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How ‘not to’ waste time

Yesterday I introduced Roman philosopher Seneca’s essay On the Shortness of Life, and David Eagleman’s book Sum. It was a tongue-in-cheek introduction to a very serious question, where does our time goes. Seneca’s two thousand years ago assessment is still correct, we waste most of it.

Today I am going to take it one step further and explore how not to waste time.

Seneca says in a letter to his friend Lucilius:

Continue to act thus, my dear Lucilius – set yourself free for you own sake; gather and save your time, which till lately has been forced from your, or filched away, or has merely slipped from your hands. Make yourself believe the truth of my words – that certain moments are torn from us, that some are gently removed and that other glide beyond our reach. The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.

The Tao of Seneca – Practical Letters from a Stoic Master

How much of time is actually filched away from us? After all we don’t have all of 24 hours of a day at our disposal. Most of it is already allocated to so called ‘essential’ activities of survival. We only have a small portion of time which we can truly call ours. Lets figure out how much exactly.

By a simple math, on an average we spend 8 hours sleeping; 8 hours working; 1 hour commuting; 2 hour cooking, eating and washing dishes; 1 hour on personal hygiene; 1 hour on household chores; 1 hour on shopping, socialising etc. that leaves just meager two hours to ourselves.

Just two hours! That’s all.

If we squander even that, no wonder our life is wasted.

What can be achieved in two hours?

Should we even bother?

Now, there is no need to be disheartened so quickly. Let do the calculation again, but this time for a week rather than a day.

On weekly basis we spend 56 hours sleeping; 40 hours working; 7 hours commuting; 14 hours cooking, eating and washing dishes; 7 hours on personal hygiene; 7 hour on household chores; 7 hour on shopping, socialising etc. That leaves just twenty two hours to ourselves in a week. That means 1,144 hours in a year, 11,440 hours in a decade.

Now we are talking. That is something.

Now don’t rush on to say that there are other things to do on the weekend which are as necessary the other activities. To keep the maths simple I have not included the public holidays and annual leave etc. which give you extra time to compensate that.

So you practically have 1,144 hours in a year that you can call your own. Are you using them well?

Seneca warns:

The most disgraceful kind of loss, however, is that due to carelessness.

What time we waste by being careless?

Watching TV and being on social media may be.

The research says an average person watches TV for 3 to 4 hours a day and checks the smart phone at least 52 times a day. Even if we say 2 minutes for each check that means 1 hours 44 minutes on smart phone each day. Let do a simple maths again, just 3 hours of TV and 1 hour of smart phone add up to 1,460 hours of screen time, chewing away all of your free time.

Seneca goes on saying:

Furthermore, if you will pay close heed to the problem, you will find that the largest portion of our life passes while we are doing ill, a goodly share while we are doing nothing, and the whole while we are doing that which is not the purpose.

The Tao of Seneca – Letters from Seneca

By ‘doing ill’ Seneca means drinking or any kind of addiction whether it is substance, addiction, materialistic or social addiction, after all gossiping is an addiction too and biggest time killer. Obsessions come in this category too, whether being it is being obsessive about cleaning or perfection or anything in between chews up time.

Procrastination stands for ‘doing nothing’ and we are all guilty of that. We spend more hours thinking about doing the things we want to do rather than actually doing them. And most of worthy things are hard to do anyway so we postpone them for a right moment or right mindset or even for right cosmic alignment.

Therefore, Lucilius, do as you write me that you are doing: hold every hour in your grasp. Lay hold of today’s task, and you will not need to depend so much upon tomorrow’s. While we are postponing, life speeds by.

The Tao of Seneca – Letters from Seneca

‘Doing which is not the purpose’ are the activities that do not contribute to a particular purpose. We can call them ‘purposeless busyness’. Like organizing files on our computers, going through thousands of photos again and again trying to delete some and then keeping them all, checking online and physical stores looking for bargains to save hard earned money. There is good intention behind all these activities but they don’t contribute to any higher purpose.

Having a higher purpose and then doing activities that fulfill that purpose is the whole essence of using your time effectively.

Seneca writes:

Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time. We were entrusted by nature with the ownership of this single thing, so fleeting and slippery that anyone who will can oust us from possession. What fools these mortals be! They allow the cheapest and most useless things, which can easily be replace, to be charged in the reckoning, after they have acquired them; but they never regard themselves as in debt when they have received some of the precious commodity – time! And yet time is the one loan which even a grateful recipient cannot repay.

The Tao of Seneca – Letter from Seneca

To well-spend your most valuable commodity, you need to figure out what is the purpose of your life. What do you want to achieve? What difference you want to make in this world? What do you want to leave behind? How do you want to leave this world a bit better than your found it?

Answer to these questions will determine how you will spend 1,144 hours of this year so that they do not go wasted.

How to find out that purpose? I will try to tackle this question in tomorrow’s post.

I will leave you today with this beautiful quote from Coach Bobbi.

  1. Stefan says:

    The question of time spent productively and the myriad of excuses we use to avoid doing what we truly want to do rather than the mundane tasks of life is interesting. It’s easy to waste time and then say, “I could have, would have, should have” done that thing I truly am passionate about, especially when it’s a project without an endpoint, like writing, for example, and a definite outcome (eg publication).
    I often think of John Lennon’s line from his song, Beautiful Boy, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

    1. Hi Stefan,
      It is very common to buy “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” philosophy because it is true to some extent. But then I have found if I continue to work on my passions, if I continue to give them whatever little time I can, my passion give me joy and strength to face whatever life throws at me. You will find in today’s post “How to find a purpose of your life” how your passions become the purpose of your life.

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