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How we spend our time defines us

Published July 02. 2011 09:02AM

When I was a kid, a nun told our class that after we died, we would be judged on how we spent our time on earth.

Well, while that little kid is all grown up now, she still believes in carefully monitoring how she spends her time. There's a simple reason for that and it has little to do with religious beliefs: time is the most precious thing we have. It represents life itself.

The older I get, the more I believe that time is more precious than money. Each of us is given a limited supply. And while we don't know exactly how much time we will be given on this earth, few are foolish enough to believe our time here is endless.

But sometimes we act like it is.

If we truly believe our time is here is limited, would we waste one day of it?

Would we waste a day in anger?

Would we waste time in mindless activities?

I've often joked that when I die and have to give a tally of how I spent my time, I would have to say I wasted a good deal of time doing two things: Waiting in line at the supermarket and trying to find my lost glasses or car keys.

But all joking aside, I believe how we spend our time defines us. It defines what we hold near and dear and what we deem important.

But so much of our time is spent doing things we have to do rather than what we want to do.

Retirement is often the first time in life that we can do only what we want to do. We are in control of how we spend our time.

Some of my girlfriends disagree with that. They say even in retirement not much changes for them because they still are the ones who have to do the cooking and cleaning.

Mostly, I spend my time the way I want to. That means I spend it having fun.

When I was raising a family and working, I was like most other women: There wasn't much time left over for me.

Retirement changed all that. Now for the first time, my life is about "me" - it's about spending my time doing what I consider to be fun.

Mostly, that means being outdoors - kayaking, boating, swimming, biking and walking on the beach with my husband or friends.

Last week I had a minor surgical procedure with only one inconvenience: No going in the water and no sun exposure for two weeks. That eliminates many of my daily activities. I didn't know what to do with my forced indoor life.

"What do normal people do with their time?" I asked my girlfriends.

The Wall Street Journal answered that question with a front-page article entitled: How America Spends Its Time. It was a fascinating snapshot of how many hours per day on average we spend in various activities.

According to the results of their survey, we now spend less time doing household activities, less time shopping, less time at work and work-related activities, less time caring for household members and less time on telephone calls, mail and email. (Surfing the Internet wasn't included in the survey. If so, I bet it wouldn't show a decline.)

So, what do we do with all the time we save by cutting down on the above activities?

We spend more time on leisure and sports and more time watching television, according to the survey.

"Americans are gaining more free time but are devoting most of it to leisure rather than learning new skills or working out," stated the new government survey. It also concluded people are spending slightly more time sleeping than they did in years past.

While surveys are always interesting, it's important to note that any survey is only as good as the data respondents feed into it. The Census Bureau got its information by asking 13,200 people to complete its time survey. Subjects were asked to chart how they spent each day.

It came as no surprise that women reported spending fewer hours on leisure than their male counterparts. As my girlfriends noted, in many homes, women are still the ones who have to do most of the cooking, housework, errands and family care.

There's another reason why women spend less time at leisure: Guilt. Many women feel guilty if they take time for themselves. I have no idea why that is, but I know I fall victim to the guilt syndrome, too.

Even now, when life is shimmering with pure pleasure for most of my days, I feel guilty about spending so much time having fun.

Sure, I do a little volunteering and try to help others. But I don't volunteer nearly as much as my friends do because I'm on the go too much doing physical activities. I tell myself I'll volunteer more when I'm older.

Our county in Florida just did a statistical survey on how people here are living longer than in some parts of the country. Some attributed that to the good feeling that comes from spending so much time in sunshine. Others said it was volunteer work that kept people young.

No matter how you choose to spend your time, I believe the important thing is that you CHOOSE, rather than just letting time drift away.

Every minute of time is precious far too precious to waste.

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