Finding Time

Some say life is way too short. Is it? Or do we just like complaining about not having ‘enough time’ to get everything done we want to accomplish? Whatever time you have is all the time you will have. It’s never how much time you have; it’s making the best use of the time you do have.

If you think your life could be shorter than you might wish, eliminate what wastes your time. Things that annoy you – like tolerating the influence of negative people, or holding onto resentment too long, or seeking the approval of those you don’t admire that much, or failing to learn new things at every opportunity.

The philosopher Seneca said in a letter to Paulinus: “It is not that we have a short space of time but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested. … the life we receive is not short, but we make it so.”

Remove blaming, clinging, whining, preaching and fearing from your daily routine. Try to avoid unnecessary (i.e., unimportant) meetings, pointless disputes, traffic jams and addictive but completely unrewarding pastimes. These things enter your life for two reasons – you either feel they’re forced upon you by others or you choose to believe they’re necessary. But all they really do is just kill precious time.

To some extent, we must put up with stuff that simply “comes along” with the circumstances of life. For example, the law of supply and demand forces us to find a job, one we may not like, in order to secure the resources needed for the pleasures we desire or the obligations we have. Yet, some decide to opt out of this self-inflicted grind to live where opportunities are fewer but where life is more fulfilling. Today, you can actually accomplish that without moving, or at least not moving too far.

Those in the professions often say time is money (because that’s how they get paid). But it’s much more than that. If you have time, you can always make more money. But, once time is lost, you can’t buy more of it. Unlike money, time is invisible so it’s easy to spend. Money certainly has value, which is why you wouldn’t throw it away. If you did, people would likely call you crazy. Yet we throw away time every day doing things of inconsequential value. If you conscientiously choose to avoid self-imposed annoyances, you can free up both time and space for that which you genuinely want to achieve.

Some irritations are impossible to duck. But most of the crap that sneaks into our lives is no one’s fault but ours. That stuff is harder to eliminate than what you believe is forced upon you. A good example is arguing. When others contradict you, you may feel they’re attacking you – often overtly. When attacked, our primal instinct is to defend ourselves. But, like a lot of unthinking reactions, this one isn’t designed for the world in which we live. Counterintuitive as it may seem, it’s better sometimes to not defend yourself. Because these are the sorts of people who make your life shorter than it has to be.

The purpose of living is to actively seek out and pursue what actually matters. Since different things matter to different people, you need to figure out what matters to you. Then figure out how to spend more time doing it.

Younger people are sometimes confused by what others think or expect of them. When you ask old folks what they “got wrong” at an earlier age, many honestly say they cared too much about what others thought, or felt they ‘should’ be doing something more or somehow better or, no matter how much they seemed to accomplish, it just never seemed to be enough.

One way to distinguish what matters from what doesn’t is to ask yourself whether you’ll care about it that much ‘down the line.’ What matters isn’t necessarily what others think is “important.” What matters is what you know is important. Having a conversation with someone who imparts genuine wisdom, as opposed to useless bromides, matters. When it makes a difference in your life, you never feel that sharing and learning from such unique experiences is a waste of time.

Life is short because our most fascinating discoveries often take us by surprise. We take a lot of things for granted; then they’re gone. We like to think we can “get to it later,” then we realize too late that door has already closed. The saddest doors close when the people we admire most die. Their lives are also short.

After my parents died, I wished I could have spent more time with them. I thought they’d always be there. It was an illusion of my own creation. I think a lot of people delude themselves into thinking what they have will always be there. Because, in our younger years, we naturally presume we might live forever. We bury the awareness of our mortality beneath our demanding daily routines and comfortable ruts, then convince ourselves there will likely be more time to get to what we want ‘another day’.

The way to avoid being taken by surprise (by anything) is to become more aware of it. I say in one of my courses that an aware person can never be made a victim. Cultivate a habit of impatience about the things you most want to do. Don’t wait before climbing that mountain or writing that book or visiting your mother. You don’t need to remind yourself you should do it. Just do it.

How you live affects how long you will live. We can all do (and be) better. Be mindful of the time you have. It’s easy to let “the stuff of life” dictate how you decide to spend your time. But it is possible to slow time down. I know because I’ve gotten better at it. You just have to notice what’s actually happening around you. It’s called paying attention.

The prudent use of time can amplify your purpose. Used unwisely, it will be a persistent source of regret. Relentlessly prune annoyances and time wasters. Don’t set aside things that matter. That’s what you do when you think life is too short.