Am I Using My Time Wisely?

“This space that has been granted to us rushes by so speedily and so swiftly that all save a very few find life at an end just when they are getting ready to live.” – Seneca, Roman philosopher

“Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
– Mary Oliver, poet

When we are young, we think we have all the time in the world. As we age, the ticking clock gets louder and louder. When our parents pass away and we join the ranks of the family elders, it feels as though time is flying by. And so, I wonder: Is this how I want to spend the final chapters of my life?

If I follow in my parents’ footsteps, I should have a good long while before the grim reaper comes knocking on my door. And yet no power on earth provides a guarantee of longevity. As my meditation teachers often remind me, all we have is this moment… and then the next one… and then the next.

As I reflect on books I’ve read about time management – including those covered in this blog – the content tends to focus on productivity. For instance:

It’s about squeezing more in to the fixed amount of time we have. I think these folks have some really good advice (else I would not have covered them in my blog!) And, as a productivity-conscious, achievement-oriented individual, I eat this stuff up. But perhaps that orientation isn’t entirely good for me.

I suffer under the delusion that I can do it all and work diligently to prove myself right. My mother used to call me “the girl who can’t say no” because I always had too much to do in too little time and found ways to say “yes” when asked to add more. With some sense of pride, I’d meet my obligations, but I clearly wasn’t taking the time to focus on things that mattered most.

I can get so caught in being efficient that I forego the present experience in favor of ticking off the boxes on my “to do list” and moving on to the next task. I can be quite impatient with myself and others when things take longer than expected or interruptions draw me off course. (Hofstadter’s Law says: It always takes longer than you expect, even when you take into account Hofstadter’s Law.) And when I finish tasks, I find that I keep adding new ones to the list, thereby ensuring that I never arrive at an end point. Life can feel like one long conveyor belt… one that has become my habit to ride.

I feel like I’m living in the future. I frequently hear myself say things like: “If I could just get through this project, then I’ll have time to…” “This year has been nuts, but things will ease up in the new year.” “I can’t wait until I retire and I can do the things I really want to do.” Guess what? Much like the greyhound who never catches the mechanical bunny that he chases around the race track, I never quite reach my target.

I’ve come to a place where I’d like to rethink what it means to make good use of my time. I like having goals, but I don’t want to confine my activities to things associated with progress toward them. I like having plans, but I don’t want to get overly attached to them or worry that I’ll somehow be ill-prepared to deal with whatever happens in their absence. (As author Oliver Burkeman says: “A plan is a present-moment statement of intent. The future is under no obligation to comply.”) I want to strike a balance between having engaging and meaningful things to do while also allowing for life to unfold and surprise me.

Would you like to join me on that journey? Stay tuned for some practical advice.