First Things First: Managing the Time Crunch


We are into the second week of UUCA's stewardship campaign for
2008, and I'm delighted at the financial generosity that people
are showing so far. The trend is looking wonderfully positive. So
let's keep it up! The campaign is going strong, but there's a
ways to go-we're not there yet. The vision of this place needs the
generous support of everyone.

And I know I'm cheerleading. I know that. But I believe in this
place and its future and in you. I really do. It is why I accepted
your call to ministry here and not someplace else. It is why Laura and
I feel privileged to pledge 5% of our annual income, even as we will
give another 5% to other charitable organizations. But for us, the
giving starts here. First things first. Our congregation, together
with other top priorities, comes first, because it's that
important.

It's ultimately a good stewardship issue, and good stewardship, as
I see it, is a spiritual practice and discipline. Good for the soul. A
way to make a life, as opposed to simply making a living. Investing
our dollars in a way that accords with our highest values. Our
dollars, but also our talents and energy and time…. The questions
are, How can I spend all these life resources with integrity and
sustainability? How can I be my best self, and therefore bless the
people and the world around me? How can I be a leader in my
relationships and in my home, and model the kind of behavior that I
would like to see magnified and multiplied in my children and in
others?

These are the deep and profound issues of the spiritual practice of
good stewardship. And today, I'd like to focus on just one of
them: stewardship of time. Last week we talked about stewardship in
general, but this week the focus is on time-the challenges we face
today as we strive to invest our time in good ways.

Let me start out with a question: Does the phrase "crazy
busy" happen to ring any bells for you? It comes from a recent
bestselling book enthusiastically recommended to me by UUCA staffer
Pat Kahn, and I share her enthusiasm and recommend it to you as well.
The author is Dr. Edward M. Hallowell, M.D, and the title is Crazy
Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked, and About to Snap
. At one point,
he says, "Living life today can seem like riding a bike no-handed
while reading a book and juggling six eggs…" And I can't
help but say amen. Life today invites doing too much and with it, time
scarcity-the feeling of there never being enough time….

But life today is not all bad. In fact, Dr. Hallowell rightly
encourages us to see how our brave new world just bursts with
possibility and excitement and playfulness. He says, "Baffling as
it can be, this world is a new mother lode…. We can now mine a
volume of accessible information that gives to every individual mind
the power of what it used to take hundreds of minds to do. We can work
with an ease and speed of communication that makes the dead time
called ‘waiting' obsolete, or at least unnecessary. These
elements create the peculiar enthusiasm of our time." That's
what Dr. Hallowell says. It is a charged-up, cutting-edge time in
which we are constantly pushing the limits of what we can do.
"The energy that flashes through our electronics," says Dr.
Hallowell, "has leapt into most of our bloodstreams and
brains."

It's just an exhilarating moment in which to be alive. And so now
it becomes a matter of tapping into that exhilaration in a healthy,
sustainable way. Enjoying moments when we're really out there
riding the bike no-handed while reading a book and juggling six
eggs-whatever that might look like for us. But also knowing our limits
and our priorities. Knowing how to pace ourselves and how to take
time-outs when needed. Knowing when to say no. And when we don't
know this-that's when we get into the time crunch and can't
get out. That's when we feel time scarcity.

Part of this involves an addiction to what Dr. Hallowell calls the
"rush" and "gush." The "rush" refers to
how the speed of everyday affairs has been supercharged by innumerable
technologies, from email to television remotes to airplanes to fax
machines to laptops to the ice machine in your refrigerator. And then
there is the "gush"-the volume of information that pours
into our lives from various outlets: email, voice mail, instant
messaging, cable TV, satellite radio, the Internet. The rush and the
gush-and we can fall in love with it. "We can be like kids who
just got their driver's licenses, wanting to drive
constantly," giving far too much of ourselves to it. Which means
this: we try to multitask with everything. We find ourselves hurrying
up even when there is no need, irritated beyond belief when the
internet connection is slow, or the traffic, or someone's manner
of speaking. Or we try to keep up with the latest information and stay
glued to "what's going on," but the stream of updates
and new news is so constant that the thought of disconnecting from
some kind of screen or other provokes real anxiety….

