When I was a college student, I attended several time-management seminars. Invariably, someone would start off with the solemn declaration, “We all have twenty-four hours in a day. The only difference is how we choose to use them.” Each time I heard this, I wanted to shout, “No we don’t! Some people don’t need as much sleep as I do!” More than once, I had tried cutting back on sleep, and every time I got sick.
I don’t want to make the same mistake and present my ideas here as a panacea that will solve everyone’s problems. My college roommate claimed he couldn’t work on papers or longer assignments without having a considerable amount of uninterrupted study time. I was never able to disprove him, but neither did I ever see him try what I am about to suggest.
Most people’s days have lots of little bits of unscheduled time. If research and writing is a priority for us, and if we are struggling to free up more time for those activities, we might need to see how we can reclaim these interludes. Eventually they can add up to significant periods of time.
When I am researching for a writing project, I always keep available (both at school and at home) numerous works of varying lengths that I need to be reading or skimming. When I am writing, I keep an unfinished manuscript on my computer screen and work on it during the interludes. And, much as my personality delights in achieving closure, I try to avoid finishing anything during a period when I know I could be interrupted.
If I am reading something and know I can’t finish it in the ten, twenty, or thirty minutes I have free, I will try to stop in an interesting place that makes me want to go back and pick up where I left off, or at least find out what the author concludes. If I am writing, I try to leave off in the middle of a paragraph, or even in mid-sentence, so I can quickly pick up my flow of thought the next time I have a few spare moments. If we keep coming back to the same project multiple times during a day—even if each period of time is comparatively short—we’ll surprise ourselves with how much we can accomplish.
I also think it is possible to learn how to work better with noise, activity, or distractions nearby. Some people may have a greater natural facility for this, but things can improve with practice. Not looking up from your desk to see if the conversations outside your office are for or about you can sometimes deter interruptions. At home, while children are playing raucously nearby, mentally verbalizing the words you are typing can help you stay focused. Not stopping to add footnotes, or even to look up things that you know belong in the text, also can speed up the process; compose as much as you can before going back to edit, annotate, and supplement.
The only limits may be your creativity and how much you are willing to experiment!
*This article was originally published in Didaktikos, the premier journal of theological education published by Faithlife Corporation specifically intended for faculty members teaching the Bible and related topics. Click here to learn more and start receiving Didaktikos to your door.
Craig L. Blomberg is Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, and is currently writing books on New Testament theology, New Testament reasons for faith, and the historical Jesus.