Jewish World Review Sept. 17, 1998 / 26 Elul, 5758

Dr. Laura Schlessinger

Dr. Laura Gimme more time

"Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work; but the seventh day is Sabbath to The L-rd, your G-d; you shall not do any work -- you, your son, your daughter, your servant, your animal, and the stranger within your gates -- for in six days The L-rd made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, The L-rd blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it."

The following poem, author unknown, is a poignant reminder of the value of time:

To realize the value of ONE YEAR
Ask a student who has failed his final exam.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH
Ask a mother who has given birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK
Ask an editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE DAY
Ask a daily wage laborer who has ten kids to feed.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR
Ask a couple waiting for the wedding ceremony.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE
Ask a person who has missed the train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND
Ask a person who has survived an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND
Ask the person who has won a silver medal in the Olympics.

How many times have you said,
This essay was
adapted from
Laura's soon to
be released book:
The Ten Commandments:
The Significance of
G-d's Laws in
Everyday Life
Your editor finds
it a great read.
You may order
it by clicking on
the link above.
"I wish I had just a few more hours in the day"? The assumption is that, given more hours, you would accomplish everything you need to with less stress. But there is just as much chance that, given this wish, it would only mean two more hectic hours to live through in a given day. Perhaps we should actually be wishing for a shorter day, in which the crazy pace of our lives is limited to fewer hours.

As Renay, one of my listeners, wrote: "I feel like my problem with time is that I have gotten into a bad habit of filling every minute of my time with something I think absolutely must be done and now I will not allow myself down time without feeling like I should be doing something. I am always exhausted from overworking myself that I am cranky and stressed out and I am not much fun to be with."

Ironically, this manic White Rabbit (from Alice in Wonderland) behavior and attitude has become more and more an issue as modern technology has become a ubiquitous reality. Technology promised us modern conveniences that would make our lives easier, but in the workplace, computers, faxes, and cellular phones have increased the pace of work rather than diminished it. It is no longer possible to delay a deadline by saying that the proposal is in the mail, because they can ask for a fax to be sent immediately.

Prior to cellular phones, driving in a car could be a time for music, catching up on the news, intimate discussions, or hearing a book on tape. Lunch in a restaurant could not be interrupted by the ringing of supersmall cellular phones. Working hours have now been extended by many people to include commuting time. In the home, washing machines, dishwashers, and microwave ovens have, in fact, made life easier. Yet it seems as if time follows the rule that nature abhors a vacuum, because whenever time is saved, it is spent somewhere else. Though people may be spending less time on housework, they are spending more time schlepping their children from one activity to another. Children are also overprogrammed, with fewer hours of free time for play or contemplative quiet time.

One can only deduce that we avoid free time because we don't value it as worthwhile. If we are not busy doing, we must not have important things to do. Indeed, time has also become a way of evaluating a person's professional worth. The term "9 to 5 job" often refers to tedious, basic employment. During the last century, first "downsizing," then "rightsizing," posited that fewer people could do the same amount of work. What wasn't emphasized was that the remaining people would be working harder as the price for keeping their jobs.

We have bought into the idea that the busier you are, the more important your life is. A recent book, Time for Life (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997), surveyed ten thousand people and found that, after tracking their true working hours, they actually worked fewer hours than they thought. The survey found that people tend to overstate the number of hours they work because it elevates their professional status, which elevates their imagined self-worth.

Another report from the "Americans' Use of Time Project" at the University of Maryland (Los Angeles Times, December 11, 1996) agreed that there was a big gap between perception and reality in time use. If that's so, then why does it feel as if there's not a minute to spare? The report concluded, "A culture that promotes instant gratification also helps to explain why life seems more hectic than it is. 'We want everything fast--fast food, eyeglasses in an hour, drive-through banking. Internally, we feel rushed. And the more rushed someone feels, the more they feel pressed for time.'"

We live in a society in which the expression "time is money," credited to Benjamin Franklin, has come to refer to the importance of time. The only problem with this expression is that money cannot buy more time and cheapens the value of time. We forget that money can be replaced, but time cannot. We would be far richer as individuals and as a society if we were to say that "time is priceless." Then we might treat it with more respect.

Dr. Laura Schlessinger is America's most listened to talk-show host. A recent convert to Orthodox Judaism, along with her husband and teenage son, she is the author of several best-selling books.


©1998, HarperCollins