Amidst the pandemonium and fear of coronavirus, a lot of us now find ourselves having to stay at home all day, finding ways to entertain ourselves without being able to physically congregate with others. A lot of people have dedicated themselves to fitness challenges or their hobbies like knitting, while many others are simply wasting their time. In light of these new temporary realities we face, I would like to use this time to invoke the words of the highly revered Stoic philosopher, Seneca, to reflect upon our lives and proceed to improve them by embracing the intrinsic value of time.
“What man can you show me who places any value on his time, who reckons the worth of each day, who understands that he is dying daily?”
The great philosopher Seneca wrote this in a letter to his friend Lucilius about the value of time; his perspective on the importance of time is something we all can learn from. When we’re young, we always receive the lecture from parents and grandparents that we need to stop wasting our time and that we’re not getting any younger. Indeed, I think all of us concur with these sayings and perhaps many of us make pledges to better utilize our time henceforth, or we grumble and scoff at these teachings, calling them cliché and common sense. In either case, many of us fail to internalize these sayings and invariably end up wasting huge chunks of time. So I’ll ask:
· How many hours a day do we waste browsing memes on Instagram?
· How many hours a day do we waste playing League of Legends, Fortnite, or those mobile games on our phones?
· How much time do we waste lying in bed or on the couch gossiping with friends or making silly videos for Tik Tok?
· How much time do we waste drinking and partying?
Even while we are at school, many of us aren’t spared from this judgment of wasting time — many people prefer to doze off in class, robotically copy notes down, or daydream about what they could be doing if they weren’t in class. In the work world, some people spend more time focusing on counting down the hours until they can clock out and go home.
Time is Finite
Now I don’t believe Seneca thinks that we should never waste time. He even tells Lucilius “I cannot boast that I waste nothing.” Of course, it is impossible to do something productive all the time. Truth be told, we engage in various activities that might be considered “wasting time” because they’re fun or because it is easy to indulge our natural tendencies to be lazy and shun unpleasant responsibilities and chores. What Seneca desires is for us to be more mindful of our time and he reminds us that each day we are closer to death; in a sense, a part of us dies with each passing moment as we cannot take back the time that has already elapsed. Think about that for a second. As infinite as time can seem for us, especially in those moments when we are bored and actually want time to pass more quickly, we have to realize that time is a finite resource for each of us. Until we discover a real Fountain of Youth that gifts our bodies with unlimited telomeres, time is finite.
Furthermore, the older we get, the less free time we have (until near retirement). Aren’t you mad or regretful now that there are things you didn’t do when you were younger? Things that, had you started earlier, you would have mastered by now or at least possess a higher degree of proficiency. Seneca writes “Nothing, Lucilius, is ours, except time.” Talk to older people and realize that having more time to live is truly a privilege because almost everyone would love to get years of their life back to redo things, try new things, or simply start earlier.
· “I wish I had started studying earlier for that test. I’m sure I could have done better.”
· “I can’t get a job I want because I don’t have any marketable skills. I wish I had spent less time partying in college and more time developing a skill like programming.”
· “I am busier now; I wish I had cared more about my physique and health when I had the time.”
The sooner we all come to terms with the fact that time is finite and quickly fleeting, the more fulfilling our lives will inexorably become.
How To Reduce Time Waste
We can all agree that each person’s personal definition of “wasting time” really hinges upon his or her purpose in life. Setting goals that fulfill that purpose and working toward those goals is certainly a good use of time. For instance, a goal of mine for a while has been to write more, especially about the things I read. I suddenly have slightly more time to do this now that I have fewer distractions amidst this shelter-in-place quarantine order during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. That being said, I feel accomplished and proud of myself for putting in the time to write this, especially when compared to the alternative of playing Dragon Ball Z Dokkan Battle on my phone for hours on end. Even when this quarantine comes to an end and the distractions come back, I can hope that I can take Seneca’s words to heart and truly prioritize writing over other activities that don’t further my personal goals in life.
If your purpose has not been determined yet, then your time should be spent searching for that purpose so that you can ultimately set some goals. Most of the time you are the best judge of what is considered wasting time or not. You know those random times when you pause and introspect briefly, getting this intuitive gut feeling that you aren’t being productive with your time? You are probably right. Make future you proud of present and past you. Be someone who doesn’t look back on his life with a lot of regrets. Often times, it really isn’t because we don’t have enough time for our goals — it’s because we waste an abundance of our free time doing other stuff. How do you plan to minimize waste of time now? What do you currently waste your time doing? It’s up to you how much time you want to waste before you get back to doing something productive, but always keep this in mind: the clock is ticking.