Friday, December 9, 2016

Autumn & Wasting Time

Third (& final) Installment of my Autumn & Time postings...

The final weeks of Autumn are falling away.

We made it through the "super" Super Moon, the interminable elections, and a dozen other inexplicable and seemingly endless things.

The days are getting really short, and time seems more fleeting and precious than ever.  With so few hours of sunlight, we tend to become aware of the ease with which Time is WASTED.

Somehow, there never seems to be enough time.

Everything seems to take a lot longer than you would think it should... except when it takes a lot less. :-)  But either way, there is always more that needs doing. 

Add to this, the general entropy of our human existence--where things fall apart and deteriorate literally from the moment they are created--and you have a situation where it can seem like nothing ever gets done.

With so many things stacked against any lasting accomplishment, it is important that we figure out how to make the most of what little time we have.

Knowing that achievements are temporal, most of us still have goals we are pursuing (from the purely survival oriented, to the grand and weighty sort)... I think we could all benefit from less hours "frittered and wasted in an offhand way."  (Pink Floyd's classic Time)

Time - Live in Venezia!

Nearly all of the lyrics of this song apply to this post. Heheheh.

How not to waste time?

There are entire industries devoted to this. A ton of self-help and motivational books, gurus, twitter accounts & memes... all purporting to help you not waste your time. Many of these are filled with genuinely good advice. Quotes abound that sound like they are rather profound.  But, in the end, the legions of people who purchase (or even espouse) this stuff, still waste the vast majority of their time.
"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there."  Will Rogers
This is one that I like because it succinctly tells you that even after all your research and hard work... the real effort is just beginning.  Not enough to find and get on "the right track," but you have to haul ass on that track because there are freight trains picking up steam behind you!

So, what do we do?

Most of what I have said thusfar is likely to encourage one to curl up in a fetal position, indulge in something comforting, and binge watch an entire season or two of distracting fare. 

Well... I am unlikely to disavow you of that inclination, actually. If that is what you need to do, I say do it. Get it out of your system. You won't be very effective if your inner self is yearning for some downtime.

But, when your Netflix queue runs out... or you get bored with laying around... there ARE things to be done.  And yet, how can we be effective at doing anything when it is so easy to waste time?
Seems like a rhetorical question, right?  You are reading this aren't you?  Hehehe.
This question is very different depending on which word you emphasize. 

The most common way to read it is "Are YOU Wasting Time?" because people are naturally self-absorbed, and tend only to relate to things as they directly address or relate to them. Whatever gets said or done, you can bet that a majority of the people in the room will be assuming it is about them.

In this case, it reads as an accusation. Something your boss might say with furrowed brows and a scowl. Something that is assumed to be true, and which you are then expected to scurry and prove is not the case with you... at the moment.

"ARE You Wasting Time?" is a more critical-thinking take.  Whereas the former phrasing assumes that time is being wasted, and the only question is if YOU are among the wasters.  This is more sly, and is read with a little head tilt... to make you think twice about your assumption.  It is an "on second thought" phrasing, and it evokes the idea that maybe your time wasting isn't actually a waste after all.  People need their downtime, after all... and powering through until you crash is actually more of a time waster than simply whiling away some hours to let your brain, body and nerves recharge a bit.

"Are You WASTING Time?" follows on the heels of the last phrasing, and directly asks if there isn't a better term for what you are doing with your time.  Enjoying? Relishing, perhaps?
Does Time have a recycling bin?

Finally, "Are You Wasting TIME?" asks us if it is Time that is being wasted.  Is Time waste-able?  When we say we are wasting time, what are we really wasting... if anything?  Maybe it is our attention that we are wasting.

I suggest, that since time is a dimension, we can "waste" it the way we waste space. (i.e. use it in a way that doesn't take advantage of its parameters, or seems aesthetically poor.)  It is not a commodity which we can throw away, and our neglect of time causes it no damage. Clearly, we can't waste it in the way we waste a stamp on a letter we never send, or waste the batteries on a stereo by leaving it on when we are not listening to it.

As with space, though... people tend to mark it off and reserve it, only to do nothing with it.

The real issue, therefore... and what all those books purport to teach you... is HOW do we NOT waste our time (whether it is something that belongs to us or not)?

We can't.

The most productive people you can think of wasted oodles of time.  Time is literally oozing through your fingers, with more of it falling on the floor the harder you squeeze.

There is no magic wand to tidy up your life, and make time stand still. (None that you would be wise to employ regularly anyway. ;-)

This is not even a matter of discipline. What we call discipline is nothing more than habit. Acquiring true discipline, while worthwhile, can waste more time than it will ever save you.

