Many would agree that time is our most valued commodity. But perhaps a similar number might agree that we do not always use our time wisely.
The Torah places a big emphasis on spending one’s time correctly, and chastises one who engages in ‘bitul zman’ or ‘bitul Torah’ (activities that are a waste of time). The gemara (Jewish oral tradition) cites in various places (Sanhedrin 99a, Shabbat 32b, Brachot 5a, Tanit 7b) that a person who engages in bitul Torah brings negative consequences for themselves and the world at large (for example, it results in a shortage of rain).
Many Torah commentaries discuss how one’s time should be best spent, as well as the steps one might take to use their time more wisely. However, the workplace offers some helpful and practical examples that we might relate to on a day-to-day level.
Many professional services industries – in particular accountants and lawyers – are familiar with the practice of billing clients for time spent on a matter. Law firms, for example, divide each hour into ten 6-minute increments, each of which must be accounted for. Such professionals will be familiar with the ever-present timer that sits in the corner of one’s computer screen, with one clock for each project that they are working on. One of these timers must always be running – meaning that whatever you are doing, it must be captured second-by-second. At the end of the day, all the timers click off, and all time spent throughout the day is calculated according to these 6-minute increments. At this point, the individual is able to see how the few minutes he spent here and there day-dreaming have added up to a full hour. And likewise the few minutes he took here and there to answer phone calls and emails have resulted in added value for his clients.
This sends a very powerful message. Time counts. It might be a two minute phone call home, or a text to a friend, or a quick check of the football scores, but when all of these are added up, we must ask ourselves if we are using our time wisely.
Of course, this will have consequences inside the workplace (are you meeting billing targets or working sufficient hours?) but we can also transport the lessons learnt back into our everyday lives. If we can spend five minutes here and a couple of minutes there doing something valuable, that time will add up.
So when we have a lull in our day, or during our lunch break, or on the train home, perhaps we can pick up a sefer (Jewish book), or say a quick prayer for someone that is unwell, or research a charity that we might support. These minutes will soon add up into hours and eventually into days.
An often cited (though perhaps questionable) statistic is that a person that has a bath every day of their life will, on average, have spent four years bathing over their lifetime. Imagine if we spent half an hour or even five minutes each day doing something positive. Let’s put the power of accumulation to good use!
The Working Jew.