“I just keep thinking about the jelly beans,” my husband said to me the other night as we wrestled with our nightly conundrum of just how to spend the rest of our limited waking hours that day. He commutes so that we can live in a city where we are happy; I work long hours as a resident. We’re trying to ready our home (and ourselves) for the impending birth of our baby. Like many couples our age, we spend very few hours at home, awake, at the same time. During those hours there are certain things we have to do: prepare and eat dinner, make our lunches for the next day, do any work-related tasks such as finishing notes or reviewing some document that we’ve put off until now. There are the things we probably should do: fold the laundry, answer some emails, pay the bills. Tackle that student loan paperwork we’ve been putting off. And there are the things we’d like to do, which are too numerous to list, let alone accomplish in one evening, but which include things like exercise, reading, making phone calls to friends, pursuing our various hobbies (in his case, studying Spanish; in mine, writing). And let’s not forget the ever-elusive goal of spending more quality time together. Finally, there are the things that we actually end up doing: watching too many online clips of our favorite shows or comedians, scrolling through Facebook, reading articles online about how to make the most of the limited time in our lives and then looking up to realize that we have once again run out of our supply of it for the night.
But lately he’d been thinking about jelly beans. And frankly, so had I.
About a month ago, we watched a video that a friend had posted on Facebook (yes, during an evening when we intended to be doing other things) in which a man spread out a pile of jelly beans – one for each day the average American can expect to live – and then, bit by bit, separated them according to how much time we spend on the have-to’s like eating, sleeping, working, commuting. It’s surprising to think about how many days you will devote to each of these tasks over a lifetime. But the really striking image was that of how many – how few – are left once you subtract the time spent on those have-to’s: 2,740 out of the original 28,835. As he describes it, this is the time we have for “laughing, swimming, making art, going on hikes, text messages, reading, checking Facebook, playing softball, maybe even teaching yourself how to play the guitar.”
I write a lot about time management and trying to make room for the meaningful things in life (The Things We Carry, The Leap List, Carving), probably because it’s something with which I still really struggle. I can go on and on about why it’s important, why it’s a good idea, but when it comes time to put that prioritization into practice, I falter. And I still end up trolling around on the Internet instead of doing any of the long list of things that really feed my soul.
But the jelly beans got to me. Maybe it’s because I’m a visual learner, or because I’m a person who likes facts and numbers and statistics. Seeing those jelly beans, those days of life, swept away, leaving so few – if we are even that lucky – for exploration, growth, fun, love . . . it seems to have been the tangible nudge I needed. Because tonight I pulled up the video again, and once it was over, I closed down Facebook and all of the other webpages that I had been idly browsing and opened up a Word document to write.