“Despair over the brevity of our chaotic lives is common to us all, even the rich and the famous.” – Seneca
What makes life short
How often do you notice that minutes or hours have passed and you have wasted time that you can now never recover? How often do you listen to yourself and ask what is truly important for you to spend your time on? By contrast, how many days do you spend in a perpetual cycle of busyness, of a never-ending to-do list, and of a calendar dictated by other people or filled with unimportant things? At the end of the day we often find ourselves worse off than when we had started. Our time and energy are even more scarce than when we woke up.
“Thus the time we are given is not brief, but we make it so. We do not lack time; on the contrary, there is so much of it that we waste an obscene amount.” – Seneca
Life is made shorter by the time that we waste. To die before our time means to have spent our time on things that don’t matter and to live without intention. We squander time our on things that have no purpose.
“The problem… is not that we have a short life, but that we waste time.” – Seneca
How to avoid dying before your time
To make the most of your time means to be intentional. Take stock of the last week. How much time did you spend with focus and intentionality? How much was spent mindlessly, idly, or passively? How many hours in the last week have been taken from you? Living intentionally certainly does not mean working all the time. Time spent thinking, learning, dreaming, connecting, introspecting, bending “your own ear inward to hear what it is that you yourself have to say” are all meaningful.
“A life well spent can truly be a long life.” – Seneca
To understand whether you are spending your time well, you need to understand and decide what is worthwhile for you. What people, ideas, pursuits, or accomplishments hold true value and meaning? What do you enjoy about the way that you work? What things that you do give you a sense of fulfillment? What things do you do that help you more deeply understand yourself, others, or ideas and truths?
The next step is to understand where your time is going. A great way to do this is by logging all your time for a week and looking at it through the lenses of meaning and efficiency. What things are you doing that bring no meaning to your life? Where are you acting inefficiently?
If you feel like time is rushing away, it may be “because you don’t grab it firmly enough… You let is slip away as if it were something unimportant that could easily be replaced.” – Seneca
The way to grab onto your time firmly is to:
- Identify the things that have value to you. Create a list of what is important to you. Now shorten the list by half. It is impossible to function well with 35 different ‘top’ priorities. If possible, cut the list in half again.
- Track all your time for a week. I have created an excel sheet you can download from the bottom of this post. Create the categories of things that you spend time on. At the end of each day, go through and select what you were doing during each half hour increment. Do this for a week starting at midnight tomorrow. Page two will graph out how you spent your time. In an upcoming post, I’ll help you reflect on what you find after tracking your time in order to be more intentional with your future.
“How many things have taken time from you when you were not even aware of giving it away, how much was frittered away on pointless worry, in ignorant bliss, in the pursuit of pleasure, in the seductions of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will see that you are dying before your time!” – Seneca
Lucius Seneca, “On the Shortness of Life” version translated by Damian Stevenson, 2018