I have spent a lot of time idealising the days where I have enough time.
On those days, I can fit everything in that I want to achieve. I’ll do my work, as per usual, and fulfill my personal obligations such as spending time with family and taking care of my base needs.
Then, I will do everything else that I have wanted to explore. I will finally get through the book I have been “reading” for months. I will get back to crosswords. I will maybe even take up French, which I have wanted to do for quite some time.
In the past, I have felt as though I do not have enough time. I have made ambitious lists about how I want to spend my time, and I tell myself that, once I accomplish a certain task -- like finishing a project -- then I will suddenly have “enough time” to get through all the things that I have wanted to do, like reading more books and doing crosswords.
But when I think about it, no matter how hard I have worked, there never seems to be enough time.
A new project comes to light which takes up all the time I thought I would have free in my schedule. A new opportunity comes to me that requires my attention. I suddenly find myself in a position where all the free time I thought I would have is already allocated, before I have even had the chance to review the things I want to do.
This makes me feel as though I have been thinking about this topic all the wrong way. Perhaps we all do have enough time, but it is just that we all have so many things to do that there is no way for us to ever get through them.
I have felt in the past that I am always behind. I need to read more books, or I need to get back into my coding routine. These feelings, I now realize, were counterproductive, because they did not lead to any actions. I was only telling myself that I was behind.
In reality, though, I was not doing nothing with my time. I was working. I was sleeping. I was spending time with family, and doing a plethora of other tasks which are now a distant memory. I was making progress, just not toward certain goals.
When I think about how much has changed over the last year, I realize just how much progress I have made. A year ago, I was studying for exams; today, I am gainfully employed. A year ago, I did not floss my teeth; now, it’s a part of my night-time routine.
I have clearly accomplished so much in this time, even though it has felt like I have never had enough time to work on the things that I want to do.
I believe that I have enough time, it’s just that, in the past, I have been too ambitious about how I can spend the limited time that I have.
Today, there are a buffet of options that we can pursue when it comes to spending time. As our society has become more technically sophisticated -- and moved from the hunter-gatherer mindset to the industrial and internet eras -- there have been more activities in which we can be engaged.
Being a foodie is now a thing. So is being a wine connoisseur. Or you could be a film buff. Or you could spend all your time analyzing War and Peace. These are all things that you can, technically, do with your life. But doing all of them is difficult.
When there are all of these options available, it can seem as though any progress we are making is mundane. Building a flossing habit? That seems like nothing on the grand scale of things. Despite the fact, though, that building a flossing habit is still a good sign of progress.
What made me think about all of this was seeing how many people thought that the quarantine that is going on right now would suddenly give them enough time.
In the news and on social media, people shared their plans to paint their houses, take up a few home improvements projects, bake sourdough, and get around to all those little tasks -- you know the ones I am talking about -- that we have seemingly never had the time to accomplish.
I assume some people have been able to use their time in this way, and I congratulate them on the progress they have made. But for most people, it quickly settled in that you may not have as much time you thought you did. Parents had to adjust to having kids at home. Workers, without a commute, have had to adjust to new ways of working. In amongst all of this, there just hasn’t been the time to take up karate, or write your short story.
I am content with the time I have today. Do I think my life would be better if I had 25 hours to use each day? I don’t think so, because I only have a limited amount of energy, and it appears as though it is easy enough to expend that energy in the 24 hours I have right now.
To achieve this state, I have had to entertain an unsettling thought: there will never be enough time for me to do everything that I may want to do.
I am most likely never going to travel to every U.S. state, and ski in the Utah mountains, and hang out in Italy in a perfect little coffee shop, and learn French, and write a world-class poem. I may do a few of these things, but doing all of them will be difficult.
I have to remember that, every day, I still do a lot. Waking up in itself is a complex routine. I then have to go to work and work hard, have meetings, spend time with family, and somehow, in amongst all of this, keep up with my hobbies, like writing. I do so much each day, but what I do is not necessarily in pursuit of a massive goal like learning French.
My focus is now on spending time doing the things that I really care about. Sure, reading the books on my bookshelf would make me feel good, but I have other things I want to do first. I want to spend time with my family. I want to read the online articles that I enjoy reading. If there is time left over, then maybe I’ll try to read a book, but I am happy with how I have been spending my time so far.
Committing to too many different endeavors splits our attention and makes it more difficult to make progress. So, there’s no point in me even trying to do everything that I want to do. When I ask myself “Do I really want to become a great keyboardist?” the answer is “yes”, but it is not an urgent matter. But when I ask myself “Do I want to write every day?”, I say “yes” enthusiastically, because it matters a lot to me.
If I tried to both play keyboard, write, and do everything else, my schedule would quickly become too busy to manage. I wouldn’t like that. But by focusing my attention on the main things that matter to me -- family, friends, work, writing, personal care -- I can make sure that I am spending my doing things I love. And that’s what matters most to me.
Do I have enough time to make progress on the things that I love doing? Yes. Would more time help me do more? Not necessarily. So, I am happy with the time I have.