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Managing the Time! Readers’ Mailbag December 17, 2017

In this weeks’ Readers’ Mailbag I will be dealing with a personal question, one that I get a good bit (twice this week!).   Here is how it came to me from one blog-member



You should once write an article on time management. Unless you sleep only 2 hours a day, I can’t imagine how you manage to publish lengthy posts, answer all comment questions every day, read lectures at the university(including all the academic responsibilities there: quizzes, exams etc.), read books/papers (both scholarly and others) and of course write them!  And that’s only the academic part of your life. That’s both amazing and mysterious!



I have to admit, I have a lot of bad personality traits (just ask my wife!), but I have a couple of good ones too, at least ones that help me in my life.  For example, I’m an unusually good sleeper!  (8 hours a night, at least, and all of it solid.)  And without great effort I enjoy the many simple pleasures in my life (quality time with family and friends; good food; good wine; nineteenth century novels; sports; the steam room!).  And I’m unusually efficient with my time and can get a whole lot done quickly.  Lucky me!!

I’m not an expert at all on time management, but my sense is that it is a trait that is as much (or more) acquired through personal circumstances as something that can be “taught.”  Certainly no one gave me any instructions – although I do remember reading Cheaper by the Dozen as a teenager and being impressed by an “efficiency expert” who taught his kids how to do things without wasting time and effort (including such things as how to towel off quickly and with no wasted motion after bathing!).

My efficiency self-training began in college, and it was the result of nothing so much as personal pride.   My parents were willing to help me pay for college, but I refused their help and wanted to pay the college bills myself.    That meant having to work longer than usual hours.  I landed a terrific job in Chicago at the Drake Hotel, as a bellman, pulling in good tips.   So I worked 20 hours a week doing that, making enough (barely) to get through my first three years.

At the same time, I became obsessed with getting good grades.  In high school I was a good but not a great student – nowhere near the top of my class.  But I was and always had been highly competitive, and I treated college grades as a competition.   So how does one work a 20-hour job, have a social life (that I was not going to give up), and get high grades in a grueling academic schedule (I often took overloads)?  I learned how to work long hours and to be highly focused in my studies.

That continued for years of school.  College took me five years.  My first school was a three-year degree program at Moody Bible Institute.  I then went to Wheaton for my final two years.  During the second year my schedule was even more hectic.  I was married by that time; was working as a youth pastor in a church 30 hours a week; was commuting from Oak Lawn to Wheaton for my classes; and was studying like crazy to get the grades.

It continued through my three-years masters degree and then into PhD, which took four years.   In my second year of the PhD I as pastoring the Princeton Baptist Church, taking a full load of classes, serving as a teaching assistant for Bruce Metzger, and preparing to take my PhD exams, all in the same semester.  Yikes.

For the PhD exams.  I had three exams to take:  History of the NT and Early Christianity; New Testament Theology; and Old Testament Theology.  For each exam I had a bibliography of books and articles (some of them in German and French) that I had to master.  The exams would be based on what could be found in this secondary literature (and, of course, a mastery of the primary texts themselves).  At the beginning of my studying process, I figured out – literally – how many hours I would have over the next six months to study for the exams (which hours would be “free” from other obligations, like attending class, writing papers, serving as a teaching assistant, grading exams, preaching sermons, doing church work, uh, seeing the family, and so on).   I then calculated how much time I could spend on each book and article on each of my three lists.  I plotted it all out and made a chart.  And I did it – reading and taking notes on this article for one and half hours, that book for six hours, and so on .  That was my life for six months!

And so, basically, in order to survive, put food on the table, get the grades that I needed to have any chance of getting the career I wanted as a tenure-track professor, I had to figure out how to squeeze in time to earn money and how to accomplish my academic goals, with a 24-hour day.

It forced me to learn how to be unusually focused and efficient with my time.  It simply wouldn’t have happened some other way.  I was almost completely self-taught on the matter.  So I’m not sure how I would be any good at telling someone else how to do it.

The result of all those years is that it now is simply how I live my life.  The blog is a good example.  I can write a thousand word post in about twenty minutes on most days.  It takes about five minutes to edit it, and about five more to load it up on the blog and on Facebook.  It then takes about half an hour to get through all the comments, answering all the queries, posting them, etc.   So the blog, on a good day, takes an hour.  Then I can get on to the next thing.

The very serious downside to my ability to focus is that I am so highly concentrated that it is almost like being in a trance.  If Sarah comes in to ask me about the dog or to see if I want to go for a walk or anything, it’s like I have to wake up and come out of a different dimension even to take in her question (with my eyes glazed over and widening as I try to figure out this new thing that has forced itself onto my attention).   It’s probably very unpleasant for her!   But it’s just the way I am.

