Ticking Ticking

I’ve been thinking a lot about how we use time lately. Maybe my ever-increasing age has something to do with it, but I keep revisiting thoughts about “time as a resource.” It’s non-renewable. Ultimately finite. Easily wasted. Tremendously valuable. So I think it’s worth thinking about, at least!

And of course, to make it more complicated, you don’t even know how much you have.

Some advice about time seems to be pretty universal, and yet people ignore it all the time. “Spend more time with your family and less time at work” is a truism that everyone has heard and probably few people disagree with, but people keep doing exactly the opposite. To my mind, that means the advice is incomplete. Good advice that you can’t act on isn’t good advice.

The fact is, “productive activity” is what keeps you alive. It’s what pays your bills and gives you a sense of purpose. If I were to spend twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with my kids, here’s what would happen:

  1. I would absolutely smother my children. They need alone time too, to develop and grow. We need to have a healthy relationship, not constant hovering.
  2. I would obviously not make any money, which would make it really hard to keep a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.
  3. I would lose a lot of the very experiences that fuel my competency as a parent.

That last one is important. Part of my job as a father is “experience scout” for my kids. I need to live life in order to bring back lessons for my children; if I have a dull life with no experiences then I’m ill-equipped to provide wisdom and insight for my intellectually curious and adventurous brood.

This brings me to another truism about time: “Time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.” I think that one’s a lot more true but still incomplete. You can enjoy wasting time by shooting heroin into your veins and passing out all day, but that was almost certainly wasted time. Some uses for time truly are bad on almost any measure of “bad.” But it’s a good reminder that when you go, “Ugh, I had a lot to do today but I ended up just goofing off with my family & friends,” you maybe shouldn’t be too upset.

If I can come to something of a more universal rule on time (at least for me), it’s this: “Tempus fugit, so be frugal.” Time flies, so be really discerning about what you spend any time at all on. Go work, be productive. But stay away from the kinds of professions that will demand so much of your time that it isn’t worth it. Have hobbies, but don’t become obsessed. And let yourself be taken often by the kinds of things that you’ll never regret spending time on, like loved ones, your own health, and the like. Good pushes away bad, and leaves no room for time-thieves.

Read, sing, walk, laugh. Work where work is healthy. Sleep more, if you can. Don’t live the kind of life where you need mindless distractions in order to get through the day. This is hard, of course. It’s the key to good living, so of course it’s hard.

But it’s worth spending time on.

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