May 2015

The Pursuit of Essentialism: Finding Time

I was planning to jump into a different article, one I was overly excited to post, but as my week filled with activities, work and friends it became clear there was a more important article to launch this series: finding time. Because if we can’t find the time, none of the following adventures will have the space to breathe they require. So, how do you find time?

I’m busy. In fact, when I’m catching up with old friends and ask what they’ve been up to, the first thing most people say is, ‘Yeah, I’ve been busy.” We wear it like a badge of honour, as though being busy is the same as contributing to a full and happy life. I’m not here to generalize, it could be said that in some or many cases, this could be true. I know some painfully beautiful people working to make others’ lives better; caregivers, people working for non-profits in Zambia, people teaching adults who never learned how to swim some life-saving basics. I would not presume to say what I’m working on most of the time has this kind of effect but I am lucky to love my work and most of what I do.

But what are we busy with and how do we measure its value? The last time I really considered this was a year ago when I read a list of 5 Regrets People Make on Their Deathbed. I’ve spent a large part of my life living without regret — if something shitty happens, that really is too bad, but it’s happened and the only thing we can control is what we learn from it and how we move forward. I didn’t want to hypocritically claim a life free of regret but still end up mourning the same poor decisions. It was especially the second regret that stuck with me, “I wish I didn’t work so hard.” Or, as I’ll paraphrase it, “I wish I spent more time on the things that matter.”

For instance, I never regret amusement parks.

For instance, I never regret going to amusement parks.

I avoided getting a gym pass for years because of cost (even though it was roughly the same cost per month as one night of eating out), fear of commitment, fear of looking like an idiot in the gym, and time. I had a million and one reasons for sidestepping this particular activity until, one day, a jogger passed me on the street wearing a shirt that said, “Someone busier than you is running right now.”

There was that word again.

So, how? How are people who are so busy able to fit these things in. Sure I could reduce my sleep to 3-4 hours a night (at busier times of the year this would already be redundant) but is that really value-added to my life or taking away from other aspects? Namely my ability to think and how much I snuggle with my cat. So it really became about completely re-thinking how I spent my day and how much time I spent on other activities.

I’ve always been someone to recognize patterns and have used that to my advantage. I’m not sure how many people are aware of this pattern identification in themselves, but I’ve read a number of times how large a roll it played in our evolution and progress as a species, so we must all have it. Recognizing and exploiting patterns is a great way to make yourself more efficient at time-suck activities. When I get out of the shower, I dry off using the exact same pattern every-time. So much so that now if I start drying the wrong leg I’ll miss an arm, forget to put on a sock later, and put the box of cereal in the fridge. That’s how important my auto-pilot has become for these little tasks. Admittedly I have minor OCD, but you get the idea.

Ok, great. Little rituals are good for sneaking an extra few minutes here or there. What about getting hours, days or weeks back? I’m afraid to say there’s no easy answer here: it will require sacrifice. It all comes down to valuing your time and how it’s spent. Saying ‘yes’ to something you kind of like may mean saying ‘no’ to something you may love down the road.

In “Running the Gauntlet” by Jeffrey W. Hayzlett, he recommends establishing ‘Conditions of Satisfaction’. Here he is referencing business, but the takeaway is these conditions are very specific needs. If they are not being met, you pull out of whatever you’re working on STAT. His conditions were 1) grow professionally, 2) have fun and 3) make money. Your conditions can be anything that’s important to you, but in the end they are what you come back to you when you find yourself questioning wasted time at work, watching TV or surfing the internet.

“If you end up with a boring miserable life because you listened to your mom, your dad, your teacher, your priest, or some guy on television telling you how to do your shit, then you deserve it.”
― Frank Zappa

Happy people spend the most time possible doing the things they love the most. They “make the highest possible contribution towards the things that really matter.” Maybe that means starting your own business, spending more time with loved ones, exercising more, even spending more time at home. If you’re telling yourself that you have no time to learn a new language but are still watching 4 or more hours of TV a day then there’s probably a disconnect there. You do have the time but you’d rather spend it catching up on Downton Abbey. If something is important to you, you’ll find the time. If binge-watching Netflix isn’t providing quite the stimulation you’re expecting maybe it’s time to list your conditions of satisfaction and consider how to better use that time.

Someone busier than you is running right now.


  • by Brandon William Fletcher
  • 1 Comment
  • May 05, 2015
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