Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Stockpiling Time

Remember Y2k? As the turn of the millennium approached, there was supposed to be some computer glitch connected with resetting all the dates from 1999 to 2000 that would cause the end of civilization as we knew it. Enthralled and energized by the excitement of an approaching apocalypse, people stockpiled food, water, batteries. Of course, none of that happened (though perhaps didn't happen precisely because enough computer scientists were alerted to the possible problem), but the preparations for a whole new way of life were fun while they lasted.

These days I'm stockpiling, not food or water, but time. With new demands on my time from my mother's fall and recovery, and uncertainty about what the future will bring for her, and for me, I've decided to save up all the time I can to deal with whatever I will need to deal with in the weeks and months ahead. This means doing certain Loathsome Tasks NOW, rather than procrastinating. I don't want to have a mile-long to-do list; right now I want to have only a list of things already done.

So I'm grading four papers a day for my Intro to Ethics class, whether I feel like grading them or not. I'm writing every recommendation letter the day I'm asked to write it, instead of putting it on my pile. When a grad student sent me a chapter of his dissertation to read, I thought about pleading stress and strain in order to get a deferment from him to read it sometime later. I didn't. Because there is no guarantee that later is not going to be filled with even more stress and strain. So I did it now.

Arnold Bennett, in his little gem of a book, How to Live on Twenty-Four Hours a Day (1910), addresses the advisability of this strategy most pithily: "Therefore no object is served in waiting till next week, or even until tomorrow. You may fancy that the water will be warmer next week. It won't. It will be colder."

I don't know if the waters I'm swimming through will be warmer next week, or colder, or, most likely, about the same. But I might as well heed Bennett's advice to jump in now.


  1. Claudia, this strategy and that described in "A Plan for Hard Times" have a great synergy: avoid unpleasant jobs when possible and when not, do them as quickly as possible. However, I think both you and Arnold Bennett are too pessimistic. The future may present wonderful surprises, and by stockpiling time, you will be able to fully take advantage of the blessings yet to come.

  2. Oh, Scott, I like that thought enormously!