By Deborah Atherton
It’s a scary subject, time, and the lack thereof haunts our lives. As an exercise, I recently did a Time Log of all of my activities for a month. (This was recommended in Randy Pausch’s extraordinarily moving lecture on time management, given at the University of Virginia shortly before his death.) I tracked everything I did, in quarter or half hour increments, for the month of April. (And trust me, this took some commitment—you pretty much have to report in every hour or so if you don’t want to forget what it was you were just doing.)
I actually undertook this exercise, I think, with the idea of beating myself up about how much time I was wasting on TV and email and, okay, Tetris (will I ever crack 250,000 points?) And yes, there were definitely a number of hours wasted on Bravo TV that I will never get back again. But what really surprised me was how much of my time I spent reading. I’d been pretty convinced that I was no longer the reader I had been all through my teens and 20’s, when I was cutting a swathe through the Great Books, as well as science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, and every biography of Virginia Woolf ever written.
Maybe April was just a month of good books coming my way. But I read and I read – much more than I wrote, and even, very surprisingly, more than I watched TV. I read on the bus, and I read before bed, and I read all weekend long. And what was I reading? Literary fiction, science fiction and fantasy, mysteries, lots of newspapers and online news sites, and every book on the psychology of happiness and creativity ever written (well, maybe not every, there sure are a lot of them these days.) From this, you may guess that I am a lot more cheerful now than I was in my teens and twenties, and you would be right.
I could have still beaten myself up because I was reading more than I was writing, but I chose instead to believe that I was fueling my writing and my creativity with my reading. I think what you discover when you track your time is what is important to you. And, apparently, reading is important to me. As an exercise, I recommend it highly. Just pick a short month. February would be good. Because it takes a lot of time, and time is something we need to spend very, very carefully.