Seeing Where Our Time Goes, A New Classroom or Kitchen Table Activity

Where does the time go? With the holidays here and the new year on its way, it’s that time of year when people make their top ten lists and take stock of their life. In this regard, I recently did an activity with my students that I found very helpful for myself, too. We were finishing a unit on percentages, and I wanted my students to see visually how they spend/waste/maximize their time. Were they working toward long-term goals and pursuing meaningful passions, or wasting it on weed and video games? We used Tall Trees Grow Deep’s new Life Balance Activity to create a pie chart of our average week in order to see where the time goes. There were some surprising results, for them and me.

Not having enough time is a common complaint, and solving this starts with figuring out where it goes. If I want to be a novelist (which I do), and I see that I spend only 1% of my time on that goal in an average week, and meanwhile I spend 9% of my week on Facebook or streaming shows on Netflix, then what does that say? Visually seeing how you spend your week, and comparing it to how you want your life to look, can be very eye-opening, especially for young people with big dreams.  I don’t shoot down my students’ or my kids’ dreams, but I do tell them that if they want to be NBA stars, and only .0002% of their current week is spent training, then it probably won’t happen. If they have a big dream, that’s great, but it better be a big chunk of that pie chart and a big part of their life right now.

As an adult I found this activity interesting because I realized that the things I think consume my life, like work and kids’, accounted for a much smaller percentage than I had expected once I saw it on a pie chart. My day job really only takes up about 23% of my week, and my kids, which I thought took up 230% of my time, was, well, much less than that.

Seeing how I spend my time, I was reminded of what habit expert Stephen R. Covey said. He taught that we can break down all our duties in life into four categories: things that are urgent AND important, like dealing with a flat tire. Things that are urgent but not important, like answer the phone and dealing with other people’s small problems; things that are not urgent and not important (but fun), like watching TV and Facebooking; and finally, things that are not urgent but important, like working on long-term goals and projects we are passionate about. Our biggest problem is we often get bogged down in the urgent stuff, even when it is not important, and then we hop over to not important stuff in order to relax (which is okay). But we forget to make time for the not urgent but important stuff. This has helped me over the years, especially once kids came into my life, because it is easy to lose all your time to the urgent stuff ; but I’ve tried to make time for the not urgent yet important stuff that feeds me.

Where Do You Spend Most Your Time?

  • Urgent Important: Things you have to do now, like taking your son to the ER after he falls off a fence and breaks his arm (on the night before the first day of school!). Of course, we have to do this stuff. But if this is all we do, we’ll go crazy.
  • Urgent Not-Important: Things we’re strong-armed into doing now that we, perhaps, don’t really want to, like dealing with a friend’s crisis or answering the phone and getting roped into a fifteen minute survey or being guilted into baking another round of cookies for your kid’s class . Can we say no to some of this stuff?
  • Not Urgent, Not-Important:  Stuff we waste time on for enjoyment or boredom or because of poor self-control, like yesterday, when instead of finishing this article, I spent forty minutes on Zappos looking for green hiking boots.
  • –> NOT URGENT BUT IMPORTANT: This is the neglected zone of life. This is the stuff we’ll regret having not done when we are on our death bed, like spending quality time with our kids, finishing a novel, or seeing the Pyramids. No judgement. If Civil War reenactments are important to you, you should be able to do that for some of your life.

It’s something to think about as the new year comes. We can’t stretch the hours of our day out, but we can shift things, and make small choices to give ourselves the time to do those things that make life full for us, whether that is frisbee golf, being in a folk band, writing poetry, or playing more board games with kids. And we teach kids a good lesson in pursing passions when we pursue ours. Try out our Life Balance Activity.

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**Speaking of pursuing passions: on a side note, my humble folk band, The Falderals released “The Happy Falder-oliday EP.” It features a few of our favorite Christmas songs which we recorded over some nights a couple of years back. We’ve never released it, until now. It’s available to download at our website. 100% of the money you pay (and you can choose any amount, or free!) goes right to Unbound, one of the best, top-rated, and most effective international child/elderly sponsorship charities out there (see what they do at www.cfcusa.org).

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 Tall Trees Grow Deep is devoted to creating and sharing free resources that inspire mindfulness, contemplation, compassion, creativity, deep-thinking, and awesomeness. All activities are universal and designed to work in the classroom or around the kitchen table. If you haven’t already, subscribe to get new stuff sent to your email. Or explore our growing page of free, printable, reproducible activities for home or school.

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