It’s About Time

Many of the themes and issues facing marriages and families are relatively consistent over time.  The challenges people face today are similar to those that have always been on the table.  For example, the issue of communication has long been central in many families.  Other challenges such as trust and respect and priorities are core issues in determining the health and viability of marriages and families.

However, in my experience, couples and families are facing challenges in the 21st century that have never before been present in the same way they are today.  These challenges have to do with the management of our time.

Joe the Handyman

Joe was a pretty good do-it-yourself guy.  He enjoyed fixing things around the house.  One day, he decided to lay carpet in several rooms that had never before been carpeted, so he began the project by taking the doors to the rooms off their hinges.  He successfully laid the carpet; then, he carefully sawed ½ inch off the bottom of each door, so that it would not drag on the new floor covering.  Only when he was re-hanging the doors did he realize he had mistakenly sawed off the tops of the doors instead of the bottoms.  Consequently, not only did the doors drag on the carpet, there was also a ½ inch gap at the top!  Joe had not only failed to solve the original problem, he had actually created a new one.

Today, we may be so eager to add more “things” to our schedules, that we “saw off” other things and people—often, with tragic results.

So Many “Time Vampires”

Over the history of humankind, there have always been ways in which people are tempted to use time in less than efficient and productive ways.  We can easily spend our time on things that are relatively unimportant or “urgent” instead of those activities that are truly important in our lives.

Today, the things that consume our time are different than they have ever been.  Due to the obvious proliferation of gadgets and activities in our electronic worlds (internet access, cell phones, instant and constant accessibility, multiple electronic means of distraction and entertainment—DVDs, Smart Phones, text messaging, MySpace, Facebook, “Tweeting,” micro-blogging, life-streaming (and the multitude of others), it would be simple to spend literally 24 hours a day listening, reading, talking, texting, researching and otherwise being occupied electronically.

(Note:  Most of the electronic activities engaged in my most people, while time consuming, are not necessarily dangerous or harmful. However, when we consider the fact that enormous amounts of time and money are spent in online pornography and gambling activities, the potential for serious emotional and relationship damage as well as long-term harm skyrockets!)

Please understand, I enjoy my electronics—most of which I would rather not do without.  But today, perhaps as never before, it is essential that we set and maintain the firm time boundaries to will ensure that the most important people and things in our lives are not neglected.


Time is a resource. But unlike other resources, you cannot:

•    Buy it
•    Borrow it
•    Sell it
•    Rent it
•    Loan it
•    Manufacture it
•    Modify it
•    Store it
•    Multiply it
•    Change it

You cannot even save it!  All you can do it spend it!  It neither inflates nor deflates.  It is not subject to a depression, recession or a boom.

One of the common illustrations used in time management books and seminars is this:

Consider that you have a “magic bank account” that gives you exactly $1440 every single day!  It is yours to spend as you choose.  The only “catch” is you have to spend it or lose it.  It cannot accumulate.  Whatever is left over at the end of the day, you lose.

What would you do?  You would draw out every single cent and use it as wisely as possible.  You would organize and plan and prioritize.  You would likely not allow yourself to be distracted to the point of carelessly throwing your money away.  You would want to make certain that every single dollar was spent in the smartest way possible.

The analogy is clear.  You and I have 1440 minutes every single day!  Free!  We can spend it as we wish.

Time is one of the few aspects of life in which everyone is truly equal.  Everyone receives exactly the same amount—no matter who they are, where they live, or what their circumstances in life may be.

(So, how is it that some seem to be able to get so much more done than others?)


A friend of mine is the CEO of a large company.  He recently told about being in a meeting with 10-12 other people.  The young man sitting on his left was receiving and replying to a text message while the CEO was speaking.  When he finished making his remarks, he turned to the young man and said, “Now, you tell me what I just said!”  Not surprisingly, the employee could not repeat one word back to the boss.  Amazing?  It is to me.

We talk about “multi-tasking” and how that some people (particularly females) are able to juggle so many tasks at once.  That may be true when the tasks being juggled do not require attention from the same parts of our brains.  However, when they do (such as talking, listening, processing information, etc.), multitasking does not work very well.  In my judgment, the more accurate explanation is, “When someone is multitasking, they may be doing several things, but they are not doing any of those things very well!”

“Busy Signals”

Much of our traditional terminology is out of date.  (How many younger people even know what a “broken record” is?)  However, before call waiting was a telephonic staple, “busy signals” were a fact of life.  When calling another person by phone, receiving a busy signal may have been mildly irritating at first.  However, when subsequent calls continued to result in busy signals, the caller would begin evaluate the real importance of the call.  Is it really important enough for me to continue to call with no response from the other party?  Often, the caller simply stopped calling.

There are many ways in which we send “busy signals” to other people today!  Even to the most important people in our lives.

Some of the most common are when we are preoccupied or distracted by other things or when we are attempting to do several things at the same time.

Nothing Worthwhile Can Be Accomplished Without Adequate Time

This is a given, but it is still instructive to consider the specific ways in which it is true:

•    Work—It is ludicrous to think that it is possible to excel or even survive professionally without dedicating a large amount of focused time to work and professional growth.

•    Education—Most of us appreciate the importance of spending time (and money) in educational pursuits, realizing that this is an investment that will pay off many times over.

•    Physical Health—Like most things, this will not happen by itself.  Healthy living requires time, planning, structure, implementation and consistency.

•    Spiritual Health—For many disciplines such as prayer, meditation and Bible study, there simply are no short cuts.  Time for these must be protected.

•    Friendships—The development and maintenance of good, healthy relationships requires a certain amount of time and energy.  Without this investment, friendships will wilt and eventually die.

•    Children—Don’t be deceived by the artificial distinction between “quantity” and “quality” time.  Often, as we are merely spending “ordinary time” with our families, we can experience some truly extraordinary moments.

•    Marriage—How important is this aspect of our lives?  How important is this person?  Does he or she know that?  Communication takes time.  Problem solving takes time. Intimacy takes time.  Courtesy takes time.  Building and maintaining trust and respect take time.  These things will not happen by themselves.


Herein lie the challenges:  As there is increasingly more competition for our time (and there will continue to be), we must take great care to:

•    Invest our time (and energy) in those people and activities that are truly the most important, not necessarily the most urgent.

•    Spend each and every moment as if this is a “one time shot.”  It is!

•    Not send “busy signals” to the most important people in our lives.  The results can be hurtful at best and disastrous at worst.

•    Not cut off the wrong end of the door.  As we attempt to add more and more activities and interests to the finite number of hours in our days, we run the risk of not only not solving the original problem, but also adding more problems to it.

Harold D. Duncan, PhD

12700 Preston Road, Suite 150

 Dallas, Texas 75230