supremely wrong than a tobacco executive at a Lung Cancer Society meeting.  I know I don’t have the staff to do the work, no matter how cannily they’re managed.  And I know I can’t do two jobs at once, no matter how gifted my multitasking.  But, in the end, what I knew I could do and needed to do was to listen, actually listen, to what was being communicated to me–not said, but communicated.

My boss was actually saying, “We don’t feel like dealing with this reality.  We’ve decided that if you’re having a problem, it’s your problem.  And nothing that happens will stop us from asking more of you.”  After sifting through the subtext, this is the sum of the conversation, and thank goodness for my recovery, because I actually have a response to this Machiavellian trap that doesn’t involve crawling under the bed with a pint of Smirnoff.

Say it with me:  BOUNDARIES.  (Feels good, doesn’t it?)

I wound up composing a short, but very clear, memo to my superiors about this brief meeting–stating the way I understood their expectations and the way I was prepared to meet their expectations.  I also outlined the things I would NOT do meet them.  It felt unfathomably good to put these boundaries in place and know my employers themselves had given me the bricks to erect them.  Of course, boundaries are about US, and they don’t have to be stated.  My unspoken boundary now is, “Call all you like, but don’t count on my dropping everything to come.”  My litmus test is more complicated than this, but I feel good about giving myself permission to value the work I do and the time I spend doing it.

I’m not a list-maker.  I’m not a do-er of things just to say I have done them.  These are not really the ways I make my time “count.”  I think, however, that I’m developing the understanding that my time is valuable only when I take responsibility for it, when I make conscious, deliberate choices about how to use it, and when I judge its use through the lens of statement #8:  “The most important part of life is emotional and spiritual growth.  Daily I put my life in order, knowing which are the priorities.”

  1. gfnj says:

    This was a very good post. I read it a few days ago and can read it every day. It reminded me about work and how true it is that you have to try your best to control your time as often as possible. It took me a few days to actually log in and comment because I had to manage the very things mentioned in this post…..taking control of your time.

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