I am a firm believer that where we put our time is where we’ve put our hearts. We value those people most with whom we spend the most time. We value those ideas most about which we spend the most time thinking, reading, or researching. So, one of the hardest lessons I’ve learned is lesson #1: How to prioritize my time. I’m actually still struggling to learn it.
The reason this lesson was the hardest I’ve learned was that I didn’t get enough time to practice this and make mistakes in prioritizing when I was a child. In high school, I never had to prioritize because my entire life was scheduled by someone else from 6:00 am until midnight nearly every day. Technically I “chose” to engage in all those activities, but choosing to play basketball because it was fun turned in to choosing to be on the team because that is what I did. That’s not prioritizing.
Ideally, in the words of my colleague Anna Moore who passed on this wise advice from Bob Ryshke, we should all “practice what we value.” Step one of this would be to find out what we value. Step two would be then to make sure our time alligns with what we value.
Looking at my schedule as an elementary student, junior high school student, and high school student, based on the breakdown of my time according to where I spent most of it, here is what it would seem that I valued:
- school work
- home work
- extra curricular sports
- extra curricular activities (piano, choir)
- overall well being (spirituality, physical and mental health)
- play/my hobbies
- volunteering for others
I think that looks a little out of wack, don’t you? Here is the order I wish those things went in then and now:
- health and wellbeing (spiritual, mental, and physical health)
- School work
- volunteering for others
- my hobbies/play (reading, writing, knitting, gardening, walking)
So particularly as a child, but even still, I was not and am not practicing what I value. I am not prioritizing well.
As an adult, I do have much more leeway about where and how I spend my time. In the last few years, I have strived to abide by a personal policy that I don’t bring work home with me. As a teacher, I have tons of grading and planning to do. Essentially my work never ends, and I could have homework every day if I let myself. This allows me to value other things besides work: my family, my friends, my health, my church. When coaching season rolls around, it is even harder to prioritize. I don’t get to make the practice or game schedule, so the time I spend on other things I value definitely gets squeezed more than I would like. Now I have learned that instead of watching TV as a break, I should read a book, go for a walk with my sister, call my out-of-town brother. I don’t value TV, but I do value these things.
When I was in school, I didn’t have time to make these choices. Now, the only two time elements I have no control over are my school hours (7:30-3:30) and my coaching duties (usually around 2 hours 6 days a week). The rest of the time, however, is mine to do with as I choose. I have had to learn how to choose well. In high school, I had no control over the time I spent in school (7:15-3:30), the time I went to sports practice or other extra curricular activities (avg 2 1/2 hours a day 6-7 days a week), the amount of homework I had to do (usually at least 2-3 hours per day, every day). Whatever extra time I had was taken up by mandated family time (thank goodness for that!) or time with my friends. Certainly I had no time to get in trouble, but I also didn’t really have the opportunity to choose whether I got in trouble or not.
A whole-lot burned out after high school, I didn’t play a sport or get involved in any extra curricular activities when I went to college; as such, I had a significant amount of time on my hands that I had no experience dealing with. When I only went to class 2 hours some days and not at all on Fridays or Mondays, I was inexperienced and foolish in the ways I chose to spend that time I suddenly had on my hands.
Most people I know wish they could go back and do college again. I REALLY wish I could, not because I didn’t enjoy most of the classes I took or learn a lot then, but because I know would prioritize my time MUCH better than I did. I would squeeze in every learning opportunity! Lectures, symposiums, clubs, auditing classes, I would do it!
How can we change school to help with this problem?
– If you are a teacher, make a goal to assign less homework during the week. What we can’t get done in class for 5 hours during the week shouldn’t be crammed in as extra for homework. I know I do it, but I’m working to fight this terrible habit. My 8th graders won’t suffer if they don’t get through all of The Odyssey and read some summaries of chapters instead.
– Teachers: Don’t assign homework on the weekend. The weekends should be time for kids to play. (If you’re one of those people who says that kids should have homework so they can practice for college and the real world, I will tell you that I don’t believe you. In the real world- unless you’re an investment banker, you don’t, and shouldn’t work on the weekends.) Ask Alfie Kohn if you don’t believe me.
– Sports teams and coaches and parents of children who play sports: stop trying to turn your child into professional athletes at age 13. Stop scheduling practices on Sundays. Practices should run no more than two hours, if that. Seriously. Do NOT schedule practices or games over winter break, spring break, MLK day, or fall break. Allow your kids to take a break. Do you need to practice every day? Really? Why? So you can win? I don’t remember even the record of my basketball team my senior year. The students you’re supposedly helping will certainly not remember the record of their 4th grade football team. They don’t care about winning, they care about playing–which is how it should be anyway.
– Parents: get off the bus that is taking you down the “keeping up with the Jones’ activity road.” Just because everyone else’s child is one of those straight-A-Tophat-soccer-travel-team-plus-two-other-club-teams-also-sings-with-the-choir-plays-piano-and-tutors-small-children-in-their-spare-time “well-rounded” children does not mean you need to sign you child’s time away too. Be critical of the time and money your child spends in extra curricular activities. Couldn’t they be just as well rounded if they played every now and then with their friends? If they got a job to help pay for their activities? If they took an apprenticeship with someone in an area of interest they loved?
– Parents: Ask your child to write down the 5 things they’re good at, and the 5 things they like to do, and see where those match up (thank you Hugh Jackman for that advice). If the places they’re spending the most of their time don’t have anything to do with the overlap, they’re probably not prioritizing well.
– Adults: model for children a balanced life. Leave your blackberry turned off at the dinner table, take time to take care of yourself and let your kids know that’s what you’re doing, stop watching TV as a time to decompress and play instead. Start a hobby. Model what you value for your children.
– Students: figure out what it is you love, and do it. Don’t commit too early unless you’re sure. Remember that your friends’ activities can be different from yours, and that it’s not about how much you do, it’s about how well you do what you choose to do.
– Students: take time to play. Not a video game, not watching TV, but really play. When was the last time you explored outside? You played a pick-up game with friends? (If you don’t want to play a pick-up game because you’re already playing too much of that sport, quit your team and play more pick-up instead). You tried a new activity? Do you even know about gardening? Can you identify plants? Know anything about cars? or bowling? or card games? Try something you can’t do through school.
– Students: write your own priority list. What do you want to be at the top? What is at the top? How might you make those to merge a bit more closely? Be reflective. If you don’t have time to be reflective, take two things off your plate. One will probably not be enough.
-Don’t be afraid to say NO! (Still working on this one).
Thoreau once warned about the negative influence of the railroad: “we do not ride upon the railroad, it rides upon us.” When something that was once a positive becomes the negative version of railroad in your life, it’s time to re-assess. Frequently, we don’t do this. Case in point, the blackberry was supposed to make my dad’s work easier, now it just interrupts our family dinners. Instead of shrugging our shoulders and saying, well that’s the way it’s gotta be now, take time to reflect on your priorities. What is more important? Hopefully, you will choose family first.
By providing our students TIME to prioritize, we provide them with an incredibly important life skill. It is not the railroad that chooses to ride upon us, it is us who must choose whether we ride upon or carry that railroad.