You Have More Time Than You Think - What Do You Want to Do With It?

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Pocket watch ballpoint pen on notebook for notes close-up.

Recently, my six-year-old daughter was filling out a fun journal she had received as a gift. After answering standard questions like “who is your best friend,” “what is your favorite food,” “what color do you like the most,” etc. she came across the question, “who is your arch nemesis,” a bizarre question for a children’s journal. Understandably, she had no idea what was being asked so she approached my wife, asking her what arch nemesis means.


My wife explained, of course you don’t have one, but arch nemesis means an enemy. Who do you not get along with? She ran off to continue to fill out the journal. Later, my wife saw the journal laying around and opened it up to see how my daughter answered. She was absolutely amazed at what she saw. In the blank for “who is your arch nemesis,” my six-year-old had written, the yetzer harah (voice of temptation).


While many of us are much older and more experienced, we fail to acknowledge or identify our arch nemesis - the yetzer harah. Some of us have the yetzer harah to eat unhealthy food or excessive portions; others struggle with greed or jealousy. Some have the yetzer harah to gossip and others to talk during davening. Some have the yetzer harah to bend the truth and others lose their patience.


These and other common yetzer harahs have been well identified and much ink has been spilled providing encouragement and strategies to overcome them. However, there is a yetzer ha’rah whose temptation and seduction is only growing in our generation that not only have we failed to conquer, but in many cases we have failed to even name.


While technology was supposed to give us more flexibility and free time, as a point of fact, most people in today’s technological era feel they simply have no time. How many of us say we want to exercise, to read, to learn, to do activities with family and a myriad of other goals, but claim the impediment holding us back is that we have no time.


If you feel that way, you are not alone. A December Gallup poll found that 61 percent of working Americans said they did not have enough time to do the things they wanted to do. Ask someone how he or she is doing and you are likely to hear, “busy,” “crazy busy,” “insanely busy.” We have convinced ourselves that we are so busy that we simply have no time. But is that true?


To find out, time management expert and best-selling author Laura Vanderkam spent the past 12 months studying how she used her time during the busiest year of her life. On a spreadsheet broken into half-hour blocks, she logged the 8,784 hours that make up a leap year. In a recent article in the New York Times, “The Busy Person’s Lies,” she shared her results. It turns out, the stories she told herself about where her time went weren’t always true: her life was not quite as hectic as she had thought, and she suspected the same was true for others.


She writes, “One study from the June 2011 Monthly Labor Review found that people estimating 75-plus hour workweeks were off, on average, by about 25 hours. I once had a young man tell me he was working 180 hours a week — impossible, considering the fact that this is 12 more hours than a week contains — but he felt tired and overworked, as we all sometimes do, and chose a high number to quantify this feeling.” She encourages us to track our time so that we can be honest and accurate with ourselves and how it is used. She concludes, “Life is full, and life has space. There is no contradiction.”


Long before time management experts, Rav Yisrael Salanter came to the same conclusion. He was once approached by someone who asked, “Rebbe, I only have fifteen minutes a day to learn. What should I learn? Chumash? Halacha? Jewish thought?” Rav Yisroel Salanter looked him in the eye and responded, “Learn mussar (discipline and character growth) and you will come to realize that you have a lot more than fifteen minutes a day to learn.”


So if we really have the time to do the things we say we want to do, why do we convince ourselves that we don’t?


A Chassidishe Rebbe was once walking with his chassidim when it began to rain. He stopped, looked up and turned to his disciples and asked, “How do you know the sky wants to rain?” He then answered, “Because it is raining.” The students didn’t understand so they inquired what he meant. As they continued to walk he explained that if you want to know if someone wants to do something, see if they are doing it. We do what we want to be doing. If we aren’t doing it, we don’t really want to.


Put differently, we confuse wanting to do something with wanting to want to do something. It is in the transition from wanting to want, to actually wanting, that we begin to realize that we have time for what we want to do and we do it. Sometimes that transition just has to happen and other times we can inspire it and move it along. Either way, it is important in the meantime not to give in to our arch nemesis the yetzer harah and erroneously believe that the only thing holding us back is that we don’t have any time.


Sefiras HaOmer is a forty-nine day journey to time awareness. It is a system that encourages us to literally or figuratively log our time and have the discipline and strength to fill the spaces in it what we claim we truly want to be doing.