I don’t want to bury the lede here: we cannot stop time, so we better learn how to make the most of it.
Never mind theoretical models of time—our experience of it as humans in the dimensional space we share is linear in a single direction, which means we only get to use each second of our day once before it’s gone forever, but there is an infinite amount of it ahead of us. The past may be recorded, but we cannot return to it or change it; the future may be predicted, but never completely known.
This may sound somewhat somber and fatalistic, but I think the opposite is true: recognizing the present is a limited resource, but that there will always be more time ahead of us, and really embracing that, is a positive, motivating force for life. It’s a burden lifted from our shoulders to recognize that there are rules to this universe we cannot change, and therefore one less thing we need to worry about.
So what do we worry about instead? How to make the most of those precious minutes and hours of each new day. Time is fleeting – tempus fugit – and our awareness of that fact is a big part of what motivates us, and a major part of what we stress out over when it comes to the day-to-day needs of working and living as humans.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know I’ve been thinking about this more lately, especially when it comes to the struggle of trying to decide what’s important and worth spending time on. In fact, this blog exists because of a talk I gave exploring my struggles of trying to be a productive human at work, and trying to offer ways to get through that. And there are thousands of others like me writing about these same topics, publishing books, building apps and services and companies and entire industries that revolve around helping people figure out how to get done what they need to get done everyday. And these are valuable, they are helpful, and they can improve how we spend out time resource. I hope to continue adding my voice to that and helping others navigate it as much as I can.
But before I go any further with talking or writing or giving presentations about improving productivity and work/life balance and building better habits, I think it’s important that we all come to understand and embrace this one fundamental truth:
You are not perfect, and neither am I. And that’s okay. Make the best choices you can, and be ready for what’s next.
Perfection is a concept, an ideal notion. It’s a goal for some, a representation of something that may exist in an abstract, frictionless world. But it is the absence of perfection that makes life worth living, and what makes whatever work we do each day worthy of the time we spend doing it.
We can employ all the fancy methods and apps and tools and habits we want; we can learn to eliminate distractions and strive to get things done; we can make charts and set goals and measure performance; we can take as many actions as we want to organize how we use our time, but we will never actually be able to control time.
Just like there are fundamental laws of motion and gravity for our physical universe, I think there are fundamental laws of productivity that are impossible to defy. In fact, there may be only one Fundamental Law of Productivity from which all others corellate:
“Every time you say yes to someone or something, you are saying no to someone or something else.”
Boom. That’s it right there.
In fact, that exact phrasing comes from Carson Tate in the middle of page 81 of Work Simply – not highlighted or bold typed, but just mid-paragraph. Yet it is central to what everything else in her book, and so many other people’s books and blogs and talks and sermons and stories and songs, are really talking about.
We can live more rewarding lives by making better choices about what we say yes to, and what we say no to, but we will never eliminate the fact that we have to choose.
Some choices we make ourselves, some choices are made for us, but our lives are our own. And while time may be infinite, our lives are not, so we have to decide as individuals how to make the most of the time we have.
Thankfully, we are not alone. We are all humans, and we all get to help each other figure out how to be the best humans we can be. And that will always be a productive use of our time.