“Time management” and “life priorities” have become over-harped-on
subjects in our society. There are enough planning systems, seminars,
books, DVDs, and online courses available on this topic to more than
satisfy anyone’s needs or curiosity, so I don’t intend to bore you with
a motivational speech on tips for time management. But I would like to
share some thoughts on a topic relating to time and priorities that is
relevant to each of us single people, and yet is rarely discussed.
Namely, how the management of our time and life priorities affects our
singlehood, and ultimately, our vocation.
On first thought it might seem that single people are the demographic
least in need of a time and life management pep talk. After all, we’re
the ones without a spouse, kids, and the never ending list of
responsibilities that comes with marriage and family life. It’s
sometimes assumed that we have hours of free time piled up, or that we
spend our evenings at home twiddling our thumbs in front of the T.V.,
wishing for something interesting to do or get involved in. For some
single people, this might very well be true. But for the majority of
single folks that I know, this isn’t the case at all. Most of my single
friends are working long hours at demanding jobs, in addition to taking
on extra responsibilities in their families, parishes, and communities,
and fitting in as many sports, social events or extracurricular
projects as their busy careers allow time for.
Today’s single people are busy – often really busy, and sometimes even
overloaded. It’s just that we fill our time with different types of
responsibilities and to-do lists than married people do.
On the one hand, the busyness in our lives is a good thing. We should
be using our single years to do as much good, accomplish as many goals,
and help as many people as we can. But on the flip side, there’s a
danger that many of us singles fall into. That is, we fill our lives
with so many work related or service related responsibilities that we
forget to make time to be single: in other words, to be preparing for
our vocation, to be discerning God’s will, and (if we are called to the
vocation of marriage) to be searching for and available to the person
that God would like to bring into our lives.
The Overload Syndrome
I’m currently reading a fantastic book by Dr. Richard Swenson entitled, The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits.
Dr. Swenson addresses the common problem in our society of being
stressed, strained, and stretched beyond our limits by the demands of
life, and he offers practical solutions for bringing our lives and
commitments back into balance. He describes how to become love-focused,
goal-focused, and God-focused in everything that we do. One of the
things I found especially interesting in Dr. Swenson’s book is his
critique of the American work ethic, and the tendency in our society to
make our work our life, sometimes to the detriment of other important
areas of life like spending time with friends, family, and God.
Dr. Swenson maintains that each of us needs to make a conscious effort
to evaluate how we spend our time and where we put our focus.
Otherwise, we will naturally fall into the trap of overload and
mismanagement of our time and priorities: “An unexamined life will
drift towards imbalance. Yet an unbalanced life will not be kind to us
in the area neglected…” (The Overload Syndrome, p. 185).
For those who are single, the trap of the overload syndrome can
negatively impact our lives if imbalance and over-commitment is
preventing us from fulfilling our true vocation. If we are not living
lives balanced by work, rest, recreation, socializing, and time with
God, then we may miss God-given opportunities to meet and get to know
other singles, and possibly even our future spouse. We need to
challenge each other as single Catholics to make sure that we allow
ourselves the time and opportunities to answer God’s call in our
Single Life and Careers
Single people are not the only ones who fall into the trap of making
their careers the focal point of their lives – married people can be
just as much to blame. After all, society expects us to work hard and
get ahead. However, it can be even more difficult for single people to
separate work from the rest of life. After all, we have the time and
energy to focus more of our attention on our work.
Many singles in our society are putting off marriage until their late
30s or early 40s in order to first get established financially and get
ahead in their careers, and then they begin thinking about starting a
family after they have climbed a few rungs up the corporate ladder.
Unfortunately, however, many career-overloaded men and women wake up on
their 35th or 40th birthdays with a thriving career, nice clothes, a
cool car, and a lonely apartment filled with an empty heart. I’ve
talked with numerous singles who regret the choices they made in theirs
20s and 30s to put career pursuits above, or even sometimes to the
exclusion of, pursuing their vocation.
While every person’s situation and circumstances are different, it is
important to keep in mind that making conscious choices to put off
marriage and children for career opportunities can result in a
dwindling pool of potential spouses when we do begin to focus on
fulfilling our vocation. The ideal would be to make career choices that
prepare us well for future family life, and at the same time give us
ample opportunities to meet others and get involved in activities and
with people where we can pursue our vocation.
