I must confess that, while visiting my in-laws in their gated community in Florida, I developed a pet peeve. At first it was a small inconvenience, but then, with time, it grew to be a genuine disturbance.

It was the fifteen-second wait in the car every time I wanted to get in or out of their gated community. The gates had to be prompted by a security card, and then they slowly made their way open, inch by slow inch, until finally I was able to drive by to get to the red light at the end of the driveway. I felt like a horseman getting out of the fort, having to wait for the bridge to be lowered to go over the moat.

At first it was a small inconvenience, but then, with time, it grew to be a genuine disturbanceNow, I know I am from New York, where our lifestyle probably would not tolerate such an extended transition just to get out of one’s house. True, if you live in an apartment building, you probably spend even more time in an elevator. But these gates seem to go deliberately slow. Yes, they are made for a Florida retirement community. Still, I don’t know if this is supposed to be activity number two when you wake up in Florida, to watch the beautiful grace by which the gates flawlessly open the world outside for a great adventure at the store or the doctor’s.

So as not to make too many enemies out of all my Florida friends and relatives, I’ll get right to my point, which is for them as well.

During my many trips in and out, I had the time to figure out that if someone goes through those gates just four times a day—that’s one minute of time. Multiply that by 365 days a year, for let’s say twenty years, and you have yourself spending five full days of your life waiting and watching the gates. When I thought of that fact, somehow it got me started on all the other ways that we spend time, which all add up to incredible chunks of our life, without even realizing what is happening to us.

Take a typical commuter who travels thirty minutes twice a day; let’s say 250 days a year. That’s over ten full twenty-four-hour days on the road. In a thirty-five-year career, that would mean that a full year 24/7 of time will be spent commuting. And many people commute two hours a day, which would add up to a full year of time in less than eighteen years. That’s one to two years out of your seventy or eighty all together. One year! Considering that we sleep away at least twenty years of an eighty-year life, one year may not seem like a lot. But do the math yourself for the time you spend drinking coffee, daydreaming in bed before getting up, indulging in bad habits, or just sitting in front of the computer.

My point is not to regret the necessities of life, nor to cheat us of the relaxing moments that energize us and give us a little respite so we can go back to whatever we are doing, refreshed or relieved or both. It is that the next time we are faced with the opportunity to do something good for somebody else, or for ourselves, let’s think twice about saying or thinking that “I just don’t have enough time.” If half that time in the car (or train, or subway) could be spent listening to Torah lessons, or one extra mitzvah a day can be worked into our schedule, think of this undiscovered potential in our lives, waiting to be developed. For most of us, a small adjustment of our schedule would enable us to do something we really would like to do, and know we can do if we set our mind to it.

It can be lack of planning, or just plain laziness, that keeps us from doing itIt can be lack of planning, or just plain laziness, that keeps us from doing it. But once we think about how that small amount of time can really add up to a full year over the course of our life, then just as we have the power to waste time, we have the power to use time wisely and transform it into a tool that can build our lives, help us reach our goals, and accomplish our piece in making this world a better place.

For example, a twenty-minute phone call, three hundred days a year, to learn Torah with a partner can add up to over four days of focused learning. That’s just about one percent of all your time in a year. Ten minutes daily of talking about values with our five- to seventeen-year-old children can turn into over a month of quality time.

No, I’m not endorsing that life should become a regimen where we schedule every second and don’t waste a moment. Nor am I recommending that everybody go out and take a time management course (although I never heard of anyone being hurt by one). I am encouraging each and every one of us to pick one or two areas of our life where we do waste significant time, and discipline ourselves to transform that time slot into a productive part of our lives that will make a positive change for us and those around us. I have a feeling that once we taste the results, we will want to spread it to other aspects of our life.

Do the math! It’s just a matter of priorities and self-control, but the good that can come from it is truly incredible.