From Management to Stewardship: Reframing How We Think About Time

My husband and I became parents in 2021. He works full time and I freelance and co-lead Catholic Women in Business. We both have projects and hobbies we’re passionate about, some of which fell by the wayside for a while after our daughter was born and some of which we still haven’t really picked back up again. So, it’s only natural that we’ve been talking a lot over the last year and a half about time and come to the conclusion that we don’t have nearly as much of it as we’d like to have.

We’ve learned to prioritize—and reprioritize. We’ve learned to multitask (or at least task-switch quickly). We’ve learned to be better about setting aside our work to be present to each other and to our daughter. And we’ve learned that we must accept that we can’t finish everything we’d like to finish.

(We’ve learned these lessons … but we’re still working on applying them.)

Most of all, we’re starting to change our mindset when it comes to time: Namely, to use my husband’s term, we aren’t managers of our time. We’re stewards of it.

The phrase “time management” implies that we have ownership over our time—that we have full control over it. The phrase “time stewardship” more accurately illustrates that time is a gift God gives us—one that it is our responsibility to steward, or use, wisely.

The Hustle

At the end of 2021, LinkedIn’s senior editor at large, Jessi Hempel, predicted that in 2022, “hustle culture [would] come back with a vengeance. So, don’t let Instagram fool you. Even as influencers denounce the hustle — promising that life is no longer all about work and touting the importance of mental health — they are working harder than ever.”

Soon after, CNET published an article titled, “‘Hustle culture’ is facing an existential crisis with millennials.” The piece reported that “employees between the ages of 30 and 45 in midlevel positions have seen the highest increase in resignation rates,” and millennial managers are more likely to report experiencing burnout than other generations. The article explored the tipping point we seem to have come to two years after the start of the pandemic, which exacerbated many issues the workplace already had.

One quote especially stood out to me: “In her book, Can’t Even: How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation, Anne Helen Petersen puts it like this: ‘Burnout occurs when all that devotion becomes untenable — but also when faith in doing what you love as the path to fulfillment, financial and otherwise, begins to falter.’”

We’ve turned work and productivity into an idol, and we are reaping the consequences. We will never be able to finish everything we want to do—but we aren’t meant to. With a time stewardship mindset, we acknowledge that God asks us to participate in his work—not to do it for him. As Father (later Bishop) Ken Untener wrote, “We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work,” and “no set of goals and objectives includes everything.” Nor should it.

Time Consumerism

We live in a consumerist society, and while we may be more aware of the dangers of buying too much, we may not always be cognizant of the ways a consumerist mindset can seep into other areas of life. Just as we must be careful stewards of the treasure God has given us, we must also be careful stewards of our time.

A statement by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops quotes Catholic economist E.F. Schumacher as saying that temperance means “knowing when ‘enough is enough.’” It’s important to ask that question—“Is this enough?”—not only to our belongings but to our productivity. When is enough work enough?

I can remember once, when my daughter was quite young, I was sitting on the floor watching my daughter play with some stacking rings. Occasionally, I would show her how to stack them or make a comment, but mostly, I just watched her little mind trying to figure it out. This time didn’t produce any written words. It didn’t result in an Instagram post or an article. It got a little boring, to be honest. But I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of peace, knowing that this was time that I was never going to get back, and it was time that was well spent.

Why Are You Valuable?

Hustle culture treats time as a commodity that we never have enough of. We must constantly spend it in order to feel that we are valuable—but as Catholics, we know that we aren’t valuable because of what we do or what we produce. We’re valuable because we are made in God’s likeness.

Online, we extol the virtues of rest and balance, but in practice, how many of us measure our worth by our productivity? How many of us see unchecked boxes on our to-do list in the evening and bemoan the waste of a day, perhaps despite the conversations we had and the people we touched? My husband could easily spend all evening working rather than spending time with our daughter and me, but he would not be prioritizing his primary vocation—and he also wouldn’t be taking very good care of himself.

Similarly, while my daughter was playing with those stacking rings, I could have been working on an article. She’d have been safe, right next to me. Independent play is important, and sometimes, I have things I need to do. Stewarding my time means identifying the highest priority in the moment—and sometimes, that highest priority is sitting on the floor with my daughter and watching her learn.

A version of this article was first published in January 2022 at CatholicWomeninBusiness.org.

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