Chodesh Tov! It’s Rosh Chodesh Elul – the last month of our spiritual fiscal year! Following the advice of a friend, I recently did a time audit, and I loved the process. I logged what I did every 15 minutes of my 168 hour week! I did this for 2 weeks. It’s super revealing! After you’ve logged your time, you look at the blocks of time by category and are able to see where you’re actually spending your time. Then the whole point is to use what you learned to help you manage or plan how you use your time in a given week. In other words, to make sure you’re spending your time in the things you want to and value. It seems to me that this is similar to what we’re meant to do during the month of Elul: A spiritual time audit.
One of God’s greatest gift to us is time, and He gives it to us on equal terms. We all have the same 168 hours in a week, and an unknown span of years which, as I get older, I realize are all too short. Yet, we often spend our time on things that in the Rambam’s words “neither help nor save.” That is what he also refers to as the “slumber of life” – our preoccupation with highly physical pursuits and the vanities of life, at the expense of the things that if we were honest with ourselves, we’d realize truly matter.
It’s so easy for time to slip by in tasks that don’t fulfill us and are not aligned with our values. We look back at our weeks, and can’t find what we really achieved, what were we so busy with. Where were the nuggets of meaning and joy? That’s why I try to plan my weeks before I’m actually in them. It yields much better results. For, as time management expert Laura Vanderkam says, “We cannot make more time, but time will stretch to accommodate what we chose to put into it.” And if I don’t put into it what I want and care for, a whole list of other less meaningful things will take over my time.
Tomorrow we start blowing the shofar up until the second to last day of the month of Elul. Why? Because it’s a time to make a spiritual accounting. Yes, the shofar blows let us know that Rosh Hashanah is coming. But, more than that, they alert us to do our spiritual time audit. “Prepare for Rosh Hashanah now” say the shofar blows. Because if I want to set the spiritual course of my next twelve months, it’s probably a good idea to take stock of how I did the previous eleven.
“When we focus on what matters, we can build the lives we want, in the time we’ve got,” -Laura Vanderkam, Author on Time Management.
This clearly means that we have to set priorities! How do we do that? Here’s a suggestion:
1- Imagine yourself standing in Elul of next year.
2- Divide your life into three areas: your relationship with G-d, your relationship with yourself, and your relationship with others.
3- Ask yourself, what do you want your spiritual time audit to show? What growth do you want to achieve in these three areas?
The above three categories should remind you of the “Unetaneh Tokef” prayer which we all know from Rosh Hashanah. While describing what could fare with our allotted time for the coming year, it also gives us the answer as to how best approach our time.
Divide it into three categories: teshuva (your relationship with yourself), tefillah (your relationship with G-d), and tzedakah (your relationship with others).
Taking these three categories as a starting point, we can now audit the time of the year past, and project where we want to be when, G-d willing, we do our audit in a year’s time. That is, we will get to Rosh Hashanah with a plan for our year before we’re actually in it!
Have you ever done a time audit? How would you want your life to look in a year’s time in each of these three areas?