Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Killing Time

I never watch TV without holding a book. It’s an odd habit which I trace to my days as a yeshiva student. At Yeshiva I learned that “Bittul zman”, the wasting of time, was a cardinal sin. Time was much too valuable to squander, because it could be used for Torah study and mitzvot. So I learned to take enormous care with every instant, to the point that I rode the bus with a religious text in hand, never to waste time on idle daydreaming. And even now, years later, I am uncomfortable “wasting time” on something as frivolous as watching TV.

Yeshiva bocherim are not the only ones concerned about time. Indeed, an entire industry of time management has emerged to help harried businessman schedule more meetings. The realization that “time is money” ensures that the sharp executive will do everything possible to maximize time. And because the technology enabled entrepreneur is the contemporary hero, the tools of time management have filtered down throughout society; even housewives and students carry daytimers and palm pilots.

But while we’ve learned how to manage time, we’ve forgotten why. Yes, time is money; but frankly, it’s a whole lot more. Time is life. Our lives are comprised of a finite amount of days, hours and minutes. And unlike money, time is irretrievable.

Wasting time is aptly referred to as “killing time” because it truly is a loss of life. But it’s not only couch potatoes who kill time. One can kill time while ostensibly busy. Indeed, some people are “urgency addicts”, busying themselves with empty trivialities because they get a rush out of being busy. However, we can fill our calenders with “important” errands and meetings yet still do nothing of consequence. A busy life is not always a meaningful life.

Benjamin Franklin may have coined the term “time is money”, but he also had a spiritual view of time management. (Indeed, part of Franklin’s Autobiography was translated and included in “Cheshbon Hanefesh”, a popular Yeshiva text). To Franklin, each morning a person should plan the day while thinking: “what good shall I do this day?”, and at night, he should look back and ask: “what good have I done this day?”.

What is missing in our contemporary daytimers are these two questions. Even if our agendas are full, we still need to find time for the things that count. No matter how busy we are, there are always a few moments to learn, love, grow and care. We can always fit in a call to our parents, a hug for our children, a few words to cheer up a friend. Whether or not we squeeze the important things into our schedules determines if we are living life or killing time.