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‘If only I had time’ loses its meaning in a quarantine. How will you use the extra hours?

AP

The curse of the modern age may well be that society has made operations so efficient that the obsession for individuals and organizations is to see what else can be crammed into the same 24-hours. The phrase, “If only I had time,” plagues people from every walk of life and prevents them from actually thinking about what matters most.

“If only I had time” has become an excuse and justification for not prioritizing personal priorities.

Not exercising? Just don’t have time.

Not spending time with your spouse? Wish I had more time.

Not picking up new work skills? So busy — no time.

Not engaging in meaningful ways with children? If only there was time.

Not taking time to think deeply or decompress from stress? Who has time for that?

Not connecting with friends? Maybe when there is time.

Not serving in the community? Simply no time.

Now, the crisis sparked by the spread of the coronavirus has created an extraordinary opportunity to see where time goes and what can truly happen “if only I had time.”

A survey by the staffing agency Accountemps shows 63% of employees and executives believe many meetings are unnecessary and could have been handled in an email. More than two-thirds complained about time lost from starting and ending the meeting late, while 57% said meetings were not effective because of distractions. Perhaps fewer, more focused and more productive meetings would create more time.

Most people are working from home, which eliminates long, time-consuming, stress-inducing commutes. More time.

No sports, concerts or travel. More time.

Most people are finding themselves with more discretionary time. That should be great news for whittling down that “if only I had time” to-do list. But unstructured time, without deliberate decision making, too easily falls prey to unproductive activity.

Consider the challenge posed by electronic devices.

The average adult spends about 312 hours a day using the internet on their phones, according to a 2019 study from the analytics company Zenith, as Vox reports. Those numbers are skyrocketing during “stay home” or “shelter in place” orders. Binge watching shows, scrolling endlessly on social media and habitually checking status updates consume time at an alarming rate.

Internet culture writer Travis Andrews reports in The Washington Post: “Studies show that increased screen time can lead to a number of maladies ranging from the physical (eyestrain, neck strain, obesity) to the mental (anxiety, depression). Experts agreed that a few weeks probably won’t cause too much damage, but it’s unclear how long our quarantine might last — so it’s important to take stock of how it might be affecting you.”

A few hundred years earlier, Benjamin Franklin posed this ultimate question, “Doth thou love life? Then do not squander time, for it is the stuff life is made of.”

The chance to answer the “if only I had time” questions will speak volumes about individual and collective character.

One world religious leader, Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, an apostle in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, has suggested a great place to start is introspection. In an interview with Church News editor Sarah Jane Weaver, Elder Holland remarked, “We are always talking about not having enough time to think about such things,” said Elder Holland. “Well, we have some time now.”

With that time, people can be “immersed in things of the soul that we always want to address, and know very well that we should, but sometimes in the hubbub of daily life don’t seize the opportunity to do.”

Such personal reflection time would be time well spent.

The Church of Jesus Christ had a well-known advertising campaign with the tag line, “Isn’t it about time?” It is “about time,” and it is about time society slows down long enough to discover what matters most.

In the midst of this current crisis, we encourage all to ask the question, “What would I do if only I had time?” and then passionately pursue the answer. It is about time.