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Optimizing our time

| Thursday, September 17, 2020

If you could have more of anything in the entire world, what would it be? Would you ask for more money, vacations, pizza? Frequent flier miles, love, concert tickets? Game day weekends, Southwest Salads, warm weather? The more days I experience in college, the stronger I feel in my answer to this question: If I could have more of anything, it would be time.

I don’t know what it is about life in college compared to high school, but I feel like time here moves at twice the speed. I literally started writing this column at 9:00, threw my phone far away and sat myself down at my desk determined to have as productive of a day as possible. Somehow, it’s 9:53, and I’ve only written 130 words! It’s Saturday, but I feel like the past week didn’t even happen. It seems like I blinked once, and the entire month of August was over, and we rolled right into September. I have no idea where the time goes. 

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

It’s taken me a month to realize this is a problem. When I look back at the past few weeks, the most repeated feeling I recall — besides the occasional homesickness and the excitement of new experiences — has been the tight squeeze of stress in my stomach as I look at the time in the corner of my screen late at night, or the anxiety of looking at my to-do list and seeing a harrowing number of empty checkboxes. In microeconomics I’m learning that the fundamentals of economics revolve around this idea of making the most out of a scarce amount of resources. The more I think about this problem I have with time, the more I see it in this “economic” lens: time — whether that be a measure of hours in a day, days in a week, the 16 weeks of fall semester, the four years in college or however many years we get in life — is a limited resource. But, the thing is, no matter how much I wish I could have more time, we can’t add more hours to our days, or days to our weeks or years to our lives. Thus, we have to optimize the time we have.  

How do we do this? How do we take this very limited thing called time — which seems to go by faster the older we get — and divide it up so we’re making the most of it? 

The Pomodoro Technique

I’ve been doing some research about time management techniques, and this one seems compelling. The Pomodoro Technique is a system which breaks time into intervals called pomodoros: 25 minute chunks which are separated by five-minute breaks. After the fourth pomodoro, the break is lengthened to 20 minutes. This technique instills urgency, as the 25 minutes intervals isn’t too much time which therefore makes you less prone to distractions, but the breaks prevent burn-out. Maybe I’ll save this technique for the next late night study session in the library. 

The Hierarchy of Needs 

This is a psychological theory which builds a pyramid of human needs, with each level having to be met before the subsequent one. At the base of the period are physiological needs like air, water, food and shelter. This level’s followed by safety, love and belonging, esteem and finally, self-actualization at the very top — meaning in order to reach self-actualization, all the layers below must be satisfied. Self-actualization is the fulfillment or optimization of your capabilities. So, before worrying about optimizing time, it’s imperative to prioritize our other needs. That means sacrificing some studying to get some sleep (fulfilling the first level) or catching up with friends (fulfilling the third level) instead is perhaps a better use of time. 

Realize optimization doesn’t only apply to work 

Making the most out of the limited resource of time isn’t only about making sure I study for an exam or finish writing a paper. It’s also about making sure I use at least some of my time to grab a meal with a friend, call my mom, watch an episode of Parks and Rec, go on a run around the lakes and pray at the Grotto. When deciding how to spend and divide up my time, it’s important to include these aspects of life as well. 

Eat dessert first 

I’m someone who eats the food on my plate that I don’t like first, so I can get those out of the way and enjoy the food I do like later. I get the “bad stuff” over with so I can fully enjoy the “good stuff.” This might sound like a smart idea, but I’m realizing this strategy isn’t much good once it’s applied beyond the dinner plate. For too long, I’ve been driven by a similar “struggle now and succeed later” mindset: I’d call off fun plans in order to study more, and push off what could’ve been joyful moments with people I love for “later.” It might seem counterintuitive to do the opposite, but it might actually be a better use of our time. After all, the purpose of optimizing your time is to live a happier life. To live a happier life, we must do what makes us happy (pretty simple). If the resource (time) needed to pursue this happier life is limited, then maybe it’s important that I prioritize the good stuff and start eating dessert first. 

Megumi Tamura is a freshman in the Gateway Program. She is originally from Ridgewood, New Jersey and enjoys going to museums, watching political debates and eating Jersey bagels. She can be reached at [email protected] or @megtamura on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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