Time: Our Most Important and Most Limited Resource

naspa avp steering committee

Tim Miller, Associate Dean of Students, The George Washington University

July 29, 2014

For many of us, we rarely take the time to think about, time.  Time is our most important, and finite, resource.  We need to figure out how to manage our time and find the ways to make the most of the time we have.  The challenge of time was best expressed by William Penn when he said, “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst”.  So few of us ever use our time wisely despite the fact that it is the one thing we want the most. 

For those of us that have moved up in our organizations, we brought with us a number of responsibilities and priorities that may not make sense in our new role.  For leaders new to the organization, others set the agenda for how we spend our time initially and this can often stick and become our norm.   No matter how we came into our role, we have decisions to make every day regarding the best way to spend our limited time.    

Take a look at a typical month in your current job.  In looking at your month, consider a number of important questions that we should all ask about how we spend our time.

What do you see when you look at your calendar? 

Who do you spend time with and why do you spend that time with them? 

What about your time spent outside of work? Are you working, pursuing personal passions, spending time with family? 

Do you have control of your time and how it is spent? Why or why not?

If you showed your calendar to your partner, your staff, your students, and your boss, how would they react to how you spend your time?

These are important questions for us to consider as our expectations increase but the time available to us remains the same.  There will never be enough time to do everything we want to do and many of the things that were important to us in our earlier days can’t take priority anymore and we have to make time for new priorities.

The greatest challenge I have faced in how to use my time is an adjustment from a focus on students to a focus on the staff that work for me.  This change has not been an easy one but it is one that all of us have to face as we acclimate to our roles.  Realizing that I couldn’t spend as much time working with students anymore was incredibly disappointing and even heartbreaking and while there is no perfect balance, this change of focus is an essential step in defining our role. 

The good news for me is what happens on the other side of that challenge.  I have loved getting to work more closely with new and veteran staff members.  I can now be the facilitator of the journey that is their career.  While I used to get phone calls and letters from students asking for advice or telling me that they finally “got it”, now those calls and letters come from former employees.  Getting the occasional, “Thanks Chief” in a text, email, or letter means as much as the old student letters ever did.  Our decisions and the time we spend has greater impact than it once had and time spent with a staff member who can affect a larger number of students makes this shift worth it.  This is still a work in progress and something I work on every day but I know that when I commit time to staff, it allows them to make a difference. 

For all of us, remember that our work is important and our time is valuable.  There are things that aren’t worth our time and we have choices to make.  With all of these things in mind, I think the most vital thing to remember is that we all have to find our way to accomplish our role the best way we know how. 

We can often have an incredibly busy day but then not recall what we actually accomplished when we get home at night.  There is a higher priority on the value we place on our time and we need to make sure our time counts for something.  As William Bruce Cameron has been credited with saying:

Not everything that can be counted counts.

Not everything that counts can be counted.

Our time counts and can be counted so challenge yourself to make the best use of it everyday.  And remember that there is always time for fun and humor.  In the iconic words of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson, “There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.”

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