What people really want, is to make sure the time they spend is valuable... that it achieves something worth achieving.

Those productive people I mentioned, and everyone who ever made a mark on the world for that matter, did not work harder or have more minutes to spend than other people.  Middle school janitors work harder than any person whose name you know ever has, or will.

Successful people are all known for a staggeringly tiny percentage of the time they spend/spent on Earth. (A handful of sayings, a number of important decisions, a few great ideas etc.)

One's wasted time is retroactively made valuable by getting a few moments really right.  Often, it is just ONE simple thing that makes an entire life seem worthy.  If you touch people, and affect humanity with your best 5 minutes... it makes every "wasted" moment worthwhile. A posteriori!

Vilfredo Pareto
It is said, that 80% of all value in an activity is garnered from 20% of the effort.  It is such a truism that it even has a fancy name:  The Pareto Principle  (after this Italian guy who made it famous) Also known as the law of the vital few, it states that 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.

Otherwise stated, it says that you are wasting time 80% of the time you are working. (Forget about when you are lollygagging or being truant!) 

And, it is even worse than this.  Of the 20% of your activity that has a beneficial effect, 20% of this did most of the heavy lifting!

Yes.  And this magic 4% is also capable of being whittled down.

The truth is that a single thing done really well is better and more effective than an entire lifetime of normal effort.  Think about that.

While it is a staggering thought, and somewhat intimidating at first... it is a truly liberating idea.  What it says, in no uncertain terms, is that all the time you have ever wasted can be retroactively made valuable by sticking to your vision, and hitting a single homerun.  It means that you can rescue your lost time, by making the misses, losses, and disappointments you have endured work for you.

Transform your heartache, debauchery, and daydreams into a single memorable action and it is no longer a waste... it was merely setting the stage for you to achieve greatness. 

There would be no Hemmingway without thousands of drunken nights.  No Miles Davis without years hiding out behind blackout curtains and consuming cocaine.

This is not to say you should copy these fellows... or even model yourself after the great Sherlock Holmes (who famously spent his downtime on heroin and cocaine, and solved most of his cases in moments of brilliance after lengthy periods of simply soaking in the details of the issue).

But from Albert Einstein (whose 3 big theories made him the greatest mind of the 20th Century) to Jesus Christ (whose total words in the Bible amount to 19 pages of text, and who became the most influential person of all time by a single miraculous act)... the history books bear this out. It is not the people who do decent work diligently, day in and day out, that make history. (or even TMZ)

The awful truth of the matter is that your life will be evaluated on a handful of the choices you make. Most people will be lucky if there is more than one action they took that will be worthy of an obituary (having offspring doesn't count). Despite what we have been told, you do NOT get points just for showing up.

The truth is, most people don't care what you do... so long as you are not making their life more difficult. And, those that actually do care, only care about what you actually accomplish (for better or for worse).

Most of you will respond to this by thinking "Well, who cares what other people think?" which simultaneously proves what I was just saying... and is also a bold lie.  The truth is, that you care what you think, and for most of you, that is predicated to a large extent on what other people think.

Don't get me wrong. Being famous sucks just about as bad as being infamous. But often, it is the price one pays for achieving something, and people don't feel fulfilled if they don't achieve something they deem worthwhile.  (even if they are horribly wrong about this)

Really soak in those peak moments...
At any rate:

Your job, should you want your effort and time to have value... is to waste your time well.

Pay attention, be sharp and refreshed where possible, and know what you are good at.  That way, when your moment comes, you can knock it out of the park.  Whether that is the moment of your life, your year, your week or your hour... there are certain actions that are vital, and capable of transcendent results... and then there are the rest of them.

You don't always get to choose which moments will be vital. But, what you can do... is learn how to fritter the non-vital moments in such a way as to bolster your odds of shining when the vital ones show up. By this logic, spending your day at the spa getting a seaweed wrap, hot stones treatment, and full body massage doesn't seem like a waste at all.

My advice:

Yawn more often, and longer... even when you are not tired.  Smile if you have no pressing reason not to.  And relish your time by luxuriating and nourishing yourself.... inner child, stoic sage, and hedonist monkey included... and in so doing, you will do good work along the way to maybe achieving something truly great.

However long it takes, reaching deep inside, and opening up some of your soul, and then having the grace to get out of its way and let it shine... is never a waste of time.  IMHO that is what time is actually for.

In case you missed it...
Part I of this posting:  Autumn, Time & Space
Part II of this posting:  Autumn, Time & Semantics