It’s Less About Productivity and More About Survival
When time management is mentioned in an office or academic setting, it’s usually during a conversation about getting more work done, maximizing profits, and meeting deadlines. For unhoused people, time management takes on a very different meaning.
Instead of productivity hacks, calendar apps, and to-do list systems, there’s much more figuring out where your presence is tolerated during certain hours of the day and for how long, gauging individual employee reactions to you at the coffee shop, and trying your best to leave a place before you’ve entirely worn out what little welcome you were given.
Planning Every Hour of the Day Is Exhausting, But Necessary
When you don’t have a default place of your own to retreat to each night, it becomes a lot more challenging to account for your time and whereabouts.
For example, when you go home after work, you can get all your chores and restful activities done sometime while you’re there. On the other hand, a homeless person must plan ahead of time where they’ll do their laundry, get a shower, and where it’s safe to relax for a few hours without being hassled. This is in addition to figuring out how to get between all those different places.
That might not sound too different from your weekly trips to the grocery store and laundromat, but the scale is nowhere near the same. If you don’t believe me, imagine what it must be like to plan every trip to the bathroom.
But it’s more than just that, even. Imagine planning every trip to the bathroom, which could be a mile or more away at any given time. And add in the fact that people are hostile to you wherever you go.
Try to plan a safe route to that bathroom in a world where civilians and police alike regularly brutalize people like you. Homeless people are too often forcibly removed from public transportation, asked to leave no matter where they are, and generally treated like second-class citizens at best.
You may find that when you get to the first bathroom, it’s closed in an effort to prevent “crime.” At the second, you’re turned away for not being a paying customer before you even get the chance to buy anything. And before you get to the third option, you’re so desperate that you have to find a quiet spot and go on the street, something you used to complain about people doing before you understood the real reasons why it sometimes happens.
Time management while homeless involves knowing that those first two places are hostile and not repeating the mistake of going to them. It’s also learning to leave as much time as feasible to complete the task before the situation turns urgent. These are necessary skills for time management as a homeless person.
Beyond Logistics, Time Management Demands Social Skills
This type of time management is about more than just getting from point A to point B with enough time to do task C. As with most things, another layer is added when you’re homeless.
Beyond worrying about just their to-do lists, unhoused people also have to worry about how people perceive them. If the wrong person clocks you as homeless and doesn’t want to share a space with you, they could get aggressive, throw you out, or call the police to do it for them.
Because of the constant danger of other people turning on you for no other reason than you’re homeless, and they can see it, time management while homeless involves a lot of trying to manage people’s reactions to you. This could be concealing that you’re homeless, presenting as overtly non-threatening, or just getting in and out of places as quickly as possible.
There are a lot of strategies that unhoused people have had to develop to deal with the fact that they are unwelcome just about everywhere they go.
In practice, it could look like riding the bus until 5 am when the friendly manager starts their shift at Dunkin Donuts. There you can buy a coffee and sit in a back booth for a few hours without being bothered, as long as none of the customers complain about you.
If they do, you’ll have to move on to the library – unless the overzealous security guard is working that day. Then you’ll be better off sitting in the park so long as the weather is good. If it’s not, you could get back on the bus if you have the money, or else you’ll have to go into work early. Of course, you don’t like doing that very often because your manager might start to suspect you’re homeless and react badly. So, you can see how things quickly get very complicated.
A Constant Reminder That You’re Seen as Sub-human
That might be the most exhausting part of this special brand of time management – the constant reminders that many people see you as beneath them. They don’t think you deserve to share public spaces with them or their children. They’re prepared to call in the police to enforce the hierarchy in their head, not caring that in doing so, they’re endangering your life.
This is the persistent message people receive from all directions when they’re visibly unhoused, and it can take a heavy toll on a person. In ways that we have not fully cared to understand, being treated this way harms people.
Just navigating the world as a homeless person and accomplishing the everyday things you need to accomplish takes so much extra mental and physical energy. It can seem like the simplest things are exhausting, but you must remember that there is so much extra hatefulness and hostility to wade through while doing anything while homeless.
When you sit down and examine each extra piece that goes into every task, it’s no wonder you’re exhausted!