My grandma died when I was 11. Being confronted by your own mortality changes you, it makes you aware of how finite time is, of how invaluable it is. Being careful about it is only self-respect.
That's probably when I started obsessing over my own time. I try to stick to the mantra “impatient with impactful actions, yet patient with results”, to roughly quote Naval Ravikant, but no matter of much work I put in, I never feel productive enough. This is a common occurrence among entrepreneurs I suppose. The feeling creeps on you in the middle of the day when you feel overwhelmed by the amount of work, or during the evening when you are trying to relax. No day in the world ever returns, and we all want to make the best of it.
How do we fight this lingering emotion? We can accept it, or we can rebel.
Rebelling against this reality is probably counter-productive: we only end up beating ourselves up.
At 18, I tried to sleep for four hours a day (see Uberman sleep pattern). There were so many things I wanted to do, yet never enough time: changing my sleep pattern appeared as an obvious solution. I never managed to balance it with my life as a student because it implied to not drink coffee and to stick to a fixed sleep schedule.
Then I tried sleeping for six hours per night while enjoying a 20-minute nap at lunch (Siesta sleeping schedule). It worked much better, but life went on and I eventually reverted back to a regular eight-hour night.
During the daytime, I would micro-manage my schedule by dividing it into half-hours. I integrated Pomodoro techniques to get the most of my working hours. I would practice bulk-cooking to save more time. I applied Pareto’s principle and prioritization frameworks whenever I could.
Now I tend to believe I am pretty good at time management. But ultimately I also discovered that time is relative: no matter how much time you save, if you don’t use it wisely, all the time-saving strategies in the world are useless.
What really matter is how focused you are on the task at hand. In Buddhist terms, if you are living in the moment. The deeper you go, the more you can compress time and make the most value out of it. We can only learn to accept the past to better navigate now, and the day after. As Seneca puts it: “it is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it”. This is the mistake I got to learn over the past year: it doesn’t matter how much time you spend in total, what matters is how you use it.
Nowadays I am working on freeing myself from schedules to learn more about my own circadian cycle. I establish micro-routines to enter a creative flow that will help me reach the ultimate goal of my life: the mastery of my craft because a life well spent is a life lived with duty and purpose.
On the other hand, I have to learn to be generous with my time. Many people practice busyness, the contrary of productivity. Busyness is filling out time. Productivity is working toward something meaningful. Spending time with my family and friends is productive. Partying or having a cold one with the boys is productive in a sense. A few minutes spent sipping tea is an opportunity to empty the mind.
This is why regular introspective work is so important, why writing matters: an individual living in fear has no room for growth. Fear has to be channeled. We have to trust the process, we have to believe the future will be fine if we show up every day. Not doing enough on a given day does not matter, what does is how we increase our momentum one spin at a time. It is this momentum that will ultimately lead to ever higher heights. All it takes is a little push - as frequently as possible.
That is how my grand-mother taught me how to not waste time, but I still have so much to learn. I regularly come back to Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life to remind myself of this fact.