Monday, August 25, 2008

Busy Wasting Time

The issue of time management came up in a recent thread. What the Bible says about how our time should be spent is often different from the common standards of the world (Deuteronomy 6:6-9, Matthew 6:19-20, 19:27-30, 24:42-51, Luke 9:57-62, 10:38-42, Acts 6:2, Romans 13:11-14). I wrote on this subject a few years ago, and I recommend reading some related articles on how Americans spend their time here and here. From the first of those two articles:

Countless news stories tell us we're running ourselves ragged. And everyone thinks it's true. Lots of Americans say [they] have no free time. We all seem to be rushing everywhere.

Sherri Kowalski is busy. She's a working mom, who's in a constant struggle to get everything done.

She has two kids, and a husband who helps. But there's a lot to do: laundry, cooking, cleaning, helping kids with their schoolwork. When we visited her home, she was so busy she didn't even sit down to eat her meals.

Everyone we interviewed said they were pressed for time.

It made me want to seek out some real data on this. I talked with sociologist John Robinson of the University of Maryland, who's been trying to measure how much time we have for several decades. Since 1965, Robinson has had people keep time diaries, so he could calculate how much free time people really have.

I assumed that we've lost free time since 1965, but Robinson said that's not the case.

Surprisingly, since 1965 we've gained an hour more free time every day.

"There is a discrepancy between what people say and what they report when they keep a time diary," he said.

Sure enough, when Kowalski and some of the other people we met at the mall kept Robinson's time diaries, what they wrote down didn't always match what they'd said.

Sherri had twice as much free time as she'd estimated. She finds time to exercise every day, and she often goes to a tanning salon. Kowalski also watches some TV; that's the No. 1 free time activity in America.

We have more free time now, say the experts, because we're working less, marrying later, having fewer children, and retiring earlier.

If we're so stressed for free time, it's hard to explain how 36 million people can find time to golf, and 65 million people can go camping, and hundreds of millions go to the beach, the movies, and sports events.

Economist Stephen Moore says, "One of the reasons that Americans feel so pressed for time is there's so much more to do in life today."

The fact that people have more free time than they suggest helps explain why there's a multi-billion-dollar movie industry, a multi-billion-dollar pornography industry, a multi-billion-dollar video game industry, etc. It's not that people don't have time to listen to Christian teaching on their radio or read a Christian book. They choose to listen to trivial or vulgar music on the radio or read a romance novel or a book on how to make more money instead. It's not as if high school students and retirees are so ignorant of the Bible, ignorant of church history, and uninvolved in the church because of a lack of free time. "Be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time" (Ephesians 5:15-16).


  1. I recall a C-SPAN interview in which Roberta McCain told Steve Scully that her late husand used to pray 2 hours a day. Considering the fact that her husband was a 4-star admiral, it's remarkable that he carved out that much time in his hectic schedule to maintain a prayer life.

  2. I've noticed more and more with myself that I take a lot of small breaks. Sadly, they add up to a lot of free-time during the day, in which I should be doing something more productive, for myself (e.g. work/school) or for others (e.g. ministry, quality time with my wife, etc.).

    Good stuff, but perhaps, I should get back to work... argh!

    Stupid Scholar