I'm talking about addiction to the rush and gush, and the
addiction not only shrinks our subjective sense of the minute and the
hour, it also steals away time from other pursuits. We become people
who "rush around a lot, feel impatient wherever they are, love
speed, get frustrated easily, lose focus in the middle of a task or a
conversation because some other thought gets their attention … feel
they could do a lot more if they could just get it together, get angry
easily when interrupted, feel powerless over the piles of stuff that
surround them, resolve each day to do better tomorrow, and in general
feel busy beyond belief but not all that productive." That's
what Dr. Hallowell says, and this is probably a good time to share
with you the fact that Dr. Hallowell is an expert in attention deficit
disorder. So when he looks upon our world today, he sees symptom after
symptom of ADD. Many people who don't have true ADD, but because
they plug into the rush and gush of our modern world, they show
symptoms of it.

Addiction to the rush and gush: this is a big contributor to
today's pervasive sense of time scarcity. The addiction gets us
into trouble. Let me say a few more words about

this, and then we'll explore ways of breaking through the scarcity
into abundance.

A moment ago I said that our love affair with speed shrinks our
subjective sense of time, so that the thirty seconds it might take for
a web page to come up feel like five minutes, or an eternity. The
addiction just gets into our heads, plays with our minds. So consider
how we live in a world in which our technologies enable us to
transcend time and space; know more things as individuals, instantly,
than could ever be known before; and do things that, to previous
generations, would appear miraculous. This gets into our heads. It
bubbles up an expectation we end up imposing upon ourselves and
others. Because technology makes it possible to transcend
space and time, I and others should strive to do that and
stay connected via cell phone and email and Blackberry unceasingly and
always. Because technology makes it possible to plug into
endless data streams, I and others should do that.
Because technology makes it possible to do apparently
miraculous things, I and others should do likewise.

I should be doing this-they should be doing this. The expectation has
gotten into our heads, and it is impossible to live up to. We will
always fail. And therefore there can be resentment for others-and
guilt for ourselves. Both feelings go hand-in-hand with the time
crunch. People should be able to respond to my emails within the hour
or the day; they don't do that; I resent them. I should be able to
respond to emails within the hour or the day; I don't do this
because I can't do this; I feel so guilty.

Let's focus on that guilt for a moment. It can feel so big that
Dr. Hallowell has coined a new word to describe it:
"Gigaguilt." That's the kind of guilt we deal with in
our time-crunched world. Just listen to what he says about this:
"Computer technology and its gigabytes of memory have directly
and indirectly so extended the number of items a person must keep
track of … that the likelihood of missing something has skyrocketed.
[…] This brings with it guilt, lots of guilt, ceaseless guilt, guilt
in the morning, guilt in the evening, guilt all day long.
‘Gigaguilt' refers to this guilt, the guilt a person feels
over missing something or disappointing someone, even while knowing
that keeping track of everything is impossible and having enough time
to please everyone is equally impossible." That's what Dr.
Hallowell says. And yes, one part of our brains knows it is
impossible, but there's another part that has bought into the
expectation of perfection and the "should"-and so we
struggle with it, we wrestle with it, and the guilt spears us and pins
us to the ground….

Addiction to our rush and gush world really causes us trouble. It gets
into our heads and distorts our sense of what is possible and
reasonable. Paradoxically, the more time-saving technologies there
are, the less time we feel we have… But now let's turn to
exploring some ways by which we might break through time scarcity to
abundance. How we can be better stewards of time in our modern world
of rush and gush. As I see it, the solution involves at least two
things: right attitude and right priorities.

Start with right attitude. Time scarcity, at least as I experience it,
is a matter of feeling like I'm out of control of my time. All
sorts of time thieves out there, and they just step into my life and
steal whatever they want, and I can't stop them…. Can you
relate?

Which is exactly why a good starting point is a right attitude:
reclaiming a sense of self-control, remembering that we have more
power in this than we think we do. Remembering that we could always
say no. Remembering that we could always choose otherwise. This is
nothing less than one of the hallmarks of our theology as Unitarian
Universalists-freedom of the will.

So simple-but I wish I could say it was easy. For a huge obstacle to
right attitude here is emotional messiness, and by that I mean
gigaguilt. Remember gigaguilt? It can make freedom of the will
theology seem absurd! It can chew it up and spit it out! Makes us feel
like there is no choice, that we can't do otherwise. Stands over
us and commands us like Pharoah-that we must be everywhere and know
everything and do everything. It stands over us, and we are its
slaves.

So reclaiming a right attitude is going to be hard work. But I like
what Dr. Hallowell suggests about how to do this. His first pointer is
to "Set limits on what you commit to. Reserve time for what
matters most to you, and if you feel guilty that you are not serving
others when you are doing what matters most to you, remind yourself
that you would be much less use to others if you did not do what
matters most to you some of the time. You would become depressed,
frazzled, impatient, resentful, and ineffective." That's the
first pointer, and here is the next: "Have a system that can
dictate for you what you will commit to and what you won't."
For example, make it a policy that you will serve on only a certain
number of volunteer committees, and no more. Make it a policy that you
won't check email on your day off. Make policies like this so you
don't have to decide on the spot each time. Finally, the third
pointer from Dr. Hallowell is to draw on the strength and
encouragement of a support group, to help you stay accountable to your
plan. Rely on them for reality checks now and then, as well as pep
talks. You don't have to face the unrealistic expectations and
guilt all alone. Connection with friends can make all the difference
in the world.

It's about reclaiming a sense of self control-taking back power
over what happens with our time. Right attitude is one way of breaking
through scarcity into abundance. And now here is the other:
establishing right priorities. Identifying the activities and
connections that bring about our greatest health and well-being, and
giving to them the majority of our time.

Now, in recommending this, I need to acknowledge that I might be going
against the grain, or swimming upstream. Currently there are more than
2500 books available on Amazon.com on the subject of getting
organized, where the basic message is one of tackling the time crunch
by working faster, harder, smarter, and more…. And while I agree
that getting organized can be helpful, there's more to the
solution. There's way more. It brings to mind a quote from Albert
Einstein, who once said, "The significant problems we face cannot
be solved by the same level of thinking that created them." It
means that if we're facing a time crunch, we've got to go
beyond the issue of speed to solve it-we've got to go to a
different level.

And so we go to the level of values. We go to the level of meaning. We
start exploring how we can be more inner-directed in our lives, rather
than allowing ourselves to be pushed and pulled by external
opportunities and pressures. The more external opportunities and
pressures there are-which is the increasing reality of modern
times-the more our sanity requires strength of personal identity,
strength of character, commitment to core values, commitment to a
moral and spiritual vision. Purpose and mission must direct us from
within, not anything else, lest the push and pull of today's rush
and gush cause us to fly apart in a million different directions.

And things are even more difficult once you consider the fact that,
very often, our choices are not no-brainers. Very often, we are
choosing not between "horrible" and "wonderful"
but between "just OK" and "great." Opportunities
that are just OK knock on our doors all the time-and unless we are
clear about who we are and what feeds our souls, we'll go with
them and miss out on the ones that make our hearts sing, that fill us
up, that charge us up to be all that we are called to be. So we'll
end up not singing but mumbling; not filled up, but restless; not
called to be all we can be, but bored. We did not choose what was
great-we chose what was just OK good instead.

It is a question of right priorities. That's what it is. So I ask
you that question this morning: what are your right priorities?
What's your personal mission in life, your moral and spiritual
vision? What involvements and connections are not just good but great,
for you, and will take you to enrichment and challenge and abundance?
First things first means that you plan from the start to give more
time to them than to other things-and that you work the plan, you
abide by it.

Let me ask the question in a different way. When you are on your
deathbed, what are you going to wish you had spent more time doing?
Now there's a question that can provoke some thought! What are you
going to wish you had spent more time doing when you are on your
deathbed? It's all about being a good steward of the precious and
all-too-brief gift of time that life has given you.

I'd like to close with a quote that I'm sure Dr. Hallowell
would appreciate. It came into my life around eight years ago, during
a time that felt especially crazy busy, when the pressure and pain of
big life changes-including a career change-were almost too much. On
one Sunday during this time, I was in a worship service-I had given
myself the gift of that-and the preacher quoted from the great writer
Nikos Kazantzakis. The quote hit me like a ton of bricks. Here it is:
"I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the back of
a tree just as a butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing
to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was
impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it
as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes,
faster than life. The case opened; the butterfly started slowly
crawling out, and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its
wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butterfly tried with
its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to
help it with my breath, in vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently
and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun.
Now it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all
crumpled, before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds
later, died in the palm of my hand.

That little body is, I do believe, the greatest weight I have on my
conscience. For I realize today that it is a mortal sin to violate the
great laws of nature. We should not hurry, we should not be impatient,
but we should confidently obey the internal rhythm."

That's the quote from Nikos Kazantzakis which I heard a preacher
say, around eight years ago, in a time that felt all too crazy busy;
and then, as now, I recognize myself as that butterfly that is being
breathed upon. Perhaps you do as well. It's what life is like in a
rush and gush world. And yet you and I can do something about it. We
don't have to share the same fate as the butterfly in the story.
It is a mortal sin to violate the great laws of nature. And so let us
reclaim our power over whether and to what extent we will be breathed
upon. Let us not hurry. Let us not be impatient. Let us discover the
internal rhythm that flows within us-and confidently obey it. We can
do this. Amen.