The Illusion of Ownership of Time

I like to run a tight schedule. Typically I know what I’m going to do each day well in advance. I have a to do list, I have a packed calendar, and I know everything that needs to happen and when. If I can book something in advance, I am a very happy person. Of course, I also always fall prey to the “Future Bryce will have nothing to do, even though Present Bryce is insanely busy” syndrome, where the me-in-the-present will happily commit the me-in-the-future to do any number of things, even though me-in-the-present has far too much to do. (Mainly because me-in-the-past committed me-in-the-present to doing all these things.)

If only all the different mes would get together and be a bit more coordinated!

However, one thing I have never handled well is spontaneity. I mean, sure, I can decide to do something at the last minute for fun. On the rare occasion I have nothing going on, I can decide to go to the movies or go play a game or something. But when something pops up that I hadn’t been planning on doing?

Me-in-the-present gets very grumpy, and I can’t even blame me-in-the-past.

I re-read this passage in CS Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters the other day, and he might as well have written it specifically about me:

Now you will have noticed that nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him. It is the unexpected visitor (when he looked forward to a quiet evening), or the friend’s talkative wife (turning up when he looked forward to a tête-a-tête with the friend), that throw him out of gear. Now he is not yet so uncharitable or slothful that these small demands on his courtesy are in themselves too much for it. They anger him because he regards his time as his own and feels that it is being stolen. You must therefore zealously guard in his mind the curious assumption ‘My time is my own’. Let him have the feeling that he starts each day as the lawful possessor of twenty-four hours. Let him feel as a grievous tax that portion of this property which he has to make over to his employers, and as a generous donation that further portion which he allows to religious duties. But what he must never be permitted to doubt is that the total from which these deductions have been made was, in some mysterious sense, his own personal birthright.

I am trying to get over this feeling, because I think I would be a better person if I could. Still, it’s not easy, mainly due to the fact that a lot of the last minute things that crop up are things I feel like should have been planned for more in advance. I plan things out, and so I expect other people to plan things out as well. When they don’t, I question the need for me to be do anything to assist them.

Part of this comes from my career. I see students come in at the last minute, desperate to do research for a paper that’s due the next day (or even in some cases, the next hour!). I try to help them as best as I can, of course, because that’s what librarians do, but I know full well they could have accessed more fitting research materials if they’d only planned better.

“Poor planning on your part does not constitute an emergency for me.”

I’ve said it to myself many times, and I believe it’s true, but I also believe I likely use it too often as an excuse to not help people as much as I could. I’d like to do better at being a more giving, understanding individual, and I know that relinquishing my death grip on my schedule would help me with this.

Of course, it’s one thing to recognize a goal, and it’s another thing to actually achieve that goal. In the case of my sense of time ownership, I’m trying to just continually remind myself that my schedule does not take priority over other people’s problems. That sounds very cold when I phrase it like that, which is a good reminder to me that I have been too harsh.

So . . . I don’t think I’m going to get magically better at this over night, but I’m making an effort. That’s something, right?


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