Single Life and Time Management
For those who work a Monday-Friday, 9-5 job, you may have noticed that
it is often the single people who are still at the office at 6:30p.m.,
or on Saturday morning, or late on a Friday night. Singles are often
the ones asked to work weekends, holidays, or last-minute fill-ins,
because of the very fact that they are single, and therefore lack the
responsibilities, pressures, and commitments associated with family
life. And in all fairness, it’s not just society at large who is
tempted to place extra demands on single professionals. We often (if
not usually) do it to ourselves. Because we don’t have a spouse and
kids to go home to, it’s easy to stay a couple hours longer, or come in
on the weekends, to get more work accomplished. We tend to find great
value, satisfaction, and fulfillment through our work. However, Dr.
Swenson warns against the trap of letting our work define us:
“A nearly universal psychological truth in American society, and one
that has mainstream acceptance, is to obtain our identity and esteem by
our work. While granting that work is a significant part of our lives,
it is not the essence of our lives. This distinction is important
because if we achieve our esteem through our work, when we want more
esteem we work more hours” (p. 183).
None of us gets any more than the allotted 24 hours in a day. If we’re
putting in extra time and energy at work, it means some other activity,
opportunity, or commitment is being neglected, so we just need to be
conscious of how many late nights and weekends we can afford to give up
as single adults.
Single Life and Commitment Management
It’s important for us singles to learn how to say “no.” If you are
already stretched and on overload through work and other commitments,
don’t be afraid to use that two-letter-word that can preserve your
sanity. Just remember that every extra commitment you sign up for is
another weekend, evening, holiday or activity that you are not going to
be out meeting people, hanging with friends and family, spending time
at church or church-related events, where your chances of meeting a
potential spouse who shares your faith and worldview will be greater.
Learning to say no to some things – even some very good things – does
not make you a bad person. It just might make you a smarter, healthier,
more balanced one, and give you more time to focus on those things you
have chosen as the most important, significant commitments in your
life. “Saying no is not an excuse for noninvolvement, laziness, or
insensitivity,” reminds Dr. Swenson. “Instead, it is purely a mechanism
of living by our priorities, allowing God to direct our lives rather
than the world, and preserving our vitality for the things that really
matter” (p. 69).
Single Life and Apostolic Work
This is a tough one for me to write about, since I work full-time for a
Catholic apostolate, and I often fall into the trap of getting consumed
with working for God and forget to let Him work in me.
As single people we need to make sure we are making time to be
ministered to, not just taking time to reach out to others. I received
emails in the past week from two friends involved in full-time youth
ministry. Both were overloaded with apostolic work responsibilities and
felt extremely stressed and burned out. I could relate well to their
struggles. Because of my job I attend a lot of Catholic conferences and
events, church activities, bible studies, prayer groups – my typical
week is full of that good stuff. However, it’s most often the case that
I am working behind the scenes at these events, instead of
participating or being able to soak in what’s going on around me.
Recently my boss suggested that I attend some Catholic events just to
attend, for the sake of personal enrichment and to just have fun. It
almost seemed like a foreign concept because it had been so long since
I had attended a Catholic event just for me – and it was great! I
encouraged both of the youth ministers who emailed me to take some time
off for personal down time, fun time, and God time. We all need it,
even though it’s sometimes easy to forget that we do.
In terms of time management, priorities, and following God’s call in
our vocations, “balance” is really the key word. I’m not suggesting
that all of us single people back out of our careers, commitments, and
apostolic work, and spend our days just hanging out with each other
searching for the man or woman of our dreams. Not at all – I’d be the
biggest hypocrite on the planet if I was trying to suggest that. My
challenge to myself, and to each of you, is that we balance the work,
busy schedule, and hectic list of commitments in our lives with some
time to just chill. Each of us needs the time to relax, be refreshed,
be encouraged, and be open to the opportunities and people God would
like to bring into our lives…if we just make the time to be single
and available for the good work He wants to accomplish in us.
The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live Within Your Limits
by Dr. Richard Swenson
Time Management for Catholics
by Dave Durand
Solutions for Overloaded Lives (Audio CD Set)
Richard Swenson, Dave Durand, & Steve Wood