July 13, 2008

Time Is Limited

As I mentioned last week, I continue to see a psychologist. I don't feel a strong need to, but I think it can benefit me. His name is Dr. Stewart. During our discussion, I tried to restate my problem in simple, universal terms: I feel upset and guilty because I know I'm not doing all the things I should. The list of things I ought to do is endless, and instead of doing them, I escape into books or video games: somewhere I don't have the face the crushing pile. I generally do those things that are truly necessary (meaning those things with a deadline in the immediately foreseeable future (like the next 3 days)) and leave things that "ought" to be done to the undefineable future.

Dr. Stewart interjected here; I have a valid reason for wanting to escape: the to do list is endless and daunting, and it never gets any smaller. When I do work on it, it never diminishes in size (at least, not for long), and I find it emotionally exhausting to try. He then brought up an old proverb of time management: "Work is infinite. Time is not. You cannot manage the infinite." There's a lot of truth in that.

I have never managed to accept that I cannot actually get done all the things I ought to do. I feel that if I tried hard enough, I could. Feeling this way results in guilt when I fail to get everything done, because I feel that if I tried hard enough, I could. But I can't.

I related a joke I used to tell in college: I wished that I only needed to sleep for a single hour ... and that none of my professors knew that. Dr. Stewart asked me why I would want to only sleep for one hour. I was taken slightly aback: the benefit of only needing to sleep for a single hour was so evident to me that I'd never bother to put it into words. Basically, I desired to need less sleep so that I could get more stuff done. But, contrary to the firm belief of modern American culture, getting more is not a path to happiness, but to futility. Even desiring to get more stuff done is dangerous if you find your value in what you've gotten done. If you get more done, you believe yourself more valuable. If less, then less. And just as the desire of man is infinite (being made to be satisfied with God, who is infinite), so is the list of things that would be worthwhile to do. It's infinite.

I occurred to me at this point that this limitation is built into the universe. It is not even the result of the Fall: it is part of the way human beings perceive time. Even if we live forever, we perceive time in indivisible units. To choose to devote time to one thing is to choose not to devote it to another. Only God can get an infinite number of things done in a finite amount of time. Desiring and striving to do so yourself is futile ... and reminiscent of Satan's boast.

Dr. Stewart then proceeded to refer to the fundamental limitation of time as a gift ... a blessing. I was sharply taken aback, because I had been thinking of it as a curse. A nasty limitation on human beings that keeps us from being like God (a rather diabolical thought). But it is in fact a blessing. Because our time is limited, we are free to be humans and not gods. To be able to do everything leads to an obligation to do everything. I'm not arguing God has an obligation to us to do everything, but in some ways he has one to himself. God never makes a mistake. Never misses an appointment. God does everything He's supposed to. (Though only He knows everything He's supposed to do). To a certain extent, He has to: He's perfect and He's God.

We are free to choose how we spend the limited time we have. Not everything can be done. Scarcity gives rise to value, as every economist knows. Our time costs us something.

I still have a lot of work to do ... finding, setting, and living with priorities. I still play more video games than I should. But I strive to let go of the notion that I can do everything that's worth doing. I can't.

Once I got back on from my appointment with Dr. Stewart, I wrote this message on my whiteboard at work:

Work is infinite.
Any given span of time is not.
Therefore, within any given span of time, there will be work left undone.
"And God saw that it was good ..."

A friend of mine noticed the message. He looked at it for a minute or to and proceeded to make the following changes:

WorkBeer is infinite.
Any given span of time is not.
Therefore, within any given span of time, there will be workbeer left undoneundrunk.
"And God saw that it was good ..."

I have left it like that.

Posted by Leatherwood on July 13, 2008 at 05:28 PM