I was reading a very old book by Seneca the Younger called On the Shortness of Life. Although it was written almost 2,000 years ago, it reads like a message for today.
Seneca talks about people spending all their time in foolish activities rather than leading their lives. When we look at our lives today we see the same thing. Instead of leading our lives, we spend too much time thinking about the future or the past.
The past is a powerful time waster. I’m not talking about reminiscing or remembering a particularly fun time. I’m talking about time spent dwelling on bad experiences, fears, embarrassing moments, and all the trivial things from days gone by.
You cannot change one minute of the past. It’s done. Baked. All you can do is waste precious time in the PRESENT reliving bad experiences from the past. You can re-write them and mis-remember them. Or you can relive the details in excruciating clarity. But you can’t DO anything about them.
The future is not quite as bad. We need to plan. But we don’t need to plan TOO MUCH. There’s a point at which we work so hard trying to get things perfect that we take no action at all. We need a healthy mix of planning and acting. The acting part is called living.
The thing about time is that it’s easy to waste. Most of us don’t place much value on time. But it passes at exactly the same pace for all of us. You can use it or you can waste it. Unfortunately, too many people use up too much of their time without a thought to how valuable it is.
You get exactly 1,440 minutes each day. The same as everyone else. The same as presidents and prime ministers; the same as actors and singers; the same as professors and teachers. Every one of us gets exactly the same allocation every day. How do you use your allocation?
Living? Planning to live – someday? Fretting on the past? Watching TV shows you can’t remember?
We all need to “recharge” our batteries and have downtime. But we also all need to take control of our lives and use our precious time wisely.
One of the guiding rules of my life is to work on the highest priority activities I can. From that follows a process of setting priorities. How important is giving the cat fresh water today? How important is meditating? Reading? Writing? Paying bills?
We are all very busy. Perhaps all overwhelmed at times.
And yet we let other people simply interrupt our day. The phone rings and we answer it. An email pops up and we read it. An instant message comes in and we stop whatever we’re doing and look at it. Someone walks into the office and we give them our attention.
I recommended to a coaching client last week that everyone in his office should keep an Interruption Log. Literally write down every time they were interrupted (by a beep, a tweet, a knock at the door, a message, a phone call, etc.). And then write down whether this interruption was high, medium, or low priority. In particular, was it higher or lower priority than the thing they were working on when the interruption occurred?
If you work from the perspective of priorities, you can always be working on one of the most important things that needs to be done. And when you do that intentionally, it becomes easier to resist interruption.
For example, talking to the sales person on the phone is almost never higher priority than anything else you can do in your day – personal or professional.
Live in today. Live in the now. And guard your precious time wisely. No one else will!