I’ve found that one of the most important relationships for our happiness and productivity is that of our relationship with time. It can quickly turn into a sour one. I know it has for me in the past. Time is inherently scarce. We only have so much of it. So naturally, we want to make the most of it. This leads us into optimization-land. But there are downfalls to that:
Seeing time as scarce necessitates optimization, and optimization necessitates measurements. If you don't have discrete units of time to allocate, then you can't ensure you are Not Wasting Time. So we end up with packed calendars, carefully organized carpools, 55-minute zoom meetings, and hour-long lunches.
It's hard to enjoy a dinner or vacation if you're constantly worried about the price, and it's hard to enjoy an activity when you're constantly worried about the time. Optimization breeds discontent. We spend so much time focused on Not Wasting Time that we end up wasting our time optimizing our time. We transcend one unhappiness to replace it with another.
Tools for the toolkit
It’s a weird balance beam that we have to walk on. Making the most of our time, but not worrying about it to the extent that we become unhappy. I’ve struggled with this a bunch in the past. I’ve always been the go-go-go type, probably just like you if you’re reading this. But I think I’m getting better at walking this balance beam. Slowly but surely.
Two tools I’ve been using to stay balanced are heuristics and daily affirmations. Time is a complex subject, so heuristics help me simplify things into guiding principles. Daily affirmations help me drill that heuristic, principle, whatever you want to call it into my head each day so that it points me in the right direction. It's easy to dismiss this stuff as too rah-rah, but at the end of the day, shit works. I've tried out different things and personally, my magic words are:
"I’m at peace with and grateful for the time I have"
It’s not about optimizing for every second of every day. It’s not about being as productive as I could possibly be. I still care deeply about performance, but there needs to be a balance. A Yin and Yang type situation. Respect the time you have and treat it accordingly. Be grateful for it because it won’t always be there. But be at peace with the fact that it will pass, and you it won’t be perfect. Enjoy it.
I write the above phrase out in full 3 times each morning to set the tone for the day. Everyone is different and different things work for different people. But this has been working for me. Maybe it can offer a sliver of help for you as well.