So, I’m afraid the short story is that I don’t have too many tips for time management, other than to stay focused on the one task at hand and do it as quickly as humanly possible to get on to the next one.

That works *especially* well for me if I know that the next one involves pleasure.  Which is the case right now, as I am typing these words.  As soon as I finish this blog-duty, I’m lighting a fire and reading the Sunday papers!  Fantastic!

If you belong to the blog, you can read posts every time — not just one on occasion.  So why not join?  The money all goes to charity.  You win; the blog wins; charities win — we all win!  So join!



Blog Christmas Gift Idea #1! Free Memberships Still Available!
A Final Statement on a Different Approach to the Synoptic Problem: Evan Powell



  1. Avatar
    Seeker1952  December 17, 2017

    Well, maybe in my next reincarnation..I’ll be like that.

    Is it pleasant (for you if not your wife) to be in a trance? I’m guessing it is. Sounds like maybe the “flow” psychology guy with the unpronounceable (and unspellable) eastern European name.

  2. Liam Foley
    Liam Foley  December 17, 2017

    I get a sense from reading this post that doing the research and writing your books is something that you can do in a relatively short time?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2017

      Yes, I’ll put that one in the readers’ mailbag.

      • Avatar
        Judith  December 19, 2017

        How I’m Writing This Book – April 6, 2015; Sketch of My Memory Book – April 4, 2015

        You also wrote about the process of getting a book ready to be published. I remember your saying you would go over the final draft with a fine tooth comb, PRAYING you would not find errors. Can’t find that post..

        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2017

          I’m not sure which one it was either. But I fine-tooth-comb the manuscript several times before sending it to the publisher, and there they have copy-editors and proof-readers who go over it as well. It’s a long process!

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  December 17, 2017

    Getting eight solid hours of sleep has to be healthful. Maybe it’s the steam room. Have you ever considered getting a cat? Most of them get you up at 4 a.m.

  4. Avatar
    Judith  December 17, 2017

    You are astounding to me.

  5. Avatar
    stokerslodge  December 17, 2017

    Bart, never mind all the stuff you manage to pack Into your days, just tell me how to get 8 hours solid, unbroken sleep. What do I have to do? Where do I start?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2017

      Ah, when I was a young teenager I started training my mind to go blank when I hit the pillow. It has paid rich dividends….

      • Avatar
        caesar  December 19, 2017

        Can I ask how you did that? I have serious sleep problems!

        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2017

          It’s probably too late! But I simply forced myself to think of nothing and to drive thoughts out of my head when they occurred….

    • Avatar
      AggieGnostic  December 19, 2017

      I Dr. Ehrman’s same talent for shut-eye: 3 or 4 minutes tops after I turn the light off and I’m out for seven hours solid. I can count on one hand the number of times in a year it takes longer than 10 minutes for me to fall asleep. Everyone’s different but what works for me at bedtime is no electronics or TV, very light reading only, limited or no conversation with anyone (ticks off my wife that I don’t want to talk at bedtime but ….) and no exercise past 9PM.
      Some people also limit caffeine intake but that doesn’t seem to affect me as I drink coffee all day.

      I am up early though so I’m spent by EOD.

      I look at my day like a long bike ride. At the end of the ride, I want to be coasting to a stop not pedaling like hell and jamming on the brakes.

  6. Avatar
    Jim Cherry  December 17, 2017

    Good to see that you are not about to suffer “burn out”.
    Do most scholars believe the writers of the 4 gospels were converted gentiles, converted Jews, or a mixture?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2017

      I’d say that most agree that Mark and Luke were gentiles and think that Matthew and John may have been originally Jews. I personally think that all four were from gentile stock.

      • Avatar
        Stephen  December 19, 2017

        So you think “Matthew” and “John” were not Jewish? Wow I hope you will post about that!


        • Bart
          Bart  December 20, 2017

          Yeah, not sure I’ve posted on that before.

          • Avatar
            lmabe10  October 29, 2019

            I took a look through the posts since this comment and I don’t think you’ve covered this yet. I would love to hear why you believe Matthew and John may have been gentile!

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  December 26, 2017

        I’m unable to understand why anyone would think the authors of the 4 canonical gospels were Jewish. If these documents were pro-Jewish they wouldn’t be in the canon.

