You waste your time. We all do, to various extents. In the middle of Ephesians 5, Paul writes, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (vv. 15-16; ESV) This is not general self-help advice. Paul is not promulgating views that are simply motivational. Paul recognizes that Christians are engaged in a war “against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) The days are evil, so make the best use of the time. We are in a war, so make the best use of the time. We are part of God’s redeemed people, so make the best use of the time. Do not misunderstand me, leisure and rest are good. They can be part of using the time well. This should not be turned into that incipient idolatry of efficiency that is part of the warp and woof of our culture. Nonetheless, are you really making the best use of the time?
If you do not believe you waste your time, I can prove it easily. If you have an iphone, simply go to “settings” and then “screen time.” If you do not have an iphone or the update, download a tracking app like moment. Then look at how much you use your phone per day and what you use it on. We can go even deeper. Start keep track of what you do per day by writing it down. Make the list detailed. If you spend 20 minutes in the morning on your phone simply looking at facebook, write it down. Then look at it over the course of the week. Time really adds up. Let’s illustrate that by looking at how we can use our time well.
Time Well Spent
John Piper discussed this topic long ago. It stuck with me, so I quote it here.
Here is another example from my own life. I try to use time well, but I waste it in various ways. In particular, in the morning I will often waste time by piddling around in the kitchen, surfing the web, and so on. So the past few days I have decided to use my time well. I am a slow eater, so that has not changed. However, I gained about 10-20 minutes in the morning to do some reading. Currently I am reading through Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics, so I used my saved time to read that famous work. In that time, I read about 10 pages. That is not exactly a ton, but better than nothing. Then I started thinking. If I used that time well in that way every day, then I would be able to read the whole work in a year. Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics is one of the most celebrated systematic theologies ever produced. Imagine reading that in a year, all because you used your time well. Why throw that all away by wasting your time looking at Facebook?
5 Time Management Tips that Will Change Your Life
1. Form a habit.
In another place, Piper mentions that he set aside a specific time per day to read certain theologians and their famous works. Habits are so important here. Choose a time and stick with it. I understand emergencies and crises might interrupt that at times, but make sure they are emergencies and crises. It is not an emergency if you are in the middle of watching The Office. It is not a crisis if you want to stare at Twitter a little longer. I am a firm believer that we make time for what is important to us.
2. Track how you use your time.
It is so, so easy to convince ourselves that we use our time well. Compared to the vast majority of people, I think I am very productive with my time. So it would be easy to think that I am using my time well. However, the example I noted above about my morning routine shows I am still lazy in various ways. Again, there is a difference between proper and God-honoring rest and leisure and what most of us count as that. We all know which is which, so let’s not kid ourselves.
3. Use a phone tracking app.
If you have an iphone, utilize screen time. If you have an android, find a good phone tracking app. With these apps, you can set limits as to what apps you can use during a specific time period and how much you can use them. Obviously these can be overridden, so they are not the perfect solution. They still can serve a good purpose though.
4. Turn off the television.
The statistics here are astounding. The average male spends 2.95 hours per day watching television. The average female spends 2.59 hours per day. 20-24 year olds spend the least time watching television. They still spend 1.94 hours per day. We must use our time better than that.
5. Slowly increase your time well-spent.
Tip 1 spoke about creating a habit. Set aside 15 minutes and keep to it. Along with that, start increasing your time that is spent well. This might mean extending the 15 minutes to 20 minutes. Or it might mean setting aside 10 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes at night. Whatever it is, make small, incremental changes in using your time well. It will slowly add up, and it will not seem so drastic.
A New Venture
The week I am writing this I have decided to try something new along these lines. I am using a habit tracking app in order to ensure I prioritize what I should. Simply put, I can get caught up in a book I am reading and forget to read more important works. Thus, now I am able to prioritize reading the early church fathers. The one I am using allows for badges to show in the top corner so that I know I still have tasks to accomplish for the day. The app also allows you to set notifications for a particular time. There is a lot of flexibility so that you can choose a habit based on the day (whether every day or specific days), the week, the month, or the year. Although I am only early into using this app, I recommend it.
In the End
Personally, I do not miss watching long hours of television. I love reading and all of the things I learn. What was initially difficult becomes second nature and enjoyable. Most likely, you will find the same. On top of that, do not worry about setting a limit. There is no need to set a cap on using time well to one hour per day. The danger in all of this is that we will give into the idolatry of efficiency. We will always want to do more and check more boxes. I feel this temptation in my own life in various ways. That’s why this is not motivational, self-help advice. Make the best use of your time because we are God’s redeemed people who live in the evil days as we wrestle against the powers of darkness. As Paul says next, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Eph. 5:17, ESV)