How can we learn to manage our time in order to live a coherent life of service to humanity?
We need to consider three important aspects of existence to have a balanced life: our physical, intellectual and spiritual development. Each requires specific activities and many occupations nourish more than one aspect of our development. In the book Thinking About Numbers, one character explains:
We need to think of ourselves as whole beings. This means that you need not divide the total hours of the day into three in order to take care of your spirit, your mind and your body. What is really important is that you do not waste your time and that you think carefully about why you spend your time the way you do.
In this perspective, the Baha’i teachings recommend learning to focus:
So long as the thoughts of an individual are scattered he will achieve no results, but if his thinking be concentrated on a single point wonderful will be the fruits thereof. One cannot obtain the full force of the sunlight when it is cast on a flat mirror, but once the sun shineth upon a concave mirror, or on a lens that is convex, all its heat will be concentrated on a single point, and that one point will burn the hottest. Thus is it necessary to focus one’s thinking on a single point so that it will become an effective force. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 111.
Some major obstacles in our efforts to focus arise from the time-consuming distractions that imprison us and render us blind from discernment, the inner quality so necessary to make conscious choices about our time use.
The most obvious example is social networks. The more time we spend on them, the more money web companies earn. Their whole strategy consists in making sure you spend as much time as possible online. These companies “use increasingly persuasive techniques to keep us glued”, as the organization Time Well Spent explains. I guess most people who frequently use social networks have already experienced that unpleasant feeling when they realize they’ve been online for so long, or when they don’t even know why and how they managed to go through the entire profile of that friend or Facebook page…
Personally, I feel satisfied and content when I spend my time either being really efficient in doing something useful, or when I fully enjoy a moment of rest. There’s nothing more frustrating for me than to spend a whole evening doing nothing useful and nothing pleasant, and this happens most of the time when I am trapped in this kind of distraction. If this sounds familiar to you, I recommend that you look at the website of this organization in which this phenomenon is clearly explained and where useful advice on how to “take control of your phone” and ideas of “simple changes to live more intentionally with your devices right now” are given.
Many tools can also help us manage our time, and everyone should find the one that suits them best, depending on their needs. One of them is called the “bullet journal.” I’ve used it for six months now, and it has been really helpful. Its combines in one notebook both an agenda and all the to-do lists we often accumulate. You can get more information about this method here.
In the end, whatever method you choose, the principle remains the same: the Baha’i teachings urg each person to dedicate themselves to what really matters in this life and the next.
Many a day hath passed over thee whilst thou hast busied thyself with thy fancies and idle imaginings. How long art thou to slumber on thy bed? Lift up thy head from slumber, for the Sun hath risen to the zenith, haply it may shine upon thee with the light of beauty. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words, p. 18.
Soon will our handful of days, our vanishing life, be gone, and we shall pass, empty-handed, into the hollow that is dug for those who speak no more; wherefore must we bind our hearts to the manifest Beauty, and cling to the lifeline that faileth never. We must gird ourselves for service, kindle love’s flame, and burn away in its heat … – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 267.
Basically, time management requires the discernment to separate the seemingly urgent from the truly important. All things in this physical life are temporary, so the Baha’i teachings ask us to focus on the permanent—on the eternal spiritual realities that truly last forever:
Assist me, by Thy strengthening grace, O my Lord, to do what Thou didst will, and withhold not from me the things Thou dost possess. So enravish me with the wonders of Thine utterances that the noise and distraction of this world may be powerless to deter me from turning unto Thee, and may fail to shake my constancy in Thy Cause, or to distract my gaze from the horizon of Thy grace. – Baha’u’llah, Prayers and Meditations by Baha’u’llah, p. 114.