        • Bart
          Bart  December 27, 2017

          Being Jewish in terms of birth and ethnicity does not necessarily being “pro-Jewish.” There have always been lots and lots of Jews who are seen by other Jews as anti-Jewish. Just with respect to the NT, cf the debates about Paul himself!

  7. Avatar
    JGonzalezGUS  December 17, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,
    “it’s like I have to wake up and come out of a different dimension….” I fully understand what you’re saying. I don’t claim to be highly efficient, but because my early background was in classical music (piano), over the years I spent thousands of hours of concentrated practice.
    I’m retired and one of my hobbies is playing chess (computer, Internet). When my wife interrupts to tell me something, it’s like I was submerged under water, someone taps me on the shoulder and I come up. The person starts talking to me while there’s water dripping off my hair and face and I strive to take a good breath. For the first 10 seconds I don’t understand what they’re telling me and I have have to ask: “what?” My wife often gets mad.

  8. Lev
    Lev  December 17, 2017

    Do I remember correctly that you created a fresh translation of The Loeb Apostolic Fathers?

    I can imagine that was a HUGE task – how long did it take you?

  9. Avatar
    Todd  December 17, 2017

    I think the key is staying on one task and getting it done before moving on to the next task. If I get side tracked, nothing gets done !!

  10. Avatar
    Tempo1936  December 17, 2017

    Chuck swindoll, successful pastor, speaker and prolific writer of numerous bestseller, said that whatever he is doing, he is there 100%. This is similar to your successful lifestyle.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 18, 2017

      Well, I guess that, along with two arms and legs each, that makes *something* we have in common!

  11. Avatar
    Stephen  December 17, 2017

    I doubt I share your work ethic, Prof Ehrman, but I do know the “work trance” very well. (I’ve been told I could “probably read a book during an air raid”!) It is annoying to those who have claims on your time and attention but I cannot help but think it is not a bad talent to have.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  December 26, 2017

      When my late first wife, Joyce, and I were married, I was employed at Harvard Law on the American Law Institute Tax Project, and she was employed at M.I.T, writing texts and manuals for “Project Lincoln” a highly classified government project. We both had to receive rather high security clearance. Regularly the Project Lincoln staff held air raid drills, during which they left their work and assumed protective postures in the halls. During one of these drills, after the very loud alarm went off and the employees were in their “safe” positions, observing total silence, they heard a strange clicking sound from somewhere in the building. After the All-clear sounded, everyone returned to their desks, etc. When they re-entered the large, main workspace, they found Joyce, pounding away at her typewriter (pre-computer days). She was so focused on her work, she had not heard the Alarm or the All-clear, nor had she noticed the couple of dozen employees leaving or returning to the room.
      By the way, the purpose of “Project Lincoln,” was to develop a defense against the atomic bomb. The conclusion: No defense was possible.

      • Avatar
        Pattycake1974  December 28, 2017

        Wow, that’s a fascinating account.

  12. Avatar
    JoeRoark  December 18, 2017

    Whatever causes you to be so efficient and concentrated and to accomplish so much, I am grateful. You have shown me depths I would not have discovered on my own.

  13. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  December 18, 2017

    It is truly amazing. I can’t imagine having written over 30 books, having all those debates and lectures, teaching courses, doing this website (which contains more frequent blogs than any other blog that I follow) and so on and so forth. My favorite theory is that you have a doppelganger or maybe two or three of them. You clearly have a gift for what you do much like a pianist I once knew who seemed to be able to play everything with ease after having gone through the music just once. His girl friend once gave him the sheet music to a sonata which he played once and he then gave the sheet of music back to her telling her to go get a refund because he now knew the sonata from memory. You have a gift much like that which includes being able to write in a way that us non-scholars get it. I know you have worked hard to develop that gift and that explains part of it. I hope you know what you have. It would have meant so much to me to have had just one book published during my career, but more than 30, egads! Even though religion makes absolutely no sense to me, all of this reminds me of the ending of Walker Percy’s novel entitled “The Second Coming” where he concludes that a gift must must be a sign of a “Giver.” Whatever, keep plugging away because your work has literally changed my life.

  14. Avatar
    paul373  December 18, 2017

    Do you use dictation software to turn your voice into text? Perhaps it would be useful for someone as busy as you are.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 20, 2017

      No, I see written and oral rhetoric as different in kind.

  15. Avatar
    Franz Liszt  December 18, 2017

    I’m curious now, when did you meet your wife? I remember you’ve commented briefly on how the rest of your family is still religious, is that true of her?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 20, 2017

      Our mutual friend Dale Martin introduced us, back in 1996.

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