Time Management: The Last Holy Grail for Married Women?
Last Saturday, I was at the A.C. Gilbert Discovery Museum for Children. I saw a display of clocks from antiquity, and above it, a quote from Einstein that said time and space are merely human inventions. They don’t exist except in our minds. Not that I can understand this fully, but it got me thinking. We organize our lives around the mere ideas of time and space. Later that day, I had a conversation with a mom who homeschools, who mentioned needing better time management at home. That brought to mind a recent George Barna survey of Christian women, where women were asked about sins in their lives. The top two confessions were disorganization (50%) and inefficiency (42%) (http://www.barna.org/culture-articles/587-christian-women-today-part-3-of-4-women-give-themselves-an-emotional-and-spiritual-check-up?q=women). While David Kinnaman, president of Barna Group, wondered why women are not being honest about real sins like pride and envy (for some reason that blog post is no longer accessible), I think that honesty is not generally the problem of Christian women. Something else is going on.
This morning I googled “time management” and “Christian women.” I came up with oodles of not only articles but whole books on this topic with this audience. I found titles on amazon.com like Meditations for Women Who Do Too Much, and Life Management for Busy Women: Living Out God’s Plan with Passion and Purpose. In fact, I got sucked into reading about one of them. Writing this article has had me reflecting on my own relationship with my day. Why is it that Christian women in particular feel disorganized and like they are not using their time well? This isn’t something Christian men apparently feel. I googled “time management for Christian men” and though there was one book, after that what came up was articles on time management for Christian women.
In my own life, I am one of the other 50 percent of women who would confess one of the Seven Deadly Sins. Maybe that’s because I have more time to sin, who knows. But I do have a “To Do” list every day that I work on before I go to bed each night. If I don’t, things come to mind and I can’t get to sleep. And during the day, it can be hard to be in the moment, as my brain cells reach and connect to solve some problem for my family. My life is unbalanced right now, but leisure time means exercise and alighting here and there on Facebook for fifteen minutes, and pleasure is creative work like writing, and crossing off that one last thing on my To Do list. What about you? Sinfully lazy and self-indulgent? Probably not. So much to do that you feel stressed? Probably.
But who sets the agenda for what we do? I tend to look at justice issues when I write about women. But it may be that there are a lot of women who are in the position of Home CEO, and no one sets the agenda but them and the most pressing need. An unpaid, unstructured job can be a real challenge—like being your own volunteer. How do you choose what is most important? And then, you do so many little things in a day that no one even notices. How do you know when you are doing well in your job? You won’t get a raise or Employee of the Year award. Maybe it’s easy to end up feeling a false guilt in a job like that, especially if you compare yourself to ideas about the ideal woman or mother.
On the other hand, other women probably have too much to do—a full-time job plus kids and housework. Women in this situation are still doing, on average, twice as much childcare and twice as much housework as their husbands (see this article about housecleaning). A recent survey suggests that husbands create seven extra hours of housework for wives a week, while wives save husbands one hour of extra housework a week. I point this out because the feeling of being sinfully out of control of your responsibilities has a justice backdrop to it. In a recent blog (“A Wife’s Tale: How I Stopped the Housework Habit and Started Living”) I wrote about research from a book with the humorous but telling title The Lazy Husband: How to Get Men to Do More Parenting and Housework, by psychologist Joshua Coleman. The author noted that married women tend to compare themselves to other women from the past and present who are busy from dawn to midnight maintaining jobs outside the home, then doing the “Second Shift” at home. They think of their mothers who baked homemade pies and mended their dresses. They think of their friends who start home businesses, and other friends with five kids with five schedules. Husbands tend to not compare themselves to us, but rather, to other men. Easy for them to think (or just sort of feel), “My 10 hours of housework a week is way better than my dad. And look at that guy over there drinking beer and watching football all weekend.” And many men aren’t going to care that much about how the house looks, unless they inherently value neatness, because no one is judging them on that basis. This happens, but let’s call it what it is–unfair.
Some unfairness may come about because women tend to care about so much related to family and home. The one who cares more in a marriage about any issue has less bargaining power about task completion, says Dr. Coleman. If we are the one who cares most about how the kids are clothed, for example, we are the ones noticing the ragged shoe laces or the sleeves-grown-short. That’s two more things on the “To Do” list. It can be frustrating to care about such basic things and to feel you are alone in that. On the other hand, sometimes, I think sometimes we need to be pickier about what we care about. I don’t know if it’s true, but it’s said of women that many of us “re-do” when husbands clean. We could choose to care a little less, if that’s the case. It’s just going to get dirty again, anyway.
And in that non-micro-managing spirit, delegate. A request like, “Do you mind going online and finding some shirts for our son?” eases my load a bit, at our house. And now my husband has owned the task of ordering shirts, and I accept his choices. It didn’t take long for him to catch on, after a few repeated requests. He’s even taken on pants. This is a win-win. I have less to do, and my partner gets the experience of shopping and acquires a basic appreciation for the skills, time and money that takes. He has to start noticing the things I care about, even if it’s only by way of polite reminders and he never actually does it, which is sometimes the case. Who does everything that is asked of us? He has his own priorities, but I can still ask.
Since we can’t change culture, or our husbands, in one blog post, let’s think about how to make our lives a little less stressful in the interim by changing up some terms. I wonder if the ideas of time management and efficiency are hurting us more than helping us. We can’t really manage time, or space, as Einstein implied—and we can’t be in two places at once. The best we can do is control our thoughts and behavior. That resonates more for me when I think of what matters to God. I am interested, with regard to my own life, what would happen if I replaced “Time Management” with the phrase “Thought and Action Management.” Or, would it be more to the point to say “Priority Management” in the spirit of Steven Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People? What really matters in our lives, when there is so much to do—including relax? What can we let go of? Anne Lamott said, in a recent Facebook post, that we should cross a few things off our “To Do” list right after we make one. Are there things that we feel compelled to do, but we can learn to let someone else do, with grace?
Boundaries are hard for us women sometimes, and we each have our own reasons—caring about a lot of people and things, caring too much what others expect of us, or having a hard time crossing traditional gender roles. But to be a woman is first of all to be human, which means we are glorious and limited at the same time. God said that was good, a long time ago. And God gets the last word on women.