Life in the 50s: Sharing time

In a way, we've created our own private time bank.

time clock 88 (photo credit: )
time clock 88
(photo credit: )
You know that pile of papers on your desk? The one that keeps getting taller? What about the stack of half-read books on your night table? Or the closet you've been meaning to organize since last Pessah? Unless we're compulsively organized, all of us have tasks that we put off until they grow so big - like that mountain of papers on the desk - that the chore seems insurmountable. Then there are the things we don't get to, because we don't enjoy the particular task - such as writing a long overdue thank-you letter or balancing the checkbook (does anyone do that in Israel?). And then there are the things that make us stretch - perhaps uncomfortably - such as organizing a meeting or writing a speech. Through serendipity, a couple of friends and I have found a way to get these things done and have fun at the same time. It all started when my friend Jutta complained about not being able to find the time to work on her graduate thesis. I said, "Yeah, I've got this pile on my desk that I just can't seem to get to." We looked at each other and a light bulb went off. Both Jutta and I had had experience with a technique called co-counseling (also known as reevaluation counseling), an international movement in which people take turns exchanging time listening to one another. The idea is that we all have the answers we need inside us and if we only had an attentive, supportive listener to give us the time and space to explore our thoughts and feelings, we would have access to these answers. We thought: Why not use this idea to get things done? Jutta and I started meeting once a week for two hours. For the first hour, she sat with her laptop and I helped her organize her thoughts for her thesis and to edit what she wrote. During the second hour, I had her help me with various house-related tasks such as where to put my house plants and how to help them climb. We took advantage of each other's strengths: I had a better grasp of English (Jutta is a native German speaker and her thesis had to be in English) and Jutta has a better esthetic sensibility. "Usually, when friends get together, they share words. Here, we share doing," Jutta said. "It is a pleasure to do something important, with the full attention and benevolent support of someone you trust, and it's a pleasure to give that to a friend as well." In a way, we've created our own private time bank, that wonderful concept brought to Israel by the Joint Distribution Committee and operating out of several community centers in the city, including the International Culture Center for Youth on Emek Refaim. In a time bank, people exchange time with members of the bank, doing everything from repairing bicycles in exchange for a foot massage or teaching aerobics in exchange for gardening help. When Jutta decided to move to the US, I was dismayed. I'd finally found a good system for doing the things that resisted getting done and now my partner was leaving. But soon I asked another friend if she'd like to engage in these time exchanges, she said she'd try, and we've been getting together most weeks ever since. I've helped Jody organize her time, write an article for a businesswomen's Web site, write a speech and come up with an "elevator talk" describing her business. Together, we have slowly whittled my meter-high pile of papers into one just a few centimeters tall. We both find it thoroughly satisfying to get distasteful tasks done with a friend - sometimes it just involves figuratively holding each other's hand while we do what we've set out to do. The time is focused, concentrated and we make sure there are no interruptions. One of the side benefits is that we get to know one another better, because we engage in things together that involve areas of our lives that would not usually come up in daily conversation. Sometimes we don't work. Sometimes, one of us just wants to talk, to unload, while the other just listens with focused attention. At other times, one or the other of us will ask for a massage for part of her hour. So far, the results have been all positive: We enjoy our time together, get to know new aspects of one another and get a lot done! Jody explained: "It feels like I have someone for an hour a week to hold my hand and help me meet my goals. Like a free coach. And it feels good to be doing that for someone else, too. "The time exchange has helped me take steps in my life that by myself, I wouldn't take."