Time in the New (School) Year

By Jane Highley

The new year beckons many of us. The new school year, that is. For many people in America, the back-to-school season is more of a new beginning than January 1. Unlike the first day of the new calendar year, the weeks leading up to that first day of school involve much more frenzy, more shopping, and more goal-setting. Above all, the anticipation (or anxiety) of a new school year invariably includes more time management. Whether you are a college student making a new color-coded matrix of all your classes or a working parent doing the same thing for all of your kids’ activities, you realize that the time you thought was aplenty during the summer is now severely scarce.

But as you begin to fill in the blank spaces of your fresh academic planner, consider how you can also “feel less busy while getting more done.” That is literally the subtitle of my friend’s new book, Off the Clock. Having tracked her time every day for more than three consecutive years and also studying the time sheets of thousands of others (especially working parents), Laura has written and spoken abundantly about time and how to have more of it. (Here’s her TED talk.)

Of course, we all have 168 hours per week; there is no magical formula to add more. But in Off the Clock, Laura offers wise and even counter-intuitive insights on time management from a leisure perspective, hence the title. Like many working parents, I consider myself the target audience for this kind of book. Like me, Laura is also the parent to elementary-aged children (albeit she has four). During our many runs along the Schuylkill River Trail, she shared some of those valuable insights about one’s free time and how to think as strategically about it as we do with our working hours.

So why should this matter? And why am I writing about it in the church blog? It matters because, along with many other earthly resources, we are stewards of our time. Whether I am lesson-planning for a new course (which is obscenely time-consuming) or setting aside time to run with a good friend, both are expressions of responsible stewardship. My job as a teacher is one of my callings, not just a vocation. And running is an unspeakably valuable means to take care of my physical and mental health, especially when I’m running alongside a friend who speaks the gospel-truth in love. So using tools like Laura’s book has helped me gain new perspectives on the free time that I think I never have.

In fact, I have more time than I think, even during this frenetic back-to-school season. And even when I think I’ve found the silver bullet to making my time stretch, my herculean efforts toward productivity and efficiency are still infinitesimal to the God’s guidance and the counsel of the Holy Spirit. The words from Proverbs 3:26 are worth remembering (writing in my new planner): “…for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being caught.”