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Billable Hours – How Do We Spend Our Time?

September 13, 2011
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Ask anyone who has had professional contact with an attorney and you will hear about the concept of ‘billable hours’. In lawyer parlance, any time spent on behalf of a client, be it on the phone, in an email, doing research, writing a motion or appearing in court (just to name the basics) is billed to the client in an increment of hourly rate/time. That means if the attorney charges $350 an hour, every ten minutes he or she spends working on your behalf will cost you $58. A few short conversations or emails can quickly accumulate on your monthly statement.

In order to have success in this system, the lawyer has to track his hours accurately. He cannot ‘guess’ at the end of the month how much time he spent on your case. He has to carefully note his time each day so that it can be billed to the correct client. Having been the recipient of such bills, I know they are very carefully clocked and recorded, and generally reviewed for accuracy.

Many of us complain about how little time we have in the day. If we only had more time, we would accomplish so many more things. Numerous books and articles have been written on how to define your day, your tasks and your ultimate goals so as to better utilize the time you have.

I sometimes wonder if I had to account for my day in ‘billable hours’ what I would see. I have no doubt there would be clearly defined accomplishments in the work arena, as well as specific tasks achieved at home. But what about those undefined moments? Do I take into account stopping to marvel at the tomatoes growing in my backyard in the summer on my way to the car to bring in the groceries? Do I note the one-sided phone call with my 18 month old granddaughter, as she babbled and I attempted to convince myself we were having a conversation? Would I remember the sound of the rain as it hit the window on a dark stormy afternoon?

It is easy to find what we did with the big chunks of time. It is harder to realize there is so much more to our lives than just the tasks we do. Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the RAMCHAL, tells us in his seminal work, Mesillas Yesharim, that we must know why we are here. The purpose of our lives and the mitzvos we do is to serve as a gateway for our neshamas in the World to Come. How we spend the minutes of each hour are as important as how we spend the days in each month.

With the advent of the month of Elul when we begin to add ‘ldovid Hashem ‘ to our davening, as we approach Rosh Hashana and begin saying selichos, through the aseres yemei teshuva and culminating in Yom Kippur, we begin to more closely examine our actions of the past year, in preparation for the teshuva process. Time wasted, time mismanaged, time spent in pursuit of empty desires, all come to the fore if we truly are being honest with ourselves. We stand before the Judge and plead our case. Yes we acknowledge our past misdeeds, but we beg for another chance at forgiveness. We pledge to be better in the year to come; to more effectively use our time for the betterment of ourselves and others.

Are we spending our time thinking only of ourselves or are we able to look beyond to someone else in need of a moment or two of our time? Do we only worry about how to make it through the day, eager to collapse into bed after congratulating ourselves on another day over until the weekend comes?

Did we stop to think about G-d today? Did the words we said in davening have meaning or were they just quickly repeated with a pat on the back for even finding the time to remember G-d in our life. Did we play with our children or talk with our spouse but only superficially, while thinking about all the other tasks that still needed to be done?

Our relationship to time seems to change with age and experience. A child in school counts the days until summer vacation and it seems like it’s a lifetime away, whereas his mother can’t believe how quickly the school year flew by. Every minute that goes by cannot be returned to us. It is gone forever. It can’t be undone. This in itself should force us to make each moment meaningful. Most of us flounder with these issues at different times in our lives. Perhaps if we were more like attorneys and had to account for our ‘billable hours,’ we would find a way to realize more meaning in our lives.

When we come to the end of our lives, and turn in our ‘billable hours’ will we have accounted for everything we did? Will we have made all our minutes count? Think about it. How did you spend YOUR time today?

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Susan Schwartz is a wife, mother and grandmother. Her work has appeared in a variety of Jewish periodicals and websites. She lives in Chicago, where she is President of the Davka